Finding an Affinity for Chemistry

Written by: Elizabeth Pogue, CAICE 2022 SURP Fellow

My academic journey began 16 years ago when I went to Cal State University San Marcos after high school to study psychology.

I overloaded my school and work schedules; I thought that that’s how college worked. After 2 years I burned out, and I struggled with my mental health for a long time. My life became more and more toxic.

When I found out I was expecting a child, I resolved to become a healthy person, and that endeavor led me back to school! I am driven to learn how I can help keep the planet around for my daughter, and I’m excited for all the ways that education makes that possible.

I started at MiraCosta College 2 years ago (with a manageable schedule) where I discovered an affinity for chemistry and the opportunity to participate in a CAICE research symposium that led me to Professor Prather and SOARS.

The vastness of our misunderstanding regarding aerosols requires the beautiful complexity of this project, and my honors project turned into a budding passion.

The research goal I get to support this summer is the characterization of aerosols. What we do know about sea spray aerosols (SSA) is that there is a strong relationship between the size of an aerosol and the size of the bubble that produced that aerosol.

If we can determine the size distribution of bubbles formed by a breaking wave, we will have more information about the size distribution of those aerosols, helping to characterize them.

In the lab we simulate a breaking wave using a marine aerosol reference tank (MART) and photograph the bubbles. We use computer software to convert pixels to centimeters and particle counters to determine the size range and concentrations of aerosols.

SSA can be produced from the fragmented film of a bubble, consisting largely of hydrophobic organic material, or it can be produced by the jet of bulk seawater that ejects upon absence of the bubble, consisting of salts and water-soluble organics.

The size and composition of a sea spray aerosol can give us information about its ability to form clouds and ice crystals which helps us learn about aerosol impacts on weather and climate.

Another SSA question I get to investigate this summer is that of phases. We will observe how size-selected aerosols bounce in order to learn about their viscosities.

My advice for future SURP applicants, for anyone, really, is to strive to be open and authentic.

The more you can tap into what is authentically you, the more you can recognize what is a fit for your life, whether that is an academic path or a career choice, or anything else. Additionally, being open to new experiences illuminates the possibilities for you to find that fit.

Chemistry is the last thing I would have chosen to study 16 years ago, but every day I wake up so excited to investigate our world through this lens. This program has made that incredibly accessible for me, and I highly recommend applying! It’s never too late to forge a new academic path.

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