How science gets done

17 07 2014

A lack of sleep, lots of laughs, and a room full of loud pumps: how science gets done!

What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been! It’s hard to believe that we are already about halfway through IMPACTS (Investigation into Marine Particle Chemistry and Transfer Science), the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment (CAICE) summer 2014 intensive campaign. The hydraulics lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been overtaken by students, postdocs, and instrumentation (and TONS of noisy pumps!) in hopes of measuring changes in various chemical and physical properties of sea spray aerosol over the course of a phytoplankton bloom and understanding how these changes may influence the climate and environment.

I am a grad student, just starting my 3rd year at UC San Diego in Timothy Bertram’s research group. Most of the researchers here are interested in measuring sea spray aerosols; however, particles are not the only interesting component generated and released from the ocean surface.

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The author, Nicole Campbell, poses with the CITOFMS, which measures trace marine gases

The ocean also emits various gas-phase species; the specific trace gases that are produced can change as a function of the biological conditions present at the sea surface. Once introduced to the atmosphere, gas-phase molecules can undergo interesting chemistry; some gases can even serve as precursors for new aerosol particle formation! I am operating a piece of instrumentation to measure these trace marine gases, a chemical ionization time of flight mass spectrometer (the CITOFMS), which allows for real-time, simultaneous detection of gas-phase molecules in a specific mass range of interest.

This is my first field study, and it has definitely been an eye-opening experience, filled with the full spectrum of emotions. I have learned SO much during the past few weeks, not only about science, but also about teamwork and collaboration. This experiment has been a huge undertaking for everybody involved and has definitely tested the patience of many, but I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend a month of 15+ hour workdays with. The creativity, dedication, positivity (most of the time…don’t get me wrong, there have been some challenging moments for sure!), and excitement of the grad students, postdocs, professors, facility staff, and visitors is incredible and has made this such a fun and exciting environment to work in. I can’t wait to see what we learn and the story that unfolds in the coming months!

Nicole R. Campbell, graduate student, Bertram Group at UC San Diego, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

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