I decided to do research on aerosols because I thought it would give me an opportunity to incorporate what I’d be learning in class as a chemical engineer with something I’m very passionate about — the environment.
"I was really passionate about chemistry and math in high school, so naturally I thought chemical engineering was something I'd be interested in. I had an amazing trig teacher who was genuinely excited about math. We took field trips everywhere.
"One day, we went to the wetlands nearby and calculated the volume of a lake. I think that was the moment I realized what direction I wanted to go in academically; the real-life application of math really drew me in. I applied to Bucknell as a chemical engineer. The engineering program led me to Bucknell initially, but the prospect of conducting research and working closely with professors as a Presidential Fellow really locked me in.
"In Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics class, which is a chemical engineering elective, we got to learn about the atmosphere and different environmental issues like the ozone hole and ozone depletion in the stratosphere. The class substantiated the research I'm doing in chemical engineering perfectly. My research is on aerosols — essentially solid particles suspended in the air. These particles grow and end up forming clouds, which is extremely important for weather and climate processes. My work under Professor Raymond and Professor Dutcher involves determining surface tensions of those aerosols, which is then used to model a cloud.
"At first, most of my work was geared toward learning how to use the atomic force microscope. This machine is difficult to work with because you have to zero in on a microscopic point so that the laser reflects perfectly. I spent nearly a year honing my abilities. After learning how to use the equipment, I'm now generating these aerosols at different humidity levels so they have a different moisture content in them, which results in varying surface tensions.
"I happened upon this research opportunity when I was choosing my Presidential Fellows project. I decided to do research on aerosols because I thought it would give me an opportunity to incorporate what I'd be learning in class as a chemical engineer with something I'm very passionate about — the environment. I've been a resident and a junior fellow for the Environmental Residential College. Being a part of this community gave me yet another outlet to engage with environmental studies and efforts.
"When I was looking for internships, I wanted something environmentally focused so I could use my technical knowledge outside of the chemical engineering industry. I have always been curious about environmental law, so my internship at the New York Attorney General's office via the support of the Bucknell Public Interest Program was a great opportunity.
"I worked on a team of scientists to assist the litigators in the Environmental Protection Bureau by collecting data, reading published research and helping them to work out the technical details in their cases. I learned a lot, from relevant environmental issues to communicating with professionals outside my field, I also learned that while I found environmental law important and engaging, I would prefer to stick to the technical side of the field, similar to my work on campus."
Rileigh is from Aurora, Colo.
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