CONWAY, Ark. (July 15, 2013) – What makes the Smoky Mountains look smoky and
why are the Blue Ridge Mountains blue? Just ask Hendrix students Alyssa Jaksich
and Dagen Hughes.
This summer, Jaksich, a senior chemical physics and economics major from Nashville,
Tenn., and Hughes, a junior chemistry major from Hot Springs, Ark., are working
on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southeast Nexus (SENEX)
study and field campaign in Smyrna, Tenn.
The major aim of the study is to examine the interactions between biogenic (natural)
and anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions at the nexus of air quality and climate
The study uses a combination of atmospheric modeling and aircraft measurements
onboard the NOAA WP-3D research aircraft to clock over 120 flight hours across the
southeast U.S. The aircraft is sampling directly over Arkansas due to the proposed
science questions regarding isoprene emissions from the Ozarks, the presence of
large power plant plumes in West Memphis and the oil and gas industry in the Fayetteville
The southeast U.S. is an interesting region to study the relative roles of atmospheric
gases, aerosols and aerosol precursor gases with respect to their effects on climate
change and air quality, according to Hendrix chemistry professor Dr. Courtney Hatch,
who is mentoring the students in their research.
“The southeast U.S. has not warmed as much as other regions in the U.S. in response
to climate change,” Hatch explained. “It is believed that the temperature anomaly
in the southeast U.S. is likely related to the high aerosol concentrations derived
from chemical reactions between anthropogenic (O3) and biogenic (volatile
and semivolatile organic compounds emitted from vegitation) aerosol precursor gases
emitted in this region.”
The opportunity to work on-site in a field environment is a unique experience
for undergraduate student researchers, Hatch said.
“The experience of participating in a scientific field study is extremely different
from the experiences most Hendrix science students get in the laboratory in which
preparation, data collection and analysis can be done on a much longer time scale,”
“Generally there is only a finite amount of time to gather data in the field.
Field work requires what NOAA calls ‘rapid science synthesis,’ where the previous
days science may help determine where you fly/sample the next time out,” she said.
“In this way, the necessity to keep up with data analysis during the study creates
an intensive research environment. Thus, the uniqueness of this experience arises
from the fact that the students will directly see the science evolve as the project
Hatch’s research background is closely related to the science questions posed
by SENEX field scientists. Currently, one of her major laboratory projects is funded
by the National Science Foundation’s Atmospheric Chemistry program. Because her
research experiences have predominantly involved laboratory measurements of the
physiochemical properties and surface chemistry of atmospheric aerosols, the opportunity
to participate in SENEX enhances the broader impacts of her professional research
endeavors, she said.
The NOAA SENEX project has significant implications for environmental policy,
“As anthropogenic aerosols are currently being regulated by the government due
to their health effects without concern for their cooling climate effects, it is
imperative to develop strategic policies that will address both our changing climate
and our air quality simultaneously,” she explained. “There is a need for focused
and intensive research at the nexus of air quality and climate change to inform
policy makers of the most effective strategies to improve air quality without a
net cost to our climate and health.”
Participants in the study include investigators from a number of academic and
government institutions and represent 30-40 of the top atmospheric researchers in
the country. But that is not all. The SENEX project is only a subset of the various
field studies that are collaborating to study the atmosphere across the southeast
US, including resources and facilities from the National Science Foundation, the
Environmental Protection Agency and the Electric Power Research Institute in addition
to NOAA. Together, the collaboration includes four airborne platforms and four ground
based field sites distributed across the southeast.
Jaksich and Hughes are two of only four undergraduate students working on the
SENEX project. Their summer research was partially funded by Your Hendrix Odyssey
: Engaging in Active Learning and NOAA.
“Working alongside and simply talking with these researchers is an experience
in itself resulting in a transfer of knowledge and advice that could greatly effect
and influence my future education and career path,” said Jaksich. “Another potential
outcome of this study that has a great deal of value to myself is the possibility
of publications. After the field study is complete all of the acquired data will
be readily available to us, this includes data from all aspects of the study, not
just the data we collect.”
Prior to joining the project, the students went through a two-week training period
on campus to learn the atmospheric chemistry behind the major science goals of the
project and the theory and instrumentation of a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer
“I never dreamed that I would be given the opportunity to take part in a highly
collaborative and coordinated study such as this with some of the world’s top researchers
as an undergrad,” said Hughes. “I am so thankful that I have been given this opportunity
that will allow me to explore so many options for my future, and represent Hendrix
while doing it. My Hendrix Odyssey is more than an educational goal. It is a personal
journey toward finding my vocation.”
Jaksich and Hughes will present their results this spring at the American Chemical
Society national meeting in Dallas, Texas.
Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts
and sciences education. For the fifth consecutive year, Hendrix was named one of
the country’s “Up and Coming” liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report.
Hendrix is featured in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country’s
best 377 colleges, the latest edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools
That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges, Forbes magazine's
annual list of America's Top 650 Colleges, and the 2013 edition of the Fiske Guide
to Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since
1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.