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Expert in Remote Sensing of Pollution is New Chemistry Chair


Peter Bernath, an internationally known research investigator and scholar who has made many seminal contributions in molecular spectroscopy and chemical physics that have helped us know more about greenhouse gases and molecules of astrophysical importance, joined Old Dominion University this fall as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

He comes to ODU from York University in England, where he was chair of physical chemistry and director of the York Center of Laser Spectroscopy.

A Fellow of the Optical Society of America, Bernath was a lead scientist for the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE), a Canadian satellite mission that began in 2003 and has turned up important information about climate change and air quality. He took on that project while he was professor of chemistry (with a cross appointment in physics) at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Bernath received the 2009 Alouette Award of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and the 2004 Excellence in Research Award from the University of Waterloo largely on the strength of his innovations and accomplishments in satellite remote sensing of pollution. He and colleagues detect organic molecules in the upper troposphere using a high-resolution Fourier transform infrared spectrometer on the ACE satellite in low Earth orbit.

The ACE spectrometer measures the absorption and scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere during sunrise and sunset. Molecules of interest include small non-methane hydrocarbons such as ethane and ethene as well as oxygenated species such as acetone, methanol and acetaldehyde. The goals of the project include the preparation of the first global atmospheric distributions, and the study of pollutant gas plumes caused by biomass burning and industrial activity.

"Dr. Bernath is an outstanding scholar, research investigator and teacher," said Chris Platsoucas, dean of the ODU College of Sciences. "We are extremely fortunate to have been able to attract him as our new chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry." Platsoucas predicted that Bernath will make valuable contributions to the Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative that the university launched last year.

The new chair succeeds Richard Gregory, the professor of chemistry and biochemistry who had been chair of the department since 2006 and who will now focus on teaching and research in the field of polymer and materials science. "I thank Dr. Gregory for his service to the department, especially for his leadership in bringing the Ph.D. program in chemistry to ODU," Platsoucas said.

Bernath received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1980 and served as assistant professor and associate professor at the University of Arizona before joining the University of Waterloo in 1991 and York University in 2006.

He is the author of 488 papers in peer-reviewed journals and a textbook, "Spectra of Atoms and Molecules," that was first published in 1995 and is now in its second edition. He has been a member of the editorial boards of six journals, including the Journal of Chemical Physics and the Journal of Molecular Structure. His recent and current research has been supported by approximately $3 million in peer-reviewed grants.

Platsoucas also praised Bernath's record as a teacher and mentor. Since 1982, the new chemistry chair has taught 45 undergraduate and graduate courses and has trained 15 Ph.D. students, nine master's students and 19 postdoctoral fellows and other scientists.

Bernath received the Killam Research Fellowship (1998-2000), the Broida Prize of the International Symposium on Free Radicals (1997), the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award (1987-1992) and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellow Award (1987-1990).

This article was posted on: October 19, 2011

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