Zachary Decker


Tropospheric Chemistry



I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder and a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the Cooperative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).


I received my undergraduate degree from New College of Florida (NCF) with a concentration in Physical Chemistry under the thesis advisement of Steven Shipman (NCF) and Leonid Sheps (Sandia National Labs Combustion Research Facility).

Currently, I am chasing a PhD under the advisement of Steven S. Brown in physical chemistry at CU Boulder and NOAA.


I'm interested in research at the interface of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

My past projects have involved the following topics.

  • Wildfire and agricultural burning smoke plume chemistry
  • Chemical kinetics and dynamics of Criegee intermediates
  • Study of high surface O3 events in Clark County (Las Vegas), Nevada
  • The detection of oil and gas processing emissions
  • Detection of reactive nitrogen species
  • Spectroscopy of molecules relevant to the interstellar medium.

My past projects have involved the following instrumentation and methods.

  • Chemical ionization mass spectrometry
  • Cavity-enhanced and cavity-ringdown spectroscopies
  • Aircraft and mobile laboratory sampling
  • Chemical chamber sampling
  • Chemical flow tube reactors
  • Gas Chromatography
  • Chirped-pulse Fourier transform microwave spectroscopy

Current Topics

As a member of the Tropospheric Chemistry group at NOAA, I utilize and develop multi-channel cavity-ringdown instruments to measure NOx, N2, NOy, and O3 simultaneously on a one-second time scale. These instruments can and have been implemented on various platforms such as the NOAA WP-3D aircraft, NOAA Twin Otter aircraft, and the NOAA CSL Mobile lab (ground vehicle).

I am currently investigating the dark chemistry of wildfire smoke plumes. That is, the chemistry that occurs without sunlight whether it be after sunset, or in the center of a thick and dark smoke plume. Specifically the reactions, and evolution, of the nitrate radical (NO3) with volatile organic compounds in smoke plumes as they are aged and transported.

Research into dark smoke plume chemistry is incredibly important for understanding air quality impacts to nearby and far away towns and cities. Yet, it is severely understudied. Most smoke is emitted through the evening and into the night. This means that most smoke plumes will eventually be subject to some, if not all, of dark chemistry. This chemistry determines the impact the smoke will have on air quality in populated regions.

I am studying dark smoke plume chemistry through the data we gathered during the NASA/NOAA FIREX-AQ campaign in 2019. During FIREX-AQ I worked with the Joel Thornton group from the University of Washington to operate an Iodide Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer aboard the NOAA Twin Otter aircraft. I am using a suite of methods to support this research such as box modeling and positive matrix factorization.

Visit my personal website for up to date information about my research:

Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

last modified: September 1, 2021