UC Berkeley mechanical engineering alumna receives MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation/Courtesy

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A UC Berkeley alumna was named a MacArthur Fellow on Wednesday for her research on the effects of black carbon emission and atmospheric pollution on global climate and human health.

Tami Bond, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, received the fellowship for her study of atmospheric processes that include black carbon, kerosene and aerosol emissions in remote locations. Bond, who received her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, was among 21 individuals chosen to be a MacArthur Fellow.

The award, an annual honor given to professionals across various disciplines, recognizes researchers and scholars who have shown originality in and dedication to their accomplishments.

“My first reaction was not to have a reaction,” Bond said. “I was so surprised. You don’t have any skills for a moment like that. The very first reaction was blank shock.”

Bond’s research hones in on the incorporation of air pollution on a global scale. She combines fieldwork with laboratory studies to take inventories on how much black carbon, known commonly as soot, is deposited in the atmosphere, allowing her to gauge the effects of carbon-containing particles and combustion emissions.

Daniel Kammen, a campus energy and resources professor, said Bond’s research on emissions feeds into an important global trend of expanding attention from the largest power plants to a myriad of other sources of greenhouse gases and particulate emissions.

“It is great to see work on the health and climate impact of traditional biomass burning and leakage — forest destruction, charcoal production and methane emissions from agriculture, including rice paddies — getting the attention that the MacArthur Prize to Tami Bond will bring,” Kammen said.

This year, each fellow receives a $625,000 stipend, colloquially known as a “Genius Grant,” distributed over the course of five years.

Bond has worked to measure household energy in different countries that do not have access to electricity, and she hopes to use a portion of the grant money to further similar research.

At UC Berkeley, Bond focused on studying combustion. She continued her studies at the University of Washington, where she received a doctorate in atmospheric sciences, civil engineering and mechanical engineering.

While at UC Berkeley, Bond researched the catalytic combustion of natural gas with air — an alternative process to burning traditional fossil fuels such as coal and oil — that does not produce pollutants. This study served as the foundation for her current research, she said.

“She’s a self-starter, and she was very independent and well organized,” said Robert Dibble, a campus professor of mechanical engineering who worked with Bond during her time at UC Berkeley. “She’s one of the smartest people I know.”

Contact Adrienne Shih and Robert Tooke at [email protected].