Fellowships focused on climate change science

Interdisciplinary UCI graduate students are converging on a multifaceted problem

When Julianne DeAngelo, a Ph.D. student in UCI’s Department of Earth System Science, was an undergraduate at Dartmouth University, she conducted research into how climate change is affecting glaciers in Greenland.

Steven Davis
Meet the Expert: Steve Davis, associate professor of Earth system science

She would measure layers of ice that had formed from glacial meltwater, and what she found – after many hours spent standing in a freezer back on Dartmouth’s campus – was clear: The frequency of meltwater layers increased as the 20th century, and human-driven climate change, progressed.

To DeAngelo, who now works in the lab of Steve Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science, it was a turning point in her understanding of what she wanted to research. The meltwater layers, alongside decades of observations and measurements from countless scientists, solidified the reality of human-caused climate change.

Still unclear, however, are the economic forces that currently keep action on climate change from moving forward. There are as many possible answers as there are molecules of carbon dioxide in a breath of air – but getting a handle on those factors is what DeAngelo is doing as a member of the first cohort of UCI Solutions that Scale fellows.

Jack Brouwer
Meet the Expert: Jack Brouwer, professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering

She’s focused on modeling just one contributor: freight transport. She wants to understand the primary economic and technological obstacles to the freight industry achieving net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

To this end, DeAngelo is working not only with Davis, but with Jack Brouwer, UCI professor of mechanical & aerospace engineering. He’s an expert in what kind of alternative fuels industry sectors such as freight might be able to switch to the fastest – hydrogen, biofuels, synthetic fuels, etc. – based on things like cost. DeAngelo summarizes the challenge as “What’s the most cost-effective way to get the freight industry to net-zero?” The way forward, she notes, “requires an interdisciplinary approach.”

Sarah Wang, a Ph.D. student who works in the lab of UCI chemistry professor Jenny Yang, is another inaugural recipient of a Solutions that Scale graduate fellowship. She has the same mission as DeAngelo: achieving net-zero carbon emissions. But Wang is taking a very different path to that goal by trying to create chemicals that can react with nitrous oxide (N2O, also known as laughing gas) – which, after carbon dioxide and methane, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

Jenny Yang
Meet the Expert: Jenny Yang, Chancellor's Professor of chemistry

Her aim is to convert the gas into something that doesn’t warm the planet. Research like hers has never been done before – indeed, Wang says there have been no studies whatsoever on reaching a world without N2O emissions. If her idea is successful, the work of translating it into the industrial realm – something Davis can help with by modeling net-zero N2O emissions scenarios – can begin.

– Lucas Van Wyk Joel, UCI