Meet Milena: What is the role of oxidation products of BVOCs?

Hello everybody, I am Milena Ponczek. I am a post-doc at the Laboratory of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Sao Paulo. About one year ago, I joined Prof. Artaxo’s group there.

I have a Bsc degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Campinas, Brazil. There, my first research project was to study VOC degradation process by photocatalysis on titanium dioxide. Then, I changed my research field from applied to fundamental sciences, pursuing a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Lyon in France. My thesis focused on laboratory studies to investigate photocatalytic properties of mineral dust aerosols. I wanted to find out how they interact with trace gases, especially oxygenated VOCs, inducing a potentially significant heterogeneous chemistry in the atmosphere. We found out that mineral aerosols, such as Sahara dust, can act as a substrate for the uptake of VOCs. Once irradiated by solar light its surface can facilitate the conversion of those VOCs to more oxidized species.

For my current project that includes ATTO, we focus on aerosols life cycle in the Amazon. I am particularly interested in aerosols and VOC interactions. I investigate secondary organic aerosol formation from the oxidation of Biogenic VOCs and their subsequent photochemical processing. Figuring out how those BVOCs oxidation products at the gas phase lower their volatility to form/condense at aerosol particles is an exciting scientific challenge. It involves a detailed characterization of both the gas and the particulate phases by sophisticated analytical techniques, such as mass spectrometry in order to compare their chemical and physical properties.

Since my childhood, I have always been fascinated by ecology and how amazing and perfect nature is. Because of this admiration, I want to understand natural phenomena so that we could preserve all the wealth we have on Earth. The Amazon rainforest is a symbol of how the interactions between different ecosystems work together to maintain the global balance. From the atmospheric point of view, the Amazon rainforest is unique. Studying and working in this region has always been a dream for me. So I was very pleased to finally visit ATTO at the last annual meeting in September 2019. But I’m super excited to go back for the next field campaigns this year!