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SPEA professor earns NSF CAREER award

September 18, 2014

Indiana University professor Jonathan Raff has received a $649,000 award from the National Science Foundation to fund research into the chemistry of air pollution and climate impacts. The work will address uncertainties about how certain air pollutants — which are responsible for issues such as asthma, low visibility and climate change effects — are formed and lost on ground surfaces and in airborne dust.

The five-year Faculty Early Career Development Award, known as the CAREER Award, is NSF’s most prestigious recognition given in support of junior faculty members who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.”

“My graduate students and I hope to obtain a basic understanding of the molecular processes that are essential for answering key environmental questions,” Raff says. “We hope to develop effective solutions to problems related to pollution, human health, and climate.”

The CAREER award is intended to advance more than just laboratory and field research. It also supports Raff’s efforts to promote the study of science in the classroom by funding his development of learning modules based on ozone monitors installed at Indiana high schools.

“This represents a unique opportunity to use our research results to educate high school students about how the chemical make-up of air pollution has an impact on every breath they take, and in the process inspire future generations of scientists.” Raff says.

Raff has received several teaching awards and research grants. His laboratory uses interdisciplinary approaches and cutting-edge instruments to understand how chemical reactions on surfaces affect the fate of pollutants in the environment and impact global climate.

A member of the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty since 2010, Raff’s research has received national attention. A study he co-authored demonstrated air-pollution-removal technology used in “self-cleaning” paints and building surfaces may actually cause more problems than it solves. Raff also has the ability to explain complicated scientific developments in a way nonscientists can understand, as demonstrated in a Newsweek article about spray-on products that can lower air pollution.

Raff joined the faculty at SPEA after working as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied with pioneering air pollution researchers. He also is an adjunct professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. from IU in 2007 after undergraduate and graduate studies at Occidental College and the University of Minnesota.