2012 News & Events

CSD CIRES Scientist Earns Presidential Award for Early Career Achievements

23 July 2012

Rebecca Washenfelder
Dr. Rebecca Washenfelder

The White House today named CSD CIRES scientist Rebecca Washenfelder as a recipient of the 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE award is the highest honor given by the U.S. government to outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their careers.

Washenfelder is an atmospheric chemist with CIRES, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder. Her PECASE award citation acknowledges her "pioneering work in developing and applying new measurement techniques to study atmospheric chemistry related to climate and air quality and for commitment to science education and outreach."

She developed a new instrument that uses light in studies of the sources and composition of tiny airborne particles that affect both climate and air quality. Such particles, also known as aerosols, are an important and poorly understood component of the atmosphere. Her studies with the new instrument are expected to further scientific understanding about how aerosols affect climate and air quality.

She has also been actively involved in education and outreach, working to communicate the importance and progress of her research to the public. Read more about her research – work that has helped improve air quality in Houston, Texas, in the article CU-led discovery helps clear the air in Houston, or listen to a podcast with Washenfelder:

Washenfelder, who earned her master's and doctoral degrees in environmental science and engineering from the California Institute of Technology, says she first became interested in her chosen career while a student at Pomona College in Los Angeles County. As she ran around the college's track, she says, she sometimes couldn’t even see the nearby San Gabriel Mountains because of the smog. "There would just be a brown haze and no mountains," Washenfelder said. "I was fascinated by the air quality and decided that I wanted to study atmospheric chemistry."

"I am honored to receive this award," she said.