Eliot Circular

Chem Major Nabs Class of ’21 Award

Danielle Draper

Chem major Danielle Draper ’13

The effect of nitrogen dioxide on aerosol formation might not sound like a particularly creative field of study—unless you study chemistry at Reed.

Chem major Danielle Draper ’13 won the coveted Class of ’21 Award, recognizing exceptional creativity, initiative, and spontaneity, for her thesis on the effect of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) on the formation of aerosols, or tiny particles, in forests. It turns out that trees naturally emit gases—like those responsible for the scent of spruce needles—that turn into aerosols in the atmosphere. Danielle wanted to know how that process was affected by manmade emissions—in other words, how humans are changing the “natural” flow of a forest.

To conduct her experiments, she had to construct an atmospheric chamber, build a computer model to study chemical kinetics, and analyze reams of data. Her findings were intriguing. While most tree emissions (e.g. the spruce-scent particles) react with NO2 to create more particles in the atmosphere, alpha-pinene, an emission largely found in pine trees, actually produced fewer particles.

Danielle’s thesis won accolades in Reed’s chemistry department. Her adviser, Prof. Julie Fry, called her thesis “stunning” and is helping Danielle publish the results. Danielle has been invited to join the chemistry department at UC Irvine whenever she is ready.

That qualifier is to give her time to pursue her other passion: aerial dance. Inspired by a contest in Science magazine called “Dance your PhD,” she choreographed her thesis at Portland’s Do Jump theatre in May. (Watch the show on our website.) The dancers in green represent organic molecules emitted by vegetation; the dancers in orange represent NO2.