CSU professor to be honored for atmosphere, wildfire research

Ceci Taylor

After years of dedicated atmosphere research, a Colorado State University atmospheric science associate professor will be rewarded for her efforts in helping the environment, as well as women in science. 

Emily Fischer has received the James B. Macelwane Medal. Fischer said she is being rewarded for her work with air pollution, including the effects of wildfire smoke and gas and oil emissions; her work with the compound peroxyacetyl nitrate; and her work promoting women in science. 

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Fischer said she has always loved researching issues that affect society. 

“It’s an honor, and it’s very humbling,” Fischer said. “I feel mostly very grateful for the scientific team that I’m a part of because science is a team sport, and I can’t really get anything (done) without a good team.” 

Fischer said her work also focuses on the ozone problem in the Front Range and on peroxyacetyl nitrate, which is a pollutant present in photochemical smog. Fischer’s work has helped scientists’ ability to measure the compound more accurately. However, Fischer said that nothing could have been accomplished without her team. 

I’ve learned a lot by sort of digging in to understand and promote the barriers that women face (in STEM). I find great hope that we can make science more feminine. I’m OK if science becomes feminine if that means it’s more collaborative and (a) better service to society.” -Emily Fischer, CSU professor and recipient of the James B. Macelwane Medal

“Most recently, I’ve been really fortunate to work with a large team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Fischer said. “Together we work to develop a way to measure this compound from satellites, and I work to understand how those measurements work.” 

Fischer is also being recognized for her work to promote women in science. 

“I’ve learned a lot by sort of digging in to understand and promote the barriers that women face (in STEM),” Fischer said. “I find great hope that we can make science more feminine. I’m OK if science becomes feminine if that means it’s more collaborative and (a) better service to society.” 

Jared Brewer, one of Fischer’s current graduate students, said the Macelwane Medal asks for nominees based on their “depth and breadth of research, impact and creativity and diversity.” He said her work with interactions between wildfire smoke, ozone, atmospheric chemistry and human health clearly qualifies under the first three criteria and especially the last one. 

“Emily (Fischer) has devoted a portion of her time and her career to making the geosciences a better and more welcoming place for women and minorities,” Brewer wrote in an email to The Collegian. “Much of our work revolves around time spent in the field gathering data. Often, this means weeks in remote areas working in close proximity. Furthermore, the apprenticeship-like nature of academia lends itself easily to power imbalances between senior members, most often white men, and more diverse junior scientists.”

Brewer wrote that the results of such proximities have led to tragedies in the past, and Fischer’s work in promoting diversity and pushing senior men in the field to address these issues has helped make a change. 

Fischer will be honored at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December. She said she will give a couple of minutes of remarks at the event, and afterward, she and her fellow awardees will give a short panel on mentoring in science and on their scientific journey. 

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Brewer said her award is well deserved, and he wouldn’t be where he is scientifically if it weren’t for her help and guidance. 

“Emily (Fischer) is a brilliant, hardworking and extraordinarily creative scientist,” Brewer wrote. “She consistently brings new techniques and new ideas to the table and is always able to push me into seeing something new about my work. Studying with her has provided me with an opportunity to work on the cutting edge of atmospheric chemistry and make genuinely new discoveries about our planet’s atmosphere.”

In the future, Fischer said she hopes to continue working on analyzing data, specifically data she and a group of graduate students collected as part of a nature field program that’s focused on sampling western wildfire smoke. 

“I’m trying to do some forward-thinking on what I should do next,” Fischer said. “It’s just been a lot of other topics, so that’s what’s filling my days right now.” 

Ceci Taylor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @cecelia_twt.