Congratulations to Colette Heald, Shuhei Ono, and Noelle Selin for their recent promotions in recognition of their achievements and contributions to the School of Science.
Dust swept into the sky in North Africa sifts unnoticeably onto the Amazon, delivering nutrients. Pollution clogs the clouds over Beijing, bringing heart troubles and asthma. Whether it’s good for the Earth or bad for humanity, Colette Heald wants to know what’s happening in our atmosphere and how it affects the biosphere. As of July, she will be doing so as the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor with tenure. In her research, Heald checks modeling against as broad a collection of surface, aircraft and satellite measurements as possible to ensure understanding of the interactions of sky and earth, relying especially on satellites for regions that are not well observed, including ocean basins. And in her teaching, just last year she led a student lab which designed and deployed a 24-sensor system checking air quality in Cambridge called CLAIRITY—a technological innovation with great promise for providing precision monitoring to cities around the world at a fraction of the current cost for air quality sensors. “Colette has been a pioneer in the field of atmospheric chemistry,” says Markus Buehler, Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT. “This honor reflects her exceptional skills in bridging models and observations to address critical research questions.” Heald has a joint appointment in the departments of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Only days after her promotion, she was awarded the American Geophysical Union’s James B. Macelwane Medal in recognition of “significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by an outstanding young scientist.” She graduated from Queen’s University in Canada in 2000, earned a doctorate from Harvard University in 2005 and began work at MIT in 2012.
To search for answers about climate change, Shuhei Ono will look anywhere—deep in the oceanic crust or in the first of a cow’s four stomachs. That is, anywhere he and his team can find and test for the origins of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Ono, a geobiochemist, uses stable isotopes to study changes in oxygen in oceans and atmospheres throughout the history of planet Earth, as well as changes in methane. “We are interested in the question, ‘Where does methane come from?’” Ono said. Of course cows play a major role—just one can produce up to 500 liters of methane a day, accounting for about one-third of total methane emissions—but methane also can originate from lakes and swamps, natural gas pipelines, and deep-sea vents. “If we can partition how much is from cows, natural gas and other sources, we can more reliably strategize what to do about global warming,” Ono said. His big news earlier this year was the development of an instrument using tunable infrared laser direct absorption spectroscopy which is capable of rapidly and precisely analyzing samples of environmental methane, with the aim of pinpointing how and where the gas was formed. This new technology has earned plaudits from scientists such as Robert Hazen, of the Deep Carbon Observatory in Washington, D.C. He called Ono’s work “an amazing advance.” With a recent promotion to Associate Professor with tenure, Ono will continue his innovative work studying the early Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and microbial evolution—a focus he came to over time after earning a bachelor of science in geology from Waseda University, Tokyo, and a doctorate in geochemistry from Pennsylvania State University in 2001. He joined the MIT faculty in 2007.
Pollution, impacts, and policy. Noelle Selin’s interdisciplinary research doesn’t just look at hard data about pollution, but also at how effectively communicating that data can inform international policy debate. As Selin told The MIT Technology Review, “My goal is to get students to think about what science is relevant to policy development and how to communicate it, so they can be engaged in the policy-making process.” But first there is the science. The Selin Group uses atmospheric chemistry models to track pollution and its sources. From there, using overlapping models tracking effects on human health, her group is able to compare the impacts of actual pollutant levels to theoretical ones, and then quantify the associated economic burdens on affected regions. Her work has argued that new air-quality regulations in Western Europe could save the region more than 37 billion Euros by 2020, and that air pollution in China has cost the country $112 billion. In another study, Selin showed that proposed policies to reduce carbon emissions alone, separate from other sources of air pollution, could result in health care savings in the U.S. of more than 10 times the cost to implement them. Selin, who holds a joint-appointment in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, was promoted in July to Associate Professor. Prior to joining the faculty in 2010, she was a research scientist with the MIT Center for Global Change Science and Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. She earned her master’s degree in 2000 and doctorate in 2007, both from Harvard University.
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