Jenna Ditto Wins Desert Research Institute Award

For her work on research that found that a type of air pollution is much more complicated than previous studies indicated, Jenna Ditto has won the Wagner Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences from the Desert Research Institute.

image of jenna dittoThe Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences is based on a paper competition and awarded to a woman pursuing a Masters or Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences or a related program at a university in the United States. The amount of the award is $1,500.

Ditto, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Drew Gentner, assistant professor of chemical & environmental engineering, was lead author on the study, which was published in November 2018 in Nature’s Communications Chemistry.

The study used high-powered equipment to analyze air samples and get a detailed look at the molecular makeup of organic aerosols, which have a significant presence in the atmosphere. Posing risks to health and climate, these airborne particles generally fall into two categories: Primary organic aerosols that can form during combustion, such as in car and truck exhaust, and secondary organic aerosols that result from oxidation of organic gases and particles in the air.

The researchers’ method allowed them to differentiate molecules that would otherwise appear to be very similar. It’s a significant advancement since knowing what harmful elements are in the air is critical to finding ways to reduce them.

The award is named for Dr. Peter B. Wagner, an atmospheric scientist who had been a faculty member at the Desert Research Institute since 1968, was killed while conducting research in a 1980 plane crash.

The Desert Research Institute is an organization that investigates the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change and advancing technologies aimed at assessing a changing planet.