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Chemistry Professor Receives Grants
From NASA, Research Corporation

RELEASED: Aug. 2, 2006

Dr. Boulter with Kirsten Strobush and Matt Hooper
Undergraduate chemistry majors Kirsten Strobush, left, and Matt Hooper, right, are gaining hands-on experience as research assistants to Dr. James Boulter this summer. (Photo by Rick Mickelson, LTS)

EAU CLAIRE — Dr. James Boulter, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recently received grants totaling nearly $100,000 to continue laboratory investigations of Earth's atmosphere and of Jupiter's atmosphere.

Boulter, who joined the UW-Eau Claire faculty in 2004, and his co-investigator, Jochen Marschall of SRI International in California, received a three-year grant from NASA for their project titled "Laboratory Studies of Atomic Oxygen Effects on Ice Formation and Structure in the Mesophere." Boulter's share of the grant is $41,204.

Boulter said that over the last 30 years there has been an increase in the frequency and/or brightness of polar mesospheric clouds, and some scientists have wondered whether these clouds are the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" or indicator of long term climate changes. Mesopheric clouds are tiny ice particles which form at the poles during certain times of the year in Earth's upper atmosphere.

"We need to know how these clouds form," Boulter said. "Our investigation will provide a very tiny piece of data to help answer that question."

Boulter said not many chemists are studying the upper atmosphere, which is one reason he decided to pursue such a study.

Boulter also was awarded a Research Corporation Cottrell College Science Award for his project "Laboratory Studies of Hydrocarbon Uptake on Mixed Ammonia Hydrate and Sulfide Ices Present in the Jovian Atmosphere." The $59,690 award makes it possible for Boulter and his undergraduate research assistants to apply techniques previously developed for studying the Earth's atmosphere to problems in Jupiter's extraterrestrial atmosphere.

"Specifically I am interested in chemical interactions that occur at the interface between atmospheric gases and particle surfaces," Boulter said. "Our research goals are to grow ice films with varied chemical compositions and expose them to different gaseous chemical species in order to characterize the chemical interactions that occur at the surface.

"If we want to look for extraterrestrial life, we need to know how solar systems form. Laboratory results such as ours are compared to telescopic and remote observations, and then assembled in computer models by other researchers to better understand the atmospheric chemistry and physics of these fascinating giant planets."

Two undergraduate chemistry majors are gaining hands-on experience as research assistants to Boulter this summer: Matt Hooper, a senior from Eau Claire, and Kirsten Strobush, a junior from Altoona.

UW-Eau Claire's chemistry department has a long tradition of productive collaborative research between undergraduate students and faculty, culminating in more than 120 published papers in peer-reviewed journals and presentations at regional, national and international meetings. Research positions in the department are often paid over the summer or academic year, providing more than $350,000 in student salaries over the past five years.

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JW/JB

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