Emily Fischer receives Macelwane Medal, one of AGU’s highest honors

Emily Fischer, associate professor, Atmospheric Science, CSU (Photo credit: Cassie Rosch, Photographer, www.cassierosch.com)
Emily Fischer, associate professor, Atmospheric Science, CSU (Photo credit: Cassie Rosch, Photographer, www.cassierosch.com)

In recognition of her significant contributions to the geophysical sciences as an outstanding early career scientist, the American Geophysical Union has chosen CSU Atmospheric Science Associate Professor Emily Fischer for the James B. Macelwane Medal. She will be honored at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December for her breakthrough research on air pollution and her efforts to increase diversity in geosciences.

“The Global Burden of Disease ranks air pollution as the fourth largest health risk in the world. … Knowing how much pollution comes from what sources for a given location, what are the pollutant properties, and how these pollutants are formed and evolve during atmospheric transport are key pieces of information for reducing health risk. That is why atmospheric chemistry is such a cornerstone of science for improving human health – and this is where Dr. Fischer’s work is making a major contribution,” wrote UC Berkeley Professor Ronald Cohen in his nomination letter.

During the summer of 2018, Fischer led the largest, most comprehensive research campaign ever attempted to analyze wildfire smoke. The National Science Foundation-funded WE-CAN, or Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption and Nitrogen, was a collaboration among five universities and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that involved a C-130 research plane loaded with scientific instruments. Analysis of the data collected during the campaign is ongoing and will shed light on the composition of wildfire smoke, how it changes over time and as it travels, and how it affects clouds. The results will bring insights on air quality, health impacts, weather and climate.

The medal also recognizes Fischer for her role in the development of a novel method for measuring peroxyacetyl nitrate, or PAN, an irritating component in smog. In collaboration with a colleague at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, her team proved that satellites can provide a global view of PAN in the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere.

“Because of her work, we can now better predict ground-level ozone, its variation in space and time, and its overall roles in human and ecosystem health,” wrote Cohen.

In addition to Fischer’s pioneering air quality research, she is breaking down barriers for women and other marginalized individuals in STEM. Through her NSF-funded PROGRESS initiative, she has demonstrated that mentoring is key to retaining underrepresented groups in geosciences. The mentoring program has been implemented across nine universities and two U.S. regions, and she is pursuing additional NSF funding to expand it.

Fischer will have a chance to do some mentoring of her own during the AGU Fall Meeting. Macelwane Medal recipients were invited to speak at the session “A New Generation of Scientists.” Fischer said she plans to share how she realized she should try to earn a Ph.D., how she decided to become a professor, and the best advice that continues to motivate her current work. She’ll also talk about managing widely divergent research interests and taking risks as a pre-tenure faculty member.

AGU medals are the highest honors bestowed by the union. They recognize scientists for their body of work and sustained impact within the Earth and space science community. The AGU also will confer fellowship to Fischer, along with the Macelwane Medal.

“I am quite overwhelmed by this honor, and I was very surprised by it,” Fischer said. “I am very grateful for all the people who I have had the pleasure of working with during my early career years. I have been lucky for great collaborators that have allowed the breadth of my science questions to grow.”