The more we study our world, the more amazing connections we find between seemingly independent systems. The support I received from DOE’s Office of Science gave me the opportunity to explore one exciting example of this, a small part of the beautifully complex global system that is our home.

When plants are under stress, such as when they are attacked by insects, the plants release chemicals as part of their natural defense mechanisms. Like all chemicals in the air, these biogenic emissions can react further, sometimes leading to compounds that form particles. These particles in turn play a key role in cloud formation – thus the natural actions of insects munching on leaves can have a subtle but real impact on how the atmosphere behaves.

The Early Career Award I received from DOE allowed me to study how plant emissions change when they are under stress, and how the changes in turn affect the particles formed after atmospheric reactions. These studies demonstrated the significance of these processes, and opened up many new lines of inquiry now being pursued by other researchers.

For me personally, the experience of being an Early Career Awardee also opened my eyes to the importance of a strong commitment to developing scientific talent and building research capacity across the nation. The experience has had a strong influence on how I approach my current work as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation.


Timothy M. VanReken is a program director for the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), part of the Office of Integrative Activities at the National Science Foundation.  He was formerly an Associate Professor with the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at Washington State University and maintains an adjunct position there.


The Early Career Award program provides financial support that is foundational to young scientists, freeing them to focus on executing their research goals. The development of outstanding scientists early in their careers is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science champions lifelong careers in discovery science.

For more information, please go to the Early Career Research Program.


Linking Plant Stress, Biogenic SOA, and CCN Production ‐ A New Feedback in the Climate System?

The goal of this project is to improve understanding of how biogenic, volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions affect the climate system. The research aims to significantly improve our understanding of how biogenic VOC emissions influence secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation and cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) production.

There is a particular focus on the SOA formation potential of real plant emissions, how the SOA formation potential changes in response to climate‐induced plant stress, and how biogenic SOA contributes to cloud condensation nuclei activity.

The research is characterized by laboratory experiments on select tree species to determine how SOA formation is affected by emissions changes arising from plant stress, field experiments to determine how such SOA formation is affected by conditions in a natural forest, field observations of aerosol properties in a variety of environments, and studies to connect SOA formation to cloud condensation nuclei activity.


C.L. Faiola, M.H. Erickson, V.L. Fricaud, B.T. Jobson, and T.M. VanReken, “Quantification of biogenic volatile organic compounds with a flame ionization detector using the effective carbon number concept.” Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 5, 1911, (2012). [DOI:10.5194/amt-5-1911-2012]

C.L. Faiola, G.S. VanderSchelden, M. Wen, F.C. Elloy, D.R. Cobos, R.J. Watts, B.T. Jobson, and T.M. VanReken, “SOA formation potential of emissions from soil and leaf litter.” Environmental Science & Technology, 48(2), 938, (2014). [DOI: 10.1021/es4040045]

C.L. Faiola, B.T. Jobson, and T.M. VanReken, “Impacts of simulated herbivory on volatile organic compound emission profiles from coniferous plants.” Biogeosciences12, 527 (2015). [DOI:10.5194/bg-12-527-2015]