James F. Davies
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside
1. How did you get involved in the aerosol science community, or how did you first become interested in aerosol science?
My first exposure to aerosol science was in my 3rd year of undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge. I met with Dr. Francis Pope to discuss 4th year research project opportunities, and he showed me this fantastic device that levitated single aerosol particles using electric fields. I was immediately fascinated by the concept and the proposed project to measure water uptake on microscopic particles. Ultimately, I missed out on a position to work with this instrument that I would later come to know as an electrodynamic balance (EDB), and instead spent six months battling with an old mass spectrometer to measure the gas-phase products of organic aerosol ozonolysis. Nevertheless, my interest in aerosol science and particle levitation, was piqued. During my 4th year project, I met with Prof Jonathan Reid from the University of Bristol, with whom I conducted my PhD research, and finally was able to spend time working with and developing EDB instrumentation.
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?
My PhD in Bristol with Prof. Jonathan Reid was formative in shaping my ideas about aerosol science and the strategies for going about conducting aerosol research. My subsequent postdoc experience with Dr. Kevin Wilson allowed me to explore aerosol chemistry in more detail and to expand my knowledge of traditional aerosol methods. My current research path draws from the experiences I gained working with both Jonathan and Kevin. Outside of my direct research advisers, many people have influenced my work, including my close collaborators Ryan Davis and Thomas Preston, Cari Dutcher and Adam Trevitt, who have always been constant sources of support, and all the inspirational scientists I’ve met and read about over the years.
3. How has it been for you in setting up and growing your own research group, any challenges?
Setting up a research lab has been a very rewarding experience. I enjoy the hands-on and technical aspects of laboratory experimentation – designing, building, and implementing a new experimental method is a lot of fun! My students have mostly taken over lab activities, but I still get my hands dirty with setting up new equipment or helping to fix any issues. The last couple of years have certainly presented new and unexpected challenges for growing a research group, but my students adapted quickly and have maintained a productive presence in the lab while prioritizing both safety and (I hope) sanity!
4. What inspired your interest in studying the physical, optical, and chemical properties of aerosol particles and their applications in aerosol science?
For me, aerosol science is fascinating because it spans such a broad scope of the physical sciences, from fundamental molecular interactions to the science of climate. Aerosols impact everyone on a daily basis through their role in climate, health, air quality, and engineering applications, and the physical, optical and chemical properties of the aerosol particles are a key factor in determining their overall effects in these areas.
5. Are there new aerosol research directions that you see as particularly important or interesting?
The last couple of years has led to a surge in research relating to the role of aerosols in disease transmission. There is still a lot to learn in this field, and many aerosol topics previously explored for their importance in the atmosphere, such as phase morphology and hygroscopicity, are equally important when applied to respiratory aerosol. For example, the physical state of particles that entrain viruses and bacteria is likely to be strongly linked to the viability of those microorganisms. Going forwards, I think a holistic approach to aerosol science that allows us to elucidate the connections between evolving composition, physical state, optical properties, and the broader impacts of aerosol will be important and lead to interesting discoveries that advance our understanding of the field.
This issue’s Newsletter Committee:
Editor | Kerry Kelly, University of UtahSenior Assistant Editor | Krystal Pollitt, Yale UniversityJunior Assistant Editor | Justice Archer, University of BristolGuest Contributor | Dong Gao