Senior Awarded Postbac Grant for Climate Research

Share story

Eleanor Bentley ’23, a joint chemistry and biology major at Harvey Mudd College, received a Cottrell Postbac (post-baccalaureate) Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The award allows Bentley to conduct atmospheric chemistry research full-time for a year with Lelia Hawkins, director of the Hixon Center for Climate and the Environment and Hixon Professor of Climate Studies.

The Cottrell Postbac Award is designed to support and strengthen scientific research programs supervised by Cottrell Scholars and to provide undergraduate seniors the opportunity to continue working in research for a year after graduation. Hawkins was named a Cottrell Scholar in 2014.

“This is an awesome and unique opportunity for a Mudder,” said Bentley, one of seven 2023 Postbac grant recipients. “As students, we have to wear so many hats. Research can be our passion, but we also must focus on our classes and countless other extracurriculars. I’m excited to be able to devote myself to doing research full-time.”

During the next year, Bentley and Hawkins will continue their work with Atmospheric Science and Chemistry mEasurement NeTwork (ASCENT), by introducing new technology to the project that will allow them to collect data points faster than previous methods at their designated site in Joshua Tree National Park.

ASCENT is a network of 13 sites established around the country within National Parks and large cities that are equipped with ground-based, high time-resolution instruments for long-term characterization of aerosol chemical composition and physical properties. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation in 2021.

Hawkins said that the description for the grant fit exceptionally well with the research she was preparing to do with Bentley.

“This was an opportunity of ‘what we needed and what we wanted to do’ was exactly what they wanted to fund,” Hawkins said. “I was thrilled and relieved when we received the grant. Looking ahead, the next couple of years are more critical than the last year.”

Hawkins and Bentley will transport, install and calibrate four new instruments that provide greater chemical, optical and physical detail of air pollution at their designated site in Joshua Tree National Park.

Bentley said it has been a great experience working with Hawkins on this project.

“She’s an amazing mentor,” Bentley said. “I had no experience with atmospheric chemistry prior to this project, but in spite of that, Lelia has made me feel like a valuable member of the team and like my opinions matter.”

Bentley will begin her work this August when she and Hawkins will head to Joshua Tree National Park to install their instruments and work with the National Park Service to train staff on periodic maintenance and calibration.

To learn more about ASCENT and this project, visit the ASCENT website.