04/09/2001 07:00:00

Caltech Professor Cited for Insights into Atmospheric Phenomena

PASADENA, Ca.- The chemical constituents of Earth's atmosphere are linked together in a complex way. A subtle alteration of one can make significant, often counterintuitive changes to another. For his work in unraveling some of the knotty complexity involved in such atmospheric processes, the California Institute of Technology's John H. Seinfeld has been awarded the Desert Research Institute's 2001 Nevada Medal.

Seinfeld is the Louis E. Nohl Professor and professor of chemical engineering at Caltech. The Desert Research Institute is the autonomous research division of the University of Nevada and Community College System, and is one of the world's largest multidisciplinary environmental research organizations. The Nevada Medal recognizes outstanding scientific and engineering achievements that have led to a better understanding of the global environment.

As a young investigator in the 1970s, Seinfeld developed the first mathematical models of air pollution. Use of these models is now stipulated in the Federal Clean Air Act, and they remain the basic tool employed by scientists around the world to simulate urban and regional air quality.

His career has spanned everything from the "micro" of urban air pollution to the "macro" of global climate change. Seinfeld was one of the first scientists to describe the chemical processes that produce ozone in urban areas. Ozone is the gas in the upper atmosphere that forms a protective layer against excess ultraviolet radiation, but is also a key ingredient of photochemical smog. He has also advanced our insight into such things as acid rain, the global influence of aerosols in climate and cloud formation, and the production and evolution of aerosols in the atmosphere.

"Great progress has been made in understanding the detailed physics and chemistry of the urban atmosphere, progress that has led to significant reductions in air pollution," says Seinfeld. "Now, predicting how atmospheric chemistry and aerosols will interact to govern future climate is among the most challenging problems in all of science.

"It is to this end that our research group is now working. The Nevada Medal, with a distinguished list of former recipients, is one of this nation's most prestigious awards. I am indebted to the Desert Research Institute for this high honor," he says.

Seinfeld is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the former chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the NASA Public Service Award and the American Chemical Society's Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology. He has published more than 400 papers and four critically acclaimed books, including the basic worldwide textbook on atmospheric physics and chemistry. The minted, silver Nevada medallion and $10,000 prize were awarded to Seinfeld in ceremonies in Reno last month.

Written by Marcus Woo