Conducting out-of-this-world research at UNI

Josh Sebree is an accomplished chemist who spent several years working for NASA. The University of Northern Iowa is benefitting from Sebree's knowledge and expertise as he serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Sebree and assistant professors Alexa Sedlacek and Xinhua Shen in UNI's earth science department are currently conducting research on aerosol particles in atmospheres.

Josh Sebree"We were awarded a three-year STEM grant from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium to conduct a three-part study," said Sebree. "The part I'm conducting research on is the early-Earth's aerosols. Dr. Sedlacek is working on the paleoclimatology part, collecting rocks and grinding them to see what the early-Earth's composition says about the early-Earth's atmosphere. Dr. Shen is studying modern-day aerosols in our atmosphere."

Each part of the study looks at how Earth's atmosphere has changed over time. To help him in his research, Sebree's lab in McCollum Science Hall has a chamber in which he can mix up any type of atmosphere. By adding methane or some type of carbon-containing mixture and nitrogen, he's able to add the gases into the chamber and allow it to flow across the face of an ultraviolet lamp that acts like the sun. This reaction initiates a lot of photochemistry, which creates large molecules that group together to form aerosols that rain out of the pseudo atmosphere he's created. Whatever rains out is strained with a filter and analyzed to find the composition.

"I have always enjoyed working with students, and after two years doing my post-doc work at NASA, I was ready to move into a job that allowed for greater outreach in my profession," he said. "At UNI, I can actually work with younger people and get them interested in STEM, and I get to do the research I love alongside engaging students in their own journeys as well.”