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Arnold School of Public Health

Eric Vejerano receives NSF CAREER Award to investigate atmospheric sources of persistent free radicals

February 16, 2022 

Environmental health sciences (ENHS) assistant professor Eric Vejerano has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year award includes more than $600K in funding from the Division of Chemistry’s Environmental Chemical Sciences Program.

CAREER is a highly competitive program that NSF awards to junior faculty. It is designed to support early-career teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of research and education — activities that build a solid foundation for a lifetime of leadership in these areas. 

“The CAREER award from NSF is a very special recognition of the early career performance and future potential of junior faculty working largely in the basic sciences,” says Tom Chandler, Dean of the Arnold school. “Dr. Vejerano’s work is at the interface of environmental/atmospheric chemistry and those atmospheric processes that affect fate and ultimately risks of airborne pollutants. There are very few schools of public health with faculty in receipt of this prestigious award. We are all very proud of him and this special accomplishment.”

Vejerano, whose research focuses on the impact of nanoparticles and environmental pollutants on air quality, also holds an appointment with the South Carolina SmartState Center for Environmental Risk and Nanoscience and has already received NSF funding for two projects to advance understanding of (environmentally persistent free radicals) EPFRs.

In 2017, he was among the 30 research fellows of the then newly launched National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research RII-Track IV. He is also the principal investigator of another NSF grant to study the formation of EPFRs on engineered nanomaterials. Vejerano’s current project examines the reactions of volatile organics in aerosol particles as sources of persistent free radicals.  

“EPFRs are a newly identified class of pollutants. The transformation of chemicals in the air and their potential to contribute to EPFRs are unknown,” he says. “EPFRs can remain in the environment for hours or even months – long enough to be transported long distances from their sources; chronic exposure to EPFRs can lead to adverse human health impacts.”

Vejerano’s team will study volatile organics – which are released from natural sources like plants as well as human-related activities. They are specifically interested in how these chemicals react with atmospheric oxidants (ozone, hydroxyl radicals) and how these interactions contribute to the formation of EPFRs. Vejerano will also investigate how atmospheric processes can lead to the loss of EPFRs after their initial formation.

In alignment with the CAREER program’s goals to effectively integrate research and education, Vejerano’s project will incorporate concepts and results from the research by developing publicly accessible educational tools for K-12 students. Associate professor Bridget Miller, an expert in early childhood education, will advise Vejerano for this aspect of the project. Vejerano and two graduate students will also train undergraduate and high school students from underrepresented and minority groups in South Carolina to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in research, particularly among young scientists.

Vejerano earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Louisiana State University. Along with his mentor, Patrick F. Taylor Chair Barry Dellinger, who pioneered the field, Vejerano contributed to early research on EPFRs.


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