Michelle Rogers

WCC Luncheon Address – Smog, Science and Society: A Journey from the Aurora to Atmospheric Aerosols

Blog Post created by Michelle Rogers on Jul 27, 2017


Courtesy of Barbara J. Finlayson-Pitts


By Samina Azad


The WCC Luncheon was part of the committee’s 90th anniversary celebration. The keynote speaker Barbara Finlayson-Pitts, the 2017 Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medalist, presented an overview of her career path in atmospheric chemistry and lessons learned on the way. Barbara is currently UCI Distinguished Professor and Director of AirUCI at University of California, Irvine. Her work focuses on reactions that occurs in the atmosphere, specifically the interaction between gas particles and thin films with surfaces.


At the beginning of her career in the 1970s, as a professor at Cal State Fullerton, no one was paying attention to her work in heterogeneous NOx chemistry focusing on atmospheric interactions. A colleague suggested she try interesting projects because it is not a “publish or perish” environment. Barbara started a joint project with a professor at UCI and was later invited to join UCI as a Full Professor. She collaborated with theoretical chemists at external organizations including 2017 ACS President Allison Campbell at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.


Barbara shared some key points to how she got to where she is today.

  • No one told her she couldn’t – so she kept working on her interesting projects.
  • She was mentored and encouraged by many well established people in her field.
  • She worked with many wonderful collaborators who never said no.


When reflecting on her career, Barbara noted that her mentors were all white males, since no females were in her field back then. “Good news is that for atmospheric science gender parity is in sight – the only problem is the ladies’ rooms are now crowded!”