Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Research / Discovery

Q & A: CSU's newest National Academy member

January 28, 2014
By Kortny Rolston

A.R. "Ravi" Ravishankara recently joined CSU's chemistry and atmospheric science departments as a faculty member and researcher. Ravishankara, an atmospheric chemist, is known for his research related to the understanding of ozone layer depletion, climate change, and air quality. In 2000, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a researcher can receive.

Before joining CSU, Ravishankara served as the director of the Chemical Sciences Division of the Earth System Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

He shared his thoughts about his new job and his research with Today @ Colorado State:

Why ozone depletion research?

In 1975, while earning my Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Florida, I attended a seminar by professor F. Sherwood Rowland. He, with Dr. Mario Molina, had discovered that chlorofluorocarbons, which at the time were used in refrigerants and aerosols, would destroy the Earth’s ozone layer if their use continued. It was very interesting research and very groundbreaking. (Rowland and Molina later won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for this work along with Paul Crutzen.)

What sets your research apart?

The hallmark of my work has been to utilize laboratory and field observations to identify and understand major atmospheric issues. For example, my colleagues and I established the rates of many key reactions involved in ozone layer depletion in the lower stratosphere and in polar region - including the ozone hole over the Antarctic. We developed many experimental methods to study these reactions.

Later, we developed a methodology to calculate heterogeneous reaction rates over liquid droplets that is based on parameters such as diffusion constant, solubility, and reaction rates in solution, which can be measured independently.  This method, with various modifications and improvements by others, is still the foundation for calculating stratospheric heterogeneous reaction rates in atmospheric model calculation and in interpreting laboratory data.  

Why are these experimental and calculation methods important?

The atmosphere presents unique conditions that are complex. For example, the temperature, composition, and light levels change with location, time, and other conditions. Therefore, instruments that can obtain information for atmospheric purposes do not always exist and need to be developed. 

Also, one cannot measure everything under all atmospheric conditions. Therefore, calculations based on fundamental chemical information help us not only understand what happening now but also for predicting what can happen in the future. The ability to predict is key to dealing with environmental issues.

Why CSU?

CSU is strong in chemistry and atmospheric research. It was a good fit for me.
I really enjoy working with students, as I did at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and at University of Colorado in Boulder; I am looking forward to doing that here.

What research will you do at CSU? Will you teach classes?

I am looking at where my work fits in with what my colleagues at CSU are doing. I have always been active in research and will continue here. I will teach classes. I would like to use my experiences of taking science to decision makers to teach students about how policy is made and implemented. As scientists, we think all the decisions should be based on science only, but there are a lot of other inputs that must be considered in making societal decisions.  I want to bring that perspective to my students and colleagues.

What have you learned from nearly 40 years of atmospheric research?

You don’t have to take giant steps to accomplish change- both for scientific progress and for solving environmental issues. You can take baby steps and still get things done.

Take CFCs and the ozone layer for example. These man-made chemicals are no longer used because they deplete the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful solar radiation. But the science for this success took decades of research and making and implementation of policy was in steps.  It allowed people and countries to adopt at different rates.

To me what is amazing is that people took action about a layer they could not feel, ultraviolet rays they could not see and a chemical they could not taste, smell or see. There is a lot of hope for making our planet a safe place.