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SEA Days: All About Aerosols

by Camila Pauda, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Continuing with last month’s topic of atmospheric chemistry. Since May is Clean Air Month, May’s SEA Days is all about aerosols and you! Aerosols are extremely small particles (like dust, soot, and sea spray) that live in Earth’s atmosphere. Aerosols are very influential to the health of the environment, and therefore, to people! Aerosols affect many atmospheric chemistry aspects, such as cloud formation and ozone depletion. These tiny particles come from a variety of sources, such as vehicles, volcanoes, and sea spray from the ocean.

You are in for a treat with this month’s SEA Days visiting scientist, because several members of UC San Diego’s Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) will be at Birch Aquarium, demonstrating real-time experiments and answering your questions. Researchers at CAICE focus on improving our understanding of how aerosol particles impact the environment, air quality, and climate. For example, they study how changes in ocean biology impact sea-spray production, composition, and climate properties by using an ocean-atmosphere wave flume.

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In addition to conducting research, CAICE plays an active role in education and outreach to inform the public of climate and air pollution research and to spread science education. One of the visiting scientists at SEA Days on May 21 is Camille Sultana, a graduate student in the Prather Lab at UC San Diego (which participates in CAICE). Read our conversation about her experience in atmospheric chemistry research and what will visitors can expect at SEA DaysDSC03142

Where did you go to college?
Harvey Mudd College

What is your area of research?
Atmospheric Aerosol Chemistry

Who or what inspired you to become involved in atmospheric chemistry/marine science?
I wanted to be able to do work that would help to improve human health and the health of the environment. Also, atmospheric chemistry is really cool because I get the opportunity to take on a number of different projects from instrument development, to field studies, to data analysis.  I always have the chance to learn something new.

What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
Perseverance and the ability to think critically about others and your own work.

Why is your research topic important?
Atmospheric aerosols are like tiny floating laboratories. So much chemistry in the atmosphere is dependent upon aerosols, from the formation of clouds to the depletion of the ozone hole.

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What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
We will be bringing our “cloud in a bottle” activity. In this activity, visitors will be able to make a cloud in a bottle and see how the introduction of aerosols changes the properties of the clouds formed. Additionally, we will be bringing a particle counter that allows visitors to see how numerous aerosols are in the very air they breathe, even though the aerosols are largely invisible to the naked eye.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
To be an atmospheric chemist you have to be able to pull knowledge from biology, meteorology, physical chemistry, computer programming, engineering, and more. It is very interdisciplinary, which allows people from a wide variety of backgrounds to get involved as long as they have a willingness to collaborate. It’s hard to be an expert in everything, but you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and be able to communicate and work with scientists who study topics different from yourself.

What is your favorite ocean organism or molecule or aspect of atmospheric chemistry?
Seahorses! Seahorses are amazing. Go check out the seahorse exhibit! Those are some crazy-shaped fish.
As far as atmospheric chemistry, I think recent findings that dust and pollution transported from Asia can affect weather patterns here in California is really interesting. It illustrates how complicated studying something as huge and uncontrolled as the atmosphere is.

Join us on Saturday, May 17 for SEA Days: Breathing in Climate Change—there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!

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