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Berkeley Lab Physicist, Atmospheric Chemist Named AAAS Fellows

Michael Barnett and Ronald C. Cohen among the latest honorees

Two scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) – Michael Barnett, a senior physicist and educator; and Ronald C. Cohen, a climate and air quality researcher – have been named as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, formed in 1848.

This year, AAAS welcomed 396 of its members as Fellows – an honor bestowed upon them by their peers that recognizes “meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications.” Fellows are “expected to meet the commonly held standards of professional ethics and scientific integrity.” They are elected annually by an AAAS council from a list of approved nominations passed on by steering groups in focused areas of science.

AAAS Fellow Michael Barnett

Photo - Michael BarnettThe AAAS recognized Barnett “For outstanding contributions to advancing particle physics knowledge through leadership of the Contemporary Physics Education Project and international Particle Data Group, and for creation of the Particle Adventure website.”

Barnett, who joined Berkeley Lab in 1984, for 25 years headed up the Particle Data Group (PDG), which has a 60-year history of gathering, editing, and disseminating scientific reviews and data to the particle physics community in the form of comprehensive online information and hefty print volumes.

PDG’s Review of Particle Physics, which contained over 1,800 pages in its latest online edition and is published in print every other year, has attracted more citations in its long run than any other publication in its field.

“I don’t do what I do to get recognition,” said Barnett, who is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society. “Both my outreach work and my Particle Data Group work are about communication – communicating to particle physicists and to students. We hope that both inspire interest and progress in physics.”

Throughout his career he has been active in physics education and outreach efforts, and teamed with particle physicist Helen Quinn – who theorized a particle known as the axion as one candidate to explain the vast amounts of visible matter in the universe known as dark matter – to establish the nonprofit Contemporary Physics Education Project.

Barnett noted that it was the late Frederick S. Priebe, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania, who spurred the effort to provide better, more relevant and inspiring physics education tools for classrooms.

The seed of this idea became an international organization of teachers, educators, and physicists that produces scientific wall charts and other materials to help explain physics concepts – including the fundamental particles and their interactions, plasma physics and fusion, nuclear science, and gravitation – to students.

The detailed wall charts would broaden and blossom as an interactive educational tool, The Particle Adventure, that is available on the Web and also as mobile apps under the umbrella of Particle Data Group.

Barnett has recently been active in producing and promoting a particle physics-related planetarium show, titled “Phantom of the Universe.”

AAAS Fellow Ronald C. Cohen

Photo - Ronald C. CohenCohen, a faculty scientist in the Energy Analysis and Environmental Impacts Division of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Technologies Area, was recognized by the AAAS “For insights into how chemistry affects the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, especially the chemistry of nitrogen oxides and the isotopes of water.”

He also serves as professor of Chemistry, and of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, and is a core member of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, which is a focal point of UC Berkeley’s research on Earth’s climate and atmosphere.

“This particular recognition as a Fellow is one of the more prestigious honors in the world of science,” Cohen said. “It’s nice to have my work and my contributions recognized and appreciated by my colleagues around the world.”

Cohen’s work has focused on understanding the global nitrogen cycle – how nitrogen cycles through the atmosphere and between the atmosphere and biosphere. His research group also has studied the atmospheric chemistry of urban environments, the formation of aerosol in the atmosphere, and cloud formation, among other efforts.

His recognition by AAAS is a nod to Cohen’s work over the past 15 years in studying nitrogen oxides produced by fossil fuel combustion and other sources, including natural processes, and how they can lead to other pollutants and climate effects.

Much of Cohen’s chemistry work has been performed on the UC Berkeley campus, and Cohen’s research team has looked to Berkeley Lab for supercomputing resources that are useful in interpreting data collected in experiments, and in formulating predictions.

One of Cohen’s ongoing endeavors, called BEACO2N (the Berkeley Atmospheric CO2 Observation Network) utilizes a network of dozens of air-quality and climate sensors planted around the Bay Area to monitor carbon dioxide, ozone, and atmospheric forms of nitrogen.

The pilot project, launched in 2012, will help show how emissions and atmospheric chemistry changes over time and could help policymakers gauge the effects of pollution-related regulations, and to set new policies. “The idea is to both be able to attribute air-quality emissions to specific sources and to be able to report on that at a neighborhood scale,” he said.

The Lab’s expertise could be useful in developing the hardware and software to better utilize and manage data from even larger sensor networks. “If you have hundreds or thousands of sensors, how do you think about the infrastructure that supports that?” he said.

The new AAAS Fellows will be recognized on Feb. 17, 2018, during a forum at the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

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