The American Association of Aerosol Research (AAAR) is an international organization that promotes and communicates technical advances in the field of aerosol research, and includes professionals and students from academia, government and industry in the areas of pollution, industrial hygiene, atmospheric sciences, clean room technology and nuclear safety.

Donald Dabdub, Samueli School professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was recently inducted Fellow at the AAAR 35th annual conference in Portland, Oregon.

The Fellow designation is highly selective and honors significant contributions by individuals to the discipline of aerosol science and technology, as well as service to AAAR. Dabdub, who also is affiliated with UC Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program, studies the impact of climate change on air quality. He develops new physics and chemistry for air quality models, designs new algorithms to describe air pollution dynamics and researches energy-related scenarios on urban air sheds.

The OVPTL had a chance to catch up with Dabdub to learn more about his research and how his prestigious Fellowship is going.

Petrina Suggs: Donald, as a Fellow of AAAR, what is that you do?

Donald Dabdub: One of the things that I do is attend the annual national conference of the association, to promote the science of aerosols. I work to bring together people from government labs, from funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together. Then I connect them with the professors who are seeking grants to do research with the students who want to pursue to graduate school. This conference brings all these people together which I think serves an enormous amount of purpose. There are many really profound changes related to the impact of research careers and grant funding research in aerosols. It is exciting to play a key role in connecting the government with both professors and graduate students.

I’ve been part of the conference organization committee for more than 15 years. And every three years, there is an international conference. The international conference rotates to Asia, Europe and the United States. Next year in 2018, the US will host the international aerosol conference. This is a big deal, and I am thrilled to be an AAAR Fellow and do my best to play a significant and extensive role for the international conference.

Petrina Suggs: What advice would you give for someone that was trying to get the fellowship that you got?

Donald Dabdub: That’s an interesting question. I would probably say that the best advice would be to enter whatever field you are in, with an enormous amount of drive and passion and don’t expect anything in return. Just go there because you really want to put yourself out there. I’ve been a member of AAAR for 25 years and I remember some of the early Fellows were nominated and I was like, “Oh, that’s nice! I’ll never be one.” But I just kept doing my thing, and have continued to enjoy science and research. I was extremely surprised when I found out I was nominated. My advice is to make sure you are following your passion and working because your heart is in it.

Petrina Suggs: What would you say is the most difficult part of the job outside of being a Fellow?

Donald Dabdub: I think that these days, the hardest part of research is the fund procurement. Securing funds is challenging. The actual doing of the science is difficult too. You bang your head against the wall many times when the experiments not working. It is difficult, but it’s difficult in a fun way. On the other hand, when you’re working with students there are a lot of things that are challenging but I find enjoyable. When we encounter problems, we work together to figure things out.

Petrina Suggs: What is something that you’re currently working on? What’s your big project right now?

Donald Dabdub: Right now, I am trying to solve the ammonia puzzle. Ammonia, it’s like Asthma to me. There’s many sources. Here in California, one of the big emissions of Ammonia is cattle. Have you ever noticed a certain smell when you drive by a place with lots of cattle? Other significant sources are agricultural operations and cars.

Petrina Suggs: Yes.

Donald Dabdub: You know what I’m talking about. You smell it. You have all the massive amounts of ammonia emission. Ammonia gets released to the atmosphere and it forms ammonium nitrate because it combines with nitrogen oxides that are emitted by cars. You and I drive on the 405 and the wind blows all the way to Chino so all this nitrogen oxides react with ammonium to form ammonium nitrate. That, we know. But what the ammonia does to the secondary organic aerosols is something that we are trying to figure out. My approach is using computational science systems to create a virtual world using massively parallel supercomputers.  I started my PhD working on the computer simulations in the early 90s, and that’s when I fell madly in love with computational science. I was head over heels. I could not think of anything else but parallel computers. Even to this day, I get super excited about it.

Petrina Suggs: Any words of advice for young scientists?

Donald Dabdub: Something that I strongly believe and I tell my students all the time is that science should be fun. Sometimes, these days science is a chore, it’s a business, it’s what your parents want you to do.  It can be many things, but science should be fun. Or if you are not excited about science, whatever you do should be fun. You want to have a good match between what you do and what you like to do. That’s where the magic happens. I cannot begin to express how important this concept is. In my experience dealing with tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of students, I find that the ones who pick what they are passionate about, do much better.

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