Hendrix Professor Receives Over Half A Million To Better Understand Climate Change

May 13, 2018

Hendrix Associate Professor, Courtney Hatch.
Credit Hendrix College / Hendrix College

TRANSCRIPT: KUAR’s David Monteith interviewed Dr. Courtney Hatch, assistant professor of Chemistry at Hendrix College, who received $550,000 from the National Science Foundation.

DAVID MONTEITH: You were awarded a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Congratulations.

DR. COURTNEY HATCH: Thank you.

And it says you were awarded that for researching “Bulk water adsorption and aerosol cloud condensation nuclei activation of insoluble aerosol: toward experimental closure and accurate model parameters.” Can you briefly describe that in layperson’s terms?

Sure. Currently scientists really have a good understanding of how greenhouses gases, like carbon dioxide and methane have a warming effect on the climate, but we’ve all been outside on a sunny day and a cloud comes over and you kind of get a little relief from the heat from the sun and so you get a cooling effect because of aerosols and clouds. The issue with that is that they’re highly variable. They’re very short-lived and so they’re hard to predict. So one of the goals, the major goal of this grant is to determine the chemical and physical background of how these particles take up water and form clouds, so we can understand the variability of cloud formation more accurately. And then we can include those in climate models to better predict climate change.

Where do you stand on climate change? Do you believe that human behavior has significantly contributed to the warming of the planet?

Oh absolutely. You can see it in the data every day. Carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing. Temperature is increasing. The glaciers are melting. We see, we have observable evidence that proves that our climate is indeed changing.

Is it fair to say that your research could say, ‘Climate change is significant and bad, but we’re getting a little bit of help from the clouds and this is how much,’ or your research could yield a result of, ‘Climate change is happening and the clouds aren’t really doing much to help us out.’?

Well, I don’t know if I’d say either. I think I would say that because we really know well how greenhouse gases are warming, there are small, variable, uncertain factors that contribute to atmospheric cooling. And so if we don’t have accurate ways to measure those small, variable factors that contribute to cooling, we’re not going to be able to understand or have a high degree of certainty of future predictions of climate. So we need to know all the factors that contribute to climate change, not just the effects of greenhouse gases.

Do you feel like you can accurately predict the number of times you’re going to hear, ‘They’ve got their head in the clouds,’ during this research project?

I hope I hear something about that all the time. Can you make it rain, right?

Zoom out from this specific experiment to just being awarded this grant and your reaction to it, and what its significance is for you as a scientist and a professor, and for Hendrix.

Oh absolutely. It’s about so much more than just the research itself. The grant specifically to Hendrix is going to impact the students’ ability to figure out what they want to do for their potential careers and help them determine their passion for science and recruiting students in underrepresented groups into the scientific field.

Hendrix professor Courtney Hatch, thank you for talking with us today.

Thank you, David.