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Canadian Honors Pile Up for ODU's Bernath

Picture shows ODU's Peter Bernath in a chemistry labPeter Bernath

Peter Bernath, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Old Dominion University, might be tempted to think of himself as a celebrity in Canada, his native country. His status comes not from any artistic pursuit, but instead from chemistry, physics and environmental sciences.

As mission scientist for the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) that is on board the Canadian satellite SCISAT-1, Bernath has garnered headlines in the popular media, as well as respect from the world of science. ACE has delivered new measurements from a low-Earth orbit of air pollution and climate change.

Earlier this month Bernath finished up a year as Ashley Fellow at Trent University in Ontario, which involved two extended visits to that university to deliver lectures in a public setting and classrooms, and engage in small-group discussions with Trent faculty and students.

"The Ashley Fellow is often a poet or writer, someone in the arts, and rarely from the sciences," Bernath said. But a physics acquaintance of his familiar with the ACE project recommended him for the fellowship. "I think Canadians in general are proud of the ACE accomplishments, and particularly those on the campus at Trent, which has a very strong environmental sciences program," Bernath said.

Last year, Bernath received the Faculty of Science Distinguished Alumni Award of the University of Waterloo, also in Ontario. That award is bestowed upon Waterloo alumni who have demonstrated significant contributions in the areas of professional or academic achievement and contributions to community and public service. Bernath received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Waterloo in 1976.

He has been the lead scientist for ACE since the satellite mission began in 1998. He took on that project while he was a professor of chemistry (with a cross appointment in physics) at Waterloo.

Bernath also received the 2009 Alouette Award of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and the 2004 Excellence in Research Award from the University of Waterloo.

His Ph.D. in chemistry is from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and he served as assistant professor and associate professor at the University of Arizona before taking a faculty position at Waterloo in 1991. He came to ODU in 2011 from the University of York in England.

In the Ashley Fellow public lecture he gave at Trent, titled "Measuring Air Pollution and Monitoring Climate Change from Orbit," Bernath discussed recent advances in remote sensing from satellites. Traditionally, he said, organic molecules responsible for air pollution are measured on the ground, as are the concentrations of greenhouse gases associated with climate change. Now, however, remote sensing instruments on satellites in low-Earth orbit allow these species to be monitored on a global scale. The talk covered observations of various organic molecules associated with air pollution, greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and polar mesospheric clouds.