Robinson Receives the 2015 Atmospheric Sciences Ascent Award

Allen L. Robinson will receive the 2015 Atmospheric Sciences Ascent Award at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, to be held 14–18 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes “research contributions by exceptional mid-career scientists in the fields of atmospheric and climate sciences.”


Allen Robinson has transformed our understanding of primary aerosol emissions. Fine particles dominate uncertainties in climate forcing and health effects from pollution. Atmospheric evolution receives substantial focus, but sources are often neglected. This is a pity; without good emissions data model results are guaranteed to be garbage. For whatever reason, particle nucleation is a hot topic generating frequent papers in Science and Nature, but primary emissions are an “engineering” problem. Robinson et al. (Science, 2007, doi:10.1126/science.1133061) is a counterexample. Allen’s paper established that primary organic emissions are substantially semivolatile, with a great deal of evaporation happening while plumes dilute down to ambient conditions, along with simultaneous oxidation chemistry driving recondensation of organic oxidation products as secondary organic aerosol.

Allen and his research group have systematically explored this cycle of emission, evaporation, oxidation, and secondary condensation for major primary organic aerosol sources. Another paper in Science (Jimenez et al., 2009, doi:10.1126/science.1180353) put into context ambient observations using an aerosol mass spectrometer, which almost always reveal that most organic particulate matter is highly oxidized, with only a small fraction consisting of reduced material characteristic of primary emissions. This contradicts predictions by chemical transport models representing the state of the art in the mid-2000s that most organic aerosols were primary. The Robinson cycle was key to resolving this apparent contradiction. The same cycle also explains aerosol observations off of the Deep Water Horizon spill (de Gouw et al., Science, 2011, doi:10.1126/science.1200320).

Allen is a fantastic colleague and collaborator. Collaboration comes so easily that it is hard to write the detailed management plans for proposal calls that presume it is hard; “he sits on the couch in my office and we figure it out” does not always review well. He sees real-world problems with clarity and depth and makes the work easy and fun.

—Neil M. Donahue, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA



I am grateful for and humbled by the acknowledgement of this award. Thank you to my nominators and the AGU Atmospheric Sciences section awards committee for this honor.

I have so much appreciation for all of those who have influenced my path, starting with my mother, my uncle (Nick Latham), and my grandfather (Allen Latham Jr.). They instilled a love for the outdoors and engineering. I was introduced to environmental engineering as student at Stanford and Berkeley. As a postdoctoral fellow at Sandia, I learned about combustion and emissions. I am grateful for sage advice from my mentors (Gil Masters at Stanford, Rich Sextro and Bill Nazaroff at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/University of California, Berkeley, and Larry Baxter at Sandia). My career took a strong turn toward the atmosphere when I joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon. The Environmental Protection Agency had recently promulgated a new standard for fine particulate matter. I can still remember my lunch with Spyros Pandis that started me down the path of characterizing particle emissions from combustion systems. I cannot thank my colleagues at Carnegie Mellon enough—Spyros Pandis, Cliff Davidson (now at Syracuse), Neil Donahue, and Peter Adams. I attribute much of my success to our vigorous collaboration. I especially want to thank Neil, with whom I have explored problems ranging from organic aerosols to bike wobble. He is an incredible colleague. I also want to thank my many other colleagues at Carnegie Mellon and other institutions with whom I have worked and from whom I have learned over the years. Finally, none of this would have been possible without the many fantastic students and postdocs with whom I have had the honor to work. It really takes a village.

To my amazing and supportive wife, Kathy, and our two sons, Jack and Gus, thank you for being a constant source of joy.

—Allen L. Robinson, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA