"The Role of Formaldehyde in Troposheric Ozone Chemistry." To most of us, this is Greek. To Ann Louise Sumner ’96 of Irvine, Calif., it’s the result of months of arctic research and analysis. And to over 100 scientists worldwide, it’s the dawn of an entirely new scientific field – snow phase photochemistry – which they now study, thanks to Sumner’s work.
Sumner conducted five years of study and groundbreaking research at Purdue University, earning her doctorate in analytical chemistry, with an emphasis in atmospheric chemistry. Under the direction of Dr. Paul Shepson, professor of chemistry and earth and atmospheric sciences, she spent seven months on the arctic snowpack of Canada and Greenland and three months in northern Michigan, measuring formaldehyde in the snowpack and in the atmosphere. She even independently designed and built an instrument to measure formaldehyde concentrations in air above the snowpack.
Dr. Shepson explains, "In the course of her research she made a very important discovery – that snowpack photochemistry produces a variety of products that are emitted into the lower atmosphere and have a significant impact on the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. Her work represents a significant contribution to development of an understanding of global atmospheric change."
Sumner’s research has environmental significance, because it has improved scientists’ ability to predict concentrations of ozone, the main component of photochemical smog controlled by the Clean Air Act. As a result, she has produced more than 10 scientific publications from her Ph.D. research, won numerous awards, scholarships and research grants, and received the outstanding student paper award at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting.
According to Shepson, "Ann Louise was the best graduate student I have had, out of about 20 graduate students. She … does great credit to Millikin University."
Sumner is currently a postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Irvine, studying the role of heterogeneous processes in the chemistry of nitrogen oxides. Her results are reported directly to the California Air Resources Board, an organization that protects public health and the environment.
Sumner has proven the value of perseverance, tramping about the arctic in subzero temperatures, doing what she loves and working toward a better world for us all.
The complete article appeared in fall 2002 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.