Published: April 28, 2020

Photos of Kristine Larson and Veronica VaidaKristine Larson (left) and Veronica Vaida (right)

This week, the National Academy of Sciences announced that it had elected two CU Boulder researchers at the forefront of atmospheric chemistry and GPS science to its prestigious membership.

Kristine Larson and Veronica Vaida will join more than 140 other United States-based and international scientists receiving this recognition in 2020. The honor is often considered one of the highest that scientists can receive during their careers.

Larson is a professor emerita and research professor in the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research (CCAR). Vaida is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and a fellow in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

They are in good company: To date, 18 researchers from CU Boulder have entered the ranks of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Eyes in the sky

The National Academy of Sciences Building

The National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. (Credit: CC photo by Maxwell MacKenzie via Flickr)

Today, a fleet of more than 30 satellites orbit Earth, collecting a steady stream of GPS data that most people use for little more than driving across town. For several decades, Larson has focused on doing more with that same information.

Larson, for example, has led research that used GPS satellites to track how earthquakes change the shape of Earth’s surface. She and her colleagues have detected minute shifts in the contours of the planet’s crust hundreds of miles or more from the epicenter of a temblor. She similarly developed new methods to track shifts in sea level and in the volume of ice contained in the polar ice caps, all from space. Larson has also employed GPS to spot plumes of ash and smoke that spew from erupting volcanos. 

“Kristine’s curiosity and dedication have allowed her to expand the capabilities of GPS and shed new light on the world around us,” said Keith Molenaar, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science. “It’s fitting that her innovative vision is being recognized with this tremendous honor.”

"I'm grateful to my family and colleagues for making this honor possible,” Larson said.

She received her PhD from the University of California, San Diego in 1990 and joined CU Boulder later that year. Larson was elected an AGU Fellow in 2011 and received an Honorary Doctorate from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden in 2017.

Primordial air

Vaida and her colleagues study the processes that shape the atmosphere of modern and early Earth, and around other planetary bodies. She focuses on photoreactivity: when a compound changes properties due to interaction with light. Her research also explores how clouds form, with consequences for Earth’s climate.
Her lab looks at the chemical properties of atmospheric particles in situations in which water and air interact, such as the sea surface. The findings may help to explain the role that those environments played in creating chemical systems relevant to the emergence of life. 

“The College of Arts and Sciences is pleased and proud that one of our own, Professor Veronica Vaida, has been selected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences,” said Dean James White. “Professor Vaida is a true academic star and exemplifies the very high standards that our faculty hold themselves to; she is most deserving of this honor.”

“The Department of Chemistry is very happy to hear that Veronica Vaida was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, which is a very important recognition for her distinguished and continuing achievements in original research," said chair David Jonas. "We have been privileged to have Veronica as a colleague and to watch her research evolve from pioneering work on molecular clusters to exciting discoveries about their chemistry in marine aerosols and planetary atmospheres, including the contemporary and ancient earth.”

Vaida recently received the 2020 Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics from the American Chemical Society. In 2018 she was lauded with the “Veronica Vaida Festschrift Virtual Special Issue” of the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

Vaida joined the CU Boulder faculty in 1990 and has been a CIRES Fellow since 2000. She received her doctorate from Yale University in 1977.