Chakrabarty receives CAREER Award from National Science Foundation

Scientists do not yet have a good understanding of the climate-forcing effects of aerosols emitted from biomass burning. An aerosol scientist at Washington University in St. Louis plans to look at this impact closely with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Rajan Chakrabarty, PhD

Rajan Chakrabarty, assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, has been awarded a five-year, $691,180 Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER). His project is titled "From Cradle to Grave: Radiative Properties of Biomass Burning Aerosols."

CAREER Awards support junior faculty who model the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization. Chakrabarty is the 25th faculty member in the School of Engineering & Applied Science to receive the award.

"We are delighted to have Rajan join the department, and he adds strengths to our aerosol cluster with six other faculty members," says Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. "He will play an integral part in the Center for Aerosol Science and Engineering with his expertise in aerosol physics. He is off to a great start, and we look forward to exciting results from his research group in the years ahead."

With the funding, Chakrabarty will study the optical and microphysical properties of aerosols emitted from burning of wildland fuels prevalent in the United States.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has predicted that by 2030, biomass burning will emerge as the top emitter of black carbon in the U.S., surpassing domestic diesel emissions. To address this concern, Chakrabarty will use novel experimental techniques, such as multiwavelength photoacoustic spectroscopy and nephelometry, along with computational electromagnetic techniques, to accurately characterize the properties of biomass smoke aerosols as a function of combustion parameters and atmospheric aging. He will then compare results from his laboratory experiments with those from recently conducted field studies. His ultimate goal is to generate a comprehensive database of smoke aerosol properties for integration into next-generation climate models.

As part of the project, Chakrabarty will work with teachers from high schools in the St. Louis area whose students are from groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. He will hold intensive teacher-training workshops to cover key scientific concepts from climate change science and climate modeling exercises using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Education Global Climate Model.

Earlier this year, Chakrabarty received a three-year, $530,000 grant from NASA to study the climatic effects of carbon-containing aerosols emitted from peat fires. Burning of peatlands — an organic mixture of decayed and compacted leaves — are the largest fires on earth. These high-moisture-containing fuels make up nearly three-fourths of earth's land mass and are believed to be the largest emitter of carbon from wildfires to the atmosphere. However, unlike flaming fires, peatlands smolder underground for weeks and months and emit a whitish smoke. While plenty is known about the environmental effects of black carbon, the effects of peatfire smoke on human health and the climate are largely unstudied and an emerging field.

Chakrabarty's research focuses on two distinct themes: investigating the role of atmospheric aerosols in earth's energy balance using novel instrumentation and diagnostic techniques and numerical models; and understanding aerosol formation in combustion systems toward synthesis of high porosity and surface-area materials for energy applications.

Chakrabarty joined the WashU faculty in 2014. He earned a doctorate in chemical physics and a master of science in atmospheric sciences from the University of Nevada, Reno, as well as a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Madras. He completed postdoctoral research at the Desert Research Institute in Reno before joining the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.