Peter F. DeCarlo

Born: March 25, 1979 | West Lafayette, IN, US

Peter DeCarlo grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana. His father is a professor at Purdue University and his mother is a teacher. DeCarlo majored in biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame and learned mass spectrometry during an internship at American Cyanamid Company. Between college and graduate school DeCarlo spent a year in Kenya. At the University of Colorado he joined Jose-Luis Jimenez's atmospheric research group and did fieldwork in Mexico and Canada. DeCarlo accepted a National Science Foundation postdoctoral award to work at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, then an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship to work in the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he became involved with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. DeCarlo is Assistant Professor of Engineering and Chemistry at Drexel University where he is conducting local and regional atmospheric research, characterizing and developing Aerodyne mass spectrometers, and promoting scientific understanding. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0716
No. of pages: 74
Minutes: 217

Interview Sessions

Jody A. Roberts and Hilary Domush
10 and 11 April 2013
Drexel University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Peter DeCarlo grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana, the second of three children. His father is a professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University, and his mother is a kindergarten teacher. Both sisters also have advanced degrees. DeCarlo attended West Lafayette’s excellent public schools which offered high school students joint classes with Purdue. He loved chemistry, first becoming interested in pharmaceutical chemistry, which led to a major in biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, where he received a top-notch undergraduate education. Paul Hallquist, a teacher and mentor, recommended a summer internship at American Cyanamid Company where DeCarlo learned mass spectrometry. After graduation he spent a year in Kenya, during which time he was admitted to the University of Colorado’s atmospheric and oceanic sciences department. There he joined Jose-Luis Jimenez’s research group and participated in his first field project, MCMA-2003 (Mexico City Metropolitan Area), in Mexico, learning the theory, design, and use of the aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS), and enjoying the excitement and the stress of field work. DeCarlo’s next project was in Canada, researching the transport of pollution around the world. He then returned to Mexico for MILAGRO (Megacity Initiative:  Local and Global Research Observations), a large project requiring extensive cooperation, collaboration, and coordination.

Having completed the requirements for his PhD, DeCarlo accepted a postdoctoral award from the National Science Foundation to work on chamber studies at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. During this time, he also did fieldwork in Spain, France, and Switzerland. Wishing to return to the United States and having become interested in science policy, DeCarlo accepted a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, working in the US Environmental Protection Agency. He met his future wife during this time. Eager to return to scientific research, he accepted an assistant professorship at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

DeCarlo’s research plans include characterizing and developing the mini AMS made by Aerodyne Research, Inc. He remains involved in the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as such stoves, which are widely used around the world, burn solid fuel and produce black carbon. Aerodyne has produced a new soot particle AMS which DeCarlo uses for his black carbon work. He has begun to do atmospheric research on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and compares the gains from and costs of natural gas and coal. His students’ projects include a study of indoor-outdoor pollution, a study of indoor air quality, and black carbon research.

DeCarlo discusses the difficulties inherent in large atmosphere studies, including differences in approaches and data reporting, as well as cultural and temporal differences. He finds his relatively small branch of the MS community collaborative and friendly. He wants to improve the visual representation of science data as a way to increase people’s enthusiasm for and understanding of his work. He laments the lack of sufficient funding for science in general and for new satellites and long-term field studies in particular, and decries science illiteracy, especially among policy makers. He talks about the possibility of instruments for ordinary citizens and emphasizes that atmospheric science is not meteorology.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
2001 University of Notre Dame BS Biochemistry
2007 University of Colorado, Boulder PhD Atmospheric Science

Professional Experience

Paul Scherrer Institute

2008 to 2010
Postdoctoral Researcher

American Association for the Advancement of Science

2010 to 2011
Science and Technology Policy Fellow hosted at US EPA

Drexel University

2011 to 2016
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering
2012 to 2016
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1997

Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award

2002

University of Colorado Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Fellowship

2005 to 2007

EPA STAR Graduate Research Fellowship

2007

Atmospheric Chemistry Colloquium for Emerging Senior Scientists(ACCESS) IX participant

2008 to 2010

NSF International Research Postdoctoral Fellowship

2009

Sheldon K. Friedlander Award for Outstanding Doctoral Dissertationfrom American Association for Aerosol Research

2010 to 2011

AAAS Science Policy Fellowship

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Growing up in West Lafayette, Indiana, as one of three children. Family members' backgrounds, education. Public schools very good, associated with Purdue University. Senior year of high school classes at Purdue. Loved chemistry, sports. Cultural and intellectual stimulation in university town. Bought pharmaceutical book; interest in pharmaceutical chemistry led to biochemistry in college.

College Years
9

Choosing University of Notre Dame over Purdue. Very good undergraduate education; good professors. Philosophy and art classes; interested in giving science more visual appeal. Paul Hallquist and internship at American Cyanamid Company after freshman year. Learned mass spectrometry there. Always knew he would go to graduate school. Summer volunteer work. Semester abroad in London, England. Year in Kenya after graduation. Interested in computational chemistry; applied to atmosphere and physical chemistry programs under J. Daniel Gezelter's influence.

Graduate School Years
18

University of Colorado center of atmosphere study with advisor Jose L. Jimenez. Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) project to work on aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS). Excitement and stress of field work. Accustoming himself to instruments; writing new software. Summer project in Canada on pollution movement around world. Working in field with time of flight MS; advantages of AMS. Second project in Mexico in 2006, MILAGRO (Megacity Initiative: Local and Global Research Observations). Logistics of flying; massive coordination. Writing algorithms for analysis of data, writing papers, sharing data. Collaborative field, still small. PhD usually finished after three papers.

Postdoctoral Work
33

National Science Foundation (NSF) postdoc award at Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland; Chamber studies to simulate diesel pollution in atmosphere. Collaborations; fieldwork. Barcelona, Spain experiment. International, multidisciplinary collaboration. General applications of knowledge gained from his research. Return to US for American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowship in Office of the Science Advisor, Paul Anastas, at the Environmental Protection Agency. Thoughts about science and policy. Involved in Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), black carbon research. Wish to return to research. Met future wife, began looking for academic job.

First Independent Laboratory
51

Two-body problem; wife already established at Drexel University. Characterizing and developing Aerodyne's new mini AMS and continuing cookstove research. Hopes to extend work on Marcellus Shale. Comparison of natural gas to coal. Much of Marcellus research focused on water; air quality studies by Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Aerodyne, Electric Power Research Institute. Students' projects: characterization of mini AMS; outdoor-indoor pollution around switching inlets; indoor air quality (joint project with Michael Waring); black carbon work. New Aerodyne soot particle AMS to measure black carbon. Local partners in Philadelphia. Desire to do large field studies. Annual conference hosted by Aerodyne. Field small and friendly; Aerodyne accommodating.

General Thoughts
63

Improving visual representations of data. Short-term effects versus long-term effects. Costs and funding of long-term field experiments. Need for new satellites. Science literacy in policy making. Impact of citizens on policy. Need to excite enthusiasm for science in lay people. Possibility of instruments for ordinary citizens. Atmospheric science is not meteorology.

Index
70

Improving visual representations of data. Short-term effects versus long-term effects. Costs and funding of long-term field experiments. Need for new satellites. Science literacy in policy making. Impact of citizens on policy. Need to excite enthusiasm for science in lay people. Possibility of instruments for ordinary citizens. Atmospheric science is not meteorology.

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.