Professor Amanda Grannas of the chemistry department, has won the Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award. Grannas is one of seven faculty members nationwide to be so honored.
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation selects recipients who have demonstrated leadership in original scholarly research of an exemplary quality, particularly with undergraduates, as well as shown dedication to undergraduate education.
Each of the seven recipients of the award has a varying area of interest. Grannas’ focus is on the “natural organic matter in environmental ices relevant to the atmosphere, snow and ice interactions,” as described by the foundation.
The award provides a $60,000 research grant, with $5,000 allocated for departmental expenses associated with research.
Dr. Grannas’ interest in environmental and atmospheric chemistry piqued during her doctoral studies at Purdue University, where she earned her doctorate in analytical chemistry, specifically applied to atmospheric and environmental chemistry. While there, she was given the opportunity to travel to Ellesmere Island, located in the northern arctic off the coast of Canada, where she studied the chemical reactions that occur in snow.
She described her experience as “not stereotypical lab work,” but rather an experience that allowed her to “be in a group that was finding new things.”
Her unique experience in school inspired her to get into education. Grannas said she believes in the ability of her students and wants to “spark passion, because if you don’t get someone interested in [the field] young it won’t happen at all,” making her the epitome of a “teacher-scholar,” as recognized by the Dreyfus Foundation.
At the University, Grannas has completed many projects, including research on aquatics, soils and ice.
In 2006, she began taking students to Barrow, Alaska, the farthest northern point in North America, where she and her team conducted “fieldwork looking at pollutants that we use and emit, and how they circulate back into the atmosphere” as well as how pollutants “deposit in the snow on the ground and grow to become even more toxic than they were previously.”
Grannas explained that snow and ice cores contain and store an immense amount of data, allowing researchers to peer into history and gather information about the environment “up to a million years ago.”
This research requires sensitive and precise technique, and Grannas described how easily things can go awry. Everything from bad weather, delayed shipments, to even a cloudy day can stall her research.
However, Grannas added that those things are all “short term setbacks,” and that it is important to “learn to make do with what you have and make it work well.”
Grannas plans to use her award to continue her research and to fund students to work with her during the summer. Additionally, she will use the funding provided by the Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award to pay for her and her team of students to travel to national conventions and meetings, so that she can share her team’s work and discoveries.
For her next project, Grannas would like to “focus on chemistry that is happening at the surface and how it influences the atmosphere above it,” specifically honing in on the reactions produced at the ocean floor, in sea ice and snow.
“The reactions produced at the ocean floor, in sea ice and snow have a whole host of influences on the climate, biological processes, etc.,” Grannas said. She will likely return to Barrow, Alaska, and Antarctica for her future work.
“I would describe the Arctic as a canary in a coal mine in terms of climate change,” Grannas said.
She is specifically concerned with what is causing climate change, predicting the speed of that change, and looking at ways to reduce our emissions and protect the environment. Conducting fieldwork in the arctic is the best way to answer those questions.
Grannas encouraged all students to explore their passions and not to be self conscious about lack of experience.
“I have worked with plenty of freshmen in my labs, and I love it,” Grannas said. “Even if you aren’t thinking about doing research now, try and think about it.”
The students that she has chosen to accompany her on her research projects in the past are those who have an obvious passion for environmental chemistry, have a solid work ethic and are not afraid to delve into 40-degree-below temperatures.
“I have an open door policy,” Grannas added. “I will drop anything I’m doing for a student that comes to me needing help or who just wants to talk about their interest.”