At the annual meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol held in Rome, Italy, from November 4-8, delegates from 197 nations received a report documenting the science behind the hole in the ozone layer and the progress in repairing it as a result of the Montreal Protocol. That report—Twenty Questions and Answers About the Ozone Layer: 2018 Update—was coauthored by Laura McBride ’16, working with her graduate program advisor, Ross Salawitch, at the University of Maryland-College Park and scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Reading in England, and the University of Colorado. McBride, who majored in chemistry and environmental science while at Moravian, will earn her PhD in chemistry in spring of 2022. Inside Moravian reached out to McBride to learn more about her work on the report, her graduate school experience, and her future plans.
What is the Montreal Protocol?
It is an international treaty designed to control the production and consumption of gases that deplete ozone in the stratosphere, or the ozone layer. In the 1970s scientists realized that chemicals used in spray-can propellants, refrigeration and air-conditioning, and foam blowing were destroying parts of the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects earth from harmful UV radiation from the sun that can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Countries from all around the world were able to come together and develop a solution to slow the destruction of the ozone layer, and together they signed the Montreal Protocol in 1987. The parties of the Montreal Protocol meet every year to determine if more action is needed to help the ozone layer recover. Multiple amendments and adjustments have been passed since the initial signing of the Protocol, and we expect the ozone layer to recover by the middle of this century. The success of the Montreal Protocol shows that different countries can work together to tackle a global problem and come up with a solution.
What were your contributions to the Twenty Q&As document?
I was in charge of creating the figures for the introduction and questions 17 and 19. I also was part of the three-person team that wrote the text for the document, and I took part in the editing process. We sent the document for review to 36 scientists who work in atmospheric chemistry. They had over 1,000 comments, which I helped review and incorporate into the document.
Tell us about your experience in the PhD program at University of Maryland-College Park.
In my first year, I joined a research group that focuses on atmospheric chemistry and climate modeling. My research uses a climate model that my group created to predict future temperature changes on global and regional scales. I look at altering various levels of greenhouse gases and analyze how this affects future temperature change. I also compare my results to the large global climate models to see how our results are different.
During my four years at Maryland, I have presented at four different academic conferences, notably with a talk at the American Meteorological Society National Meeting in January 2018 (as a second-year graduate student) on my dissertation work. I am presenting again at the American Meteorological Society National Meeting in January 2020 with a talk in a high-profile session, the Robert Dickinson Symposium.
In addition to my research, I’ve been a teaching assistant and a discussion section leader for general chemistry classes. In my third year, I received the GAANN Fellowship (Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need) through. The GAANN Fellowship is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to a department at a university that has recognized an area of national importance in which graduate students need training. The chemistry department at the University of Maryland realized that graduate students in chemistry programs are not well-trained in teaching. I was one of three students selected out of a department of more than 160 graduate students. During the GAANN Fellowship I was mentored an undergraduate student on a research project and taught a unit as a lecturer in an undergraduate chemistry class. Participating in this opportunity helped me learn about the research behind teaching and learning and different strategies for engaging students in the classroom. It was during this fellowship that I realized most of the professors I had at Moravian used these same strategies. It was exciting to see this connection.
Graduate school has also taught me a lot about myself and my passions. From my experience at Moravian as a chemistry tutor and a student assistant in chemistry labs, I knew I liked teaching, but through studying the science behind teaching and learning, I became passionate about it. Discovering this passion helped me refocus my career goals from pursuing a career in research at a research-intensive institution to teaching at a teaching-focused college or university, like Moravian.
How did your Moravian College experience help set you on your current path?
In the fall semester of my sophomore year, I took “Intro to Environmental Science” with Dr. Diane Husic and was intrigued by how chemistry and the environment intertwined with each other. The following spring I took environmental chemistry, and I was hooked. I completed two SOAR [Student Opportunities for Academic Research] projects, followed by an honors project my senior year. Through those opportunities, I discovered I liked research, and that I should go to graduate school.
In the spring of my junior year, a climate change course co-taught by Dr. Husic and Dr. Hilde Binford, ignited my fascination with the science behind earth’s climate, and as a senior, I joined Dr. Husic and Dr. Binford and my fellow students in attending the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris. This opportunity allowed me to see how international diplomacy works and to interact with people from all over the world that are passionate about solving the climate crisis. I realized I wanted to continue being a part of this community and contribute to the solution.
Moravian helped me discover my passions but also prepared me well for the rigors of graduate school. Courses in English and history improved my writing and presentation skills and prepared me for the intense writing of graduate school. My professors instilled in me a strong work ethic, which enabled me in my first semester to balance a full load of graduate classes, 20 hours a week working as a teaching assistant, and my own research.
Without the guidance and training I received at Moravian, I would not have been able to make it through my first year of graduate school, but it was something President Grigsby said at my graduation that further propelled me: I defended my candidacy proposal in November of 2018, and as I strode into the room, I remembered his advice. He said, if you were ever feeling nervous or needed to reassure yourself that you could succeed in opportunities you pursued after Moravian tell yourself, "Moravian College sent me." I did just that, and I passed. I am now a PhD candidate.