Freedman receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Miriam Freedman, an assistant professor of chemistry at Penn State, has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The CAREER award is the most prestigious award given by the NSF in support of junior faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent teaching, and the integration of education and research. The CAREER award provides five years of funding and is given to assistant professors by NSF directorates at different times during the year.

The primary focus of Freedman’s research is on the structure and behavior of aerosols in the troposphere – the lowest and most volatile layer of the Earth’s atmosphere where most weather phenomena take place. Aerosols are suspended particles consisting of complex mixtures of compounds that aid in the formation of clouds and greatly influence how solar radiation affects climate. Freedman uses spectroscopic and surface-science techniques to explore the structure and properties of aerosols in order to determine how these mixtures interact with clouds and radiation to impact our climate system.

The CAREER award will help to support Freedman’s research concerning the sensitivity of cirrus clouds to the chemical composition of various aerosols in the atmosphere. She plans to test how well water molecules can adhere to laboratory proxies for particles in the atmosphere that are composed of salts, minerals and organic compounds to understand the role of defects on surfaces in the initial stages of ice nucleation. To perform these studies, Freedman has designed and built a novel, variable-temperature, ultrahigh-vacuum chamber in which she will use spectrographic and microscopic techniques to test how various organic compounds on surfaces interact with water. In addition to answering basic questions in the atmospheric sciences, the results of these studies also may have applications in the environmental, biological and material sciences.

In addition, Freedman will integrate research in atmospheric chemistry with teaching in a unique project involving undergraduate students and high-school science teachers. Freedman will direct science and communications majors to create a miniature online course in atmospheric chemistry and clouds. This new course will be presented to science teachers at summer workshops, enabling them to develop demonstrations and practical labs for their classrooms.

Before joining the faculty in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, Freedman was a postdoctoral fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado. In 2008, Freedman received a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship. Her teaching experience includes chemistry and mathematics courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Freedman earned doctoral and master’s degrees in chemistry at the University of Chicago in 2008 and 2003, respectively. Her graduate work was supported in part by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. She also received a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota in 2002. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore College in 2000.

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