Research leads CSB senior to NASA research, chemistry award

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March 3, 2017

By Megan Flynn '17

Claire BuysseClaire Buysse’s research is the air she breathes — literally.

Buysse, a College of Saint Benedict senior chemistry major from Marshall, Minnesota, has been interested in the chemistry behind air quality and pollution since early in college. She has had several summer research positions, but her latest was her most exciting — researching for NASA in the summer of 2016.

Her research project, which she designed herself, studied air quality and ozone pollution in Sequoia National Park in California. The idea came to her after a trip to the park in June 2016. Her research adviser, Sally Pusede, immediately helped Buysse carve out a plan to make it happen.

“I got to visit and I thought, wow this is really cool, I really want to focus my research here,” Buysse said. “So I talked to my adviser and she said, alright — let’s do this.”

Her research included the development of better metrics to measure ozone pollution that causes vegetative damage. She’s also studying the link between ozone trends in Sequoia National Park to trends in the San Joaquin Valley, the main source of ozone to the park, in order to predict when ozone pollution will no longer be a threat to the park.

Buysse is continuing her studies for her senior research project and hopes to publish a paper that explains her findings. She says the internship with NASA has been a huge asset as she applies to graduate schools. Aside from the academic benefits, Buysse said the experience has taught her what she’s capable of.

“I never thought I’d be able to just have this brainchild and be able to actually run with it,” Buysse said. “The fact that I have that kind of power in me is really cool.”

Most recently, Buysse’s work in the chemistry field earned her the Priscilla Carney Jones Scholarship, a national award established to assist and encourage women in the field of chemistry. The recipient must be a rising junior or senior female undergraduate student majoring in chemistry or a chemistry-related science. Buysse found out about the opportunity when one of her professors read the requirements in class to encourage students to apply.

“She was reading the requirement and I thought, that’s me,” Buysse said. The scholarship will help her pay tuition costs and other expenses associated with going to college.

After her graduation in May, Buysse hopes to go to graduate school to study atmospheric chemistry. She says her dream job is to be the air resources specialist for the National Parks Service, but she’d be happy in a national lab conducting climate research.

She says the support she has received from professors in the chemistry department has gone a long way toward helping her gain experience. She got a summer research position at North Dakota State University after her first year at CSB, which is tough to do in such a competitive field.

“Claire faces challenges with a positive and good-humored approach, but she is never deterred,” CSB/SJU associate professor of chemistry Kate Graham said. “In her research internship after her first year of college, her adviser from North Dakota State University said she accomplished more during that summer than the graduate student who had worked on the project for two years. She’s highly determined.”

Buysse says her success is due to her own dedication and the support she has felt from her professors from day one.

“The whole chemistry department is legitimately awesome,” Buysse said. “Everyone is really encouraging. I would never have applied for a research position after my first year if I hadn’t been encouraged so much by everyone here. They work really hard to make sure you’re set up to do well.”