Oral history interview with Peter F. DeCarlo

  • 2013-Apr-10 – 2013-Apr-11

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.

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