Three UW Atmospheric Sciences graduate students receive prestigious NASA award

Three graduate students from UW’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences are among this year’s recipients of the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award. This award funds graduate student-designed research projects that contribute to the Science Mission Directorate’s science, technology, and exploration goals. Future Investigators are funded for three years and often go on to do further NASA research or become faculty at major universities.

Proposals are gathered in the fields of earth science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics. This year, 789 proposals were submitted and 129 awards were granted. The winners from atmospheric sciences will be conducting research in both the earth science and planetary science divisions. 

UW has consistently produced award winners throughout the years with at least one award winner per year since 2007. Last year, UW had three winnersone of which was another atmospheric sciences graduate student, Ben Barr.

Here are this year’s awardees and their areas of study:

Yuk Chun Chan
Yuk Chun Chan

Yuk Chun Chan
Perchlorate (ClO4) has been synthesized for the manufacture of fireworks and propellants for over a century. Recent observations in arid environments on Earth and Mars revealed that perchlorate can also occur naturally in atmospheres, but very little is known about the chemical processes involved. For his research project, Chan will use atmospheric chemistry models to investigate whether the natural occurrence of perchlorate in planetary atmospheres can be explained quantitatively by multiphase-chemistry processes, which have shown to be critical in the lifecycle of many other secondary air pollutants by extensive air-quality research. The answers have important implications for the interpretation of perchlorate records in ice cores on Earth and the detection of liquid water and organic matter on Mars.

When asked what the award meant to him, Chan explained,“The award will allow me to conduct this highly interdisciplinary research, which is a really valuable and exciting opportunity, especially during a time when several new international missions to Mars have just been launched. I would like to thank again my advisor, my mentors, the Department, and the UW Astrobiology Program for their guidance and support in the application of this research grant.”

Carley Fredrickson
Carley Fredrickson

Carley Fredrickson
The scientific objective for Fredrickson’s FINESST project is to better understand the importance of reactive nitrogen, specifically nitrous acid (HONO) and nitrogen dioxide, in the chemical processing of wildfire smoke into secondary pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter. To accomplish this, she will be using aircraft and satellite data from the FIREX-AQ campaign to validate and analyze reactive nitrogen emissions and lifetimes from wildfires.

“I am absolutely honored to be selected as a NASA FINESST recipient. This program will give me opportunities to grow and develop my skills as an atmospheric chemist, all with the support of my collaborators,” Fredrickson said. “Winning this award is an affirmation that scientists in my field believe in and want to invest in me, my scientific interests, and training.”

Adam Sokol
Adam Sokol

Adam Sokol
Sokol’s research seeks to better understand how cirrus clouds in the tropics (especially the “anvil” clouds generated by large thunderstorms) shape Earth’s energy balance and climate. Anvil clouds have a cooling effect on the planet in the early stages of their life cycle but a warming effect later on. Presently, the cooling and warming effects approximately cancel out, but we don’t know if that could change in the future. If global warming disrupts that balance, it would constitute an important climate feedback. With the support of the FINESST award, he will use satellite observations and climate models to study the impacts of climate warming on the amount and life cycle evolution of these clouds.

Sokol shared, “It is encouraging to see the diversity of important climate research being supported by NASA FINESST awards. As a recipient of a publicly funded grant, I feel obligated to ensure that my studies benefit the public, be that through work that increases diversity in STEM, local science outreach here in Seattle, and/or publication in non-academic media sources. By freeing up other resources, I hope that this award allows somebody else to pursue graduate study who otherwise would not have had the chance.”

The award was previously called the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship and was renamed in 2019. More information on this year’s selection process is available here.