Undergraduate Research

Daniel Hill '21

OUR Featured Researcher: Daniel Hill '21

Portrait of Daniel Hill
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Daniel Hill (he/him) is a Chemistry and Mathematics major doing research under Professor Matt Elrod. His project is titled "Determination of Possible Formation Mechanisms for Organosulfate Species Present in Secondary Organic Aerosol".

Please describe your project: 

In the atmosphere, anthropogenic pollutants can combine with biogenic compounds to form compounds in secondary organic aerosol (SOA), which are potentially harmful to animals and the earth’s climate. These compounds affect cloud formation, the way aerosol particles interact with light, and are small enough to be inhaled by animals and cause health issues. Organosulfates are one of the most abundant types of SOA components, but only the epoxide formation mechanism for orgosulfates has been thoroughly studied. However, studies show many organosulfate components in SOA are not formed through epoxide pathways. Our goal is to determine the atmospheric feasibility of other potential organosulfate formation pathways. We do this by preparing aqueous solutions with differing reactants, concentrations and acidities and monitoring them using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy to attain product formation information as well as kinetic data. These data allow us to determine the atmospheric feasibility of the reaction and thus identify potential organosulfate mechanistic formation pathways.

What implications does your research have to society?

This research has very broad and relevant impacts. Climate change is one of the most important issues affecting the planet today. This research directly deals with identifying the formation pathways of one of the most abundant species in a type of atmospheric pollutant (SOA). By identifying and characterizing reaction pathways, more accurate atmospheric models can be produced relevant to climate change and air pollution modeling. These models in turn play a large role in the formulation of environmental policy and understanding of how atmospheric pollutants form.

What does a day in the life of your project look like?

A day in the life of my project consists of preparing solutions for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) analysis. The solutions are prepared in small vials, transferred to NMR tubes for analysis by NMR to monitor reaction kinetics and/or product formation. I do this in the Oberlin College Science Center with my research advisor Professor Matthew Elrod, with whom I consult on a regular basis regarding results and further experimentation.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

My research has resulted in two papers:
Stropoli, S. J.; Miner, C. R.; Hill, D. R.; Elrod, M. J. Assessing potential oligomerization reaction mechanisms of isoprene epoxydiols on secondary organic aerosol. Enviromental Science and Technology. 2019, 53, 176-184.
Jiang, K.; Hill, D. R.; Elrod, M. J. Assessing the potential for oligomer formation from the reactions of lactones in secondary organic aerosols. The Journal of Physical Chemistry A, 2018, 122, 292-302.
I have also given presentations to the Oberlin faculty and students at the end of each summer in which I have conducted research.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?

I began doing research at Oberlin prior to my senior year in high school. I worked in Professor Elrod's lab as a part-time assistant to one of his research students. The following summer, Professor Elrod gave me my own project to work on full time. I wanted to do research in college because I enjoy doing new things for which the answer is a mystery. I get satisfaction from knowing I am making a difference and contributing to something important.

What is your favorite part about engaging in this work?

I always enjoy the moment when I see the results from a new experiment. It is always fun to see what happened, to figure out if it matched my predictions, or if something unexpected has occurred.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Professor Matthew Elrod, my research mentor, has consistently played a huge role in my research. He always has suggestions and offers ways to move forward and alternatives to examining results when I am stuck. He has taught me many new techniques and encourages me to question my conclusions.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Research has become an integral part in my college experience. I feel it has opened my mind to novel and creative ways of thinking.     

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

The best advice I can offer my peers is to never be afraid to ask for advice and help when you do not understand something. If research interests you, talk to a professor about it and ask how you might get involved.

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