March 28, 2023

Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Presentation, Feb. 6

The UMW chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (the nation’s oldest honor society) is hosting a visiting scholar February 6 to 7.  Professor Joe Francisco of the University of Pennsylvania will give a general talk on acid rain—and related climate change and environmental injustice issues—on Monday, Feb. 6, from 4 to 5 p.m. in the HCC Auditorium. His talk is free and open to the public.

“A Fresh Look at the Chemistry Behind Acid Rain”

Joseph S. Francisco is the President’s Distinguished Professor of Earth and Environmental Science and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Francisco’s research focuses on understanding chemistry in the atmosphere at the molecular level. This work has led to important discoveries of new chemistries occurring on the interfaces of cloud surfaces. He currently serves as executive editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society and on the Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He received his B.S. from University of Texas at Austin, and Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was a Research Fellow at University of Cambridge and a Visiting Associate in Planetary Science at California Institute of Technology. Professor Francisco is past President of the American Chemical Society, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, as well as the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

In this talk Prof. Francisco will review the traditional acid rain mechanism and introduce a new mechanism for acid rain that relies on the photochemistry of sulfur dioxide (SO2). He will show how this new chemistry can be an important ingredient in fully understanding how acid rain is formed, but not yet considered, by current atmospheric models. Sulfur dioxide has been proposed in solar geoengineering as a precursor of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) aerosol, a cooling agent active in the stratosphere to counter climate change due to the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse carbon dioxide. Considering the introduction of SO2 in the stratosphere, the photochemistry of this molecule is critical to assessing whether strategies to mitigate climate change are feasible by injection of SO2.

Prof. Francisco will also share personal stories of environmental injustice from his youth, growing up in the Houston area of Texas—home to numerous oil refineries—and how acid rain adversely affected his health and that of other underprivileged citizens in the region.