Jennifer Faust, assistant professor of chemistry at The College of Wooster, has received a five-year grant of $641,239 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her research studying the effects pesticides found in rain, snow, and other particulate matter collected in Ohio and her work to train Wooster students as well as local high school students in atmospheric and environmental chemistry research. One of the most prestigious awards for early-career faculty in the sciences, the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program particularly supports teacher-scholars who integrate their research with educational endeavors and early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. As principal investigator for the grant, Faust is among a limited number of atmospheric chemists to receive a CAREER award and an even rarer number of faculty to receive the award in a similar role at a fully undergraduate institution.
“I am thrilled to receive five years of support for research and outreach in environmental chemistry,” Faust said. “Such a long period allows my students to have continuity in their projects over several years at Wooster, and I can establish lasting relationships with my community partners at local high schools.”
“The most important aspect of the grant is how it will support training for research students in atmospheric and environmental chemistry,” said Faust, noting that the grant will provide opportunities for 34 undergraduate research positions beginning in the fall of 2021 and continuing over five years. Faust designed the grant to support collaboration with local high schools to create a precipitation collection program including Wendy Breneman’s class at Smithville High School, Heather Hinkle’s class at Buchtel High School in Akron, and Chad Gossett’s class at KIPP Columbus High. High school students will collect rain and snow samples throughout the school year, and they will participate in annual Lab Visit Days at The College of Wooster. “On visit days, the high school students will use chemical instrumentation to identify mystery molecules in rainwater, with the guidance of Wooster undergraduate students acting as mentors,” said Faust.
Identifying the molecules found in the rainwater allows Faust and her fellow researchers to understand the mechanisms by which pesticides degrade in the environment. “Pesticides are the only class of chemical contaminants that humans deliberately release into the environment in large quantities,” she explained. “Because pesticides can be transported through the atmosphere, they may cause poor air quality, health risks, environmental contamination, and crop damage in regions distant from their application sites.”
Funded by the NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, the CAREER award will also support one postdoctoral scholar for two years, travel funding that will allow students to present the results of their research at a national conference each year, and funding for research instrumentation and equipment including an automated solid-phase extraction system, a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer with attenuated total reflection, an ozone analyzer, four precipitation samplers, and a nitrogen evaporator. Additional funding is also provided for chemicals and lab supplies and for the outreach program with local high schools.