5 Questions with Akua Asa-Awuku
Incoming AAAR President
Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Maryland
Associate Chair, ChBE Strategic Initiatives
1. How did you get involved in the aerosol science community, or how did you first become interested in aerosol science?
I stumbled into aerosol science in graduate school. The first hurdle was getting into graduate school. I had no research experience as an undergrad and I lacked any research direction in my graduate school application. Now, I am quite positive that my recommendations were quite tepid, alas I got in. Next, I had to find an advisor. The summer before I went to grad school, I had a side job as a dishwasher in a bioengineering research lab. One day as I was busy stocking shelves with freshly autoclaved bottles, I had a conversation with one of the graduate students in the lab. They told me to find an advisor who I could get along with. I stuck to that advice (and continually perpetuate it to others). I took a chance on a somewhat new faculty member who was engaging, willing to mentor students, and did intriguing research and thus I became interested in aerosol science and part of the aerosol science community.
2. Which people or programs in our field have been the most influential to you and your path, or who have most influenced your ideas about aerosol research?
This is a tough question. Truly many people have been influential on my path but by far the most influential in aerosol research has had to be my Phd advisor, Athanasios Nenes. Because of his influence, I had a front-row seat learning how to start an aerosol research program, how to successfully advise and collaborate and how to share information and produce new aerosol work. It all started with Thanos and I am forever grateful.
3. The past year has obviously significantly changed the research focuses and activities of many members of the community. Are there ways that your research program has shifted toward new directions or new approaches, or are there new projects that you are excited about?
Honestly, I love a nice new shiny project and as difficult as this past year has been, it has also provided the opportunity for nice new shiny projects. Specifically, our research group has had new partnerships with international aerosol scientists, and all facilitated via the magic of Zoom. Like many others, we have also partnered on COVID based research projects that we hope to come out soon.
4. You’ve been very involved in efforts to improve student mentorship and broaden interest in science (ranging from NSF programs to a TEDx Talk). Do you have any particular advice or thoughts for newer members of our community?
The aerosol science field is relatively small and very collegial. Aerosol science has been called an “enabling science” and is thus filled with enabling scientists eager to contribute ideas and expertise to move research forward. I would encourage newer members to freely connect with current members and to also be encouraged to confidently contribute their new ideas to expand our field.
5. Are there new aerosol research directions that you see as particularly important or interesting?
We use the word new a lot, but as the proverb suggests “there is nothing really new under the sun”. I think the most interesting aerosol research is at the interface with other disciplines and combines multiple ideas e.g. aerosols and the gas-phase, aerosols and health, aerosols and the environment, aerosols and manufacturing, aerosols and so on. I think the most important research addresses the imminent issues we face today, climate change and all that may come with it, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, sustainability and pandemics.
Newsletter Committee Members:
Editor | Gabriel Isacman-VanWertz, Virgina Tech UnivesitySenior Assistant Editor | Kerry Kelly, University of UtahJunior Assistant Editor | Krystal Pollitt, Yale University