U-M chemist receives national Brown Investigator award


A University of Michigan chemist is among the 2024 class of Brown Investigators, the first class selected through the newly formed Brown Institute for Basic Sciences at the California Institute of Technology.

Kerri Pratt, professor of chemistry and of earth and environmental sciences in LSA, will receive $2 million over five years to support her research.

Photo of Kerri Pratt
Kerri Pratt

The cohort comprises eight distinguished mid-career faculty members working on fundamental challenges in the physical sciences, particularly those with potential long-term practical applications in chemistry and physics.

Pratt studies the chemical interactions between atmospheric trace gases, particles, clouds and snow in the Arctic, which is warming faster than elsewhere on Earth. She focuses as well on wintertime environments, which are understudied and often experience poor air quality, she said.

Pratt will focus her Brown Investigator project on the application of new state-of-the-art, field-deployable mass spectrometers to discover and measure new chemical compounds in the atmosphere. With these instruments, her team will conduct novel “lab-in-the-field” perturbation experiments to explain new chemical mechanisms in the troposphere.

“I was shocked and honored to receive the news from Ross Brown himself,” Pratt said. “I am so excited for my research group to investigate the fundamental details of chemical reactions in the atmosphere. We will use these experiments in the field to discern the details that tell us not just what, but also how and why.”

By comparison, Pratt said, most field measurements and funding are focused on measuring the amount of a chemical compound over time.

The Brown Institute was established in 2023 through a $400 million gift from entrepreneur, philanthropist and Caltech alumnus Ross M. Brown.

Caltech and Brown share a common purpose: advancing fundamental science discoveries with the potential to seed breakthroughs that benefit society.

“My hope is the support provided by the Brown Investigator Awards will help to spark and encourage the researchers’ creativity and enable them to pursue riskier innovative ideas that extend beyond their existing research efforts and align with new or developing passions,” Brown said.

“By supporting mid-career faculty, we can provide funding at a time when they are poised and prepared to make profound contributions to their fields.”


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