Chemistry and Biochemistry

PhD Student Wins Poster Competition in Florida

Posted: Dec 18, 2014

Sambhav Kumbhani, a PhD student from Mumbai, India, won first place for his poster at the 33rd annual American Association of Aerosol Research (AAAR) Conference in October 2014.

Kumbhani is a sixth year graduate student at BYU. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Mumbai, but was drawn to BYU because of Dr. Jaron Hansen’s atmospheric chemistry research.  Hansen’s lab collaborates closely with two retired professors, Dr. Randy Shirts and Dr. Lee Hansen, to study reactions that produce and remove pollutants from the atmosphere.

“Studying atmospheric chemistry has been a very rewarding experience for me,” said Kumbhani. His main focus of study, aerosols, are tiny particles of solid or liquid suspended in air. By bonding with water molecules, they can lead to the formation of clouds.  However, they are also primarily responsible for the poor visibility during inversions here in Utah. They cause breathing-related diseases, like asthma and bronchitis, and affect global climate change. For these reasons, Kumbhani’s research is very important to society. “Everyone who is anyone in the atmospheric chemistry field is studying aerosols today,” he said.  “It is the least understood aspect of atmospheric chemistry.”

Though models have been created to predict aerosol levels in the atmosphere, the actual concentration is far higher than the models suggest.  To bridge this gap, Kumbhani is working to discover other ways in which aerosols form.

For the poster competition at the AAAR Conference, Kumbhani focused his work on atmospheric radicals and built a system in the lab to mimic Earth’s atmosphere.  He allowed water vapor and radicals to interact together, and then measured both the size and the number of aerosols produced. His work showed that radicals can actually form aerosol particles.

This year’s five-day conference was held in Orlando, Florida.  “It was an amazing experience,” said Kumbhani. “I got to meet the experts in our field, to know more about the research they are doing, and to present my research to them.”  After networking with other chemists and receiving important feedback on his research, winning the poster session was “the cherry on the cake.”

After graduation in April, Kumbhani is heading to the University of California, Irvine, to do post-doctoral research with Dr. Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, a leader in the field of atmospheric chemistry and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.  “I must thank Dr. Jaron Hansen,” Kumbhani said. “For mentoring me and giving great recommendations to Dr. Finlayson-Pitts, without which I would never have got this position in her lab.”

Article by Jordan Wright

Photo courtesy of Sambhav Kumbhani