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DOE Early Career Research Award

June 9, 2015

Indiana University environmental chemist Jonathan Raff has been awarded a U.S. Department of Energy grant for $776,878 over five years to support research on soil microbial sources of nitrous acid and other chemicals that play a pivotal role in atmospheric processes.

Raff, an assistant professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, is one of 50 university- and national laboratory-based scientists funded through the Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program. The program, in its sixth year, supports exceptional researchers during crucial early career years.

“Supporting talented researchers in their early career years is one key to building and maintaining an effective scientific workforce for the nation,” said Patricia M. Dehmer, acting director of the department’s Office of Science. “We congratulate the winners of this year’s competition and look forward to following their achievements over the next five years.”

The funding is in addition to a five-year, $649,000 Early Career Research Development Award that the National Science Foundation awarded Raff last year to support his research and educational outreach efforts.

Under the Department of Energy Early Career Research Awards, university-based researchers receive at least $150,000 per year to cover research expenses. The research grants are planned for five years. To be eligible, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a Department of Energy national laboratory.

Research topics must be aligned with one of the Office of Science’s six major program areas: advanced scientific computing research, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental research, fusion energy sciences, high energy physics and nuclear physics.

Raff’s research will address the challenge of understanding soil microbial emissions of reactive nitrogen — including nitrous acid and nitric oxide — which affect climate by controlling the oxidative capacity of the atmosphere, lifetime of greenhouse gases and formation rate of aerosols. The project will provide an improved understanding of the fate of reactive nitrogen in soil that will enable these processes to be more accurately scaled from the laboratory to the ecosystem and global scales.

Using a unique multidisciplinary approach, the research will examine how variability in land surfaces and soil properties affect reactive nitrogen emissions. It will link soil fluxes of these gases to their microbial sources using a combination of laboratory and field studies, isotopic analysis and genomic techniques.

Raff joined the faculty at SPEA in 2010 after working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine, where he studied with pioneering air pollution researchers. He also is an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and  Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. from IU in 2007 after studies at Occidental College and the University of Minnesota.

He and other Department of Energy Early Career Research awardees were selected from a pool of over 600 applicants through peer review by outside scientific experts.