Facility to allow greater climate research

Renovation on retired geology and geophysics professor Robert Berner’s lab — which will transform the vacant space into a state-of-the-art facility, the first of its kind — began this week. The new facility will allow Yale scientists to conduct climate research here on campus that previously required them to travel long distances.

“I am looking forward to the completion of the clean lab, because I will save a lot of time and energy on traveling to other places to do experiments,” said Chao Liu, a geology graduate student who will work in the new lab.

The new facility, when fully functional, will accommodate the research activities of Zhengrong Wang, who joined the Geology Department in July 2007 as an assistant professor, and become part of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies’ Earth System Center. Wang and Liu both said they did not know when the renovation would be completed.

Wang said the facility will be capable of housing cross-disciplinary research at the boundaries of environmental sciences, material sciences and medicine.

In the new lab, high-tech facilities, such as a mass spectrometer — a machine that is used to analyze the composition of molecules — will allow scientists to study the elements found in the earth’s crust and sediments deposited in bodies of water. Since the lab will be isolating atmospheric components, it will also house 10 clean rooms, controlled environments that are sealed off from airborne contamination.

The space will also be equipped with equipment to date igneous and metamorphic rocks and investigate the interactions between water and rocks, allowing scientists to understand the climatic conditions on ancient Earth.

But the climate research the lab will sustain is not limited to studying bygone eras.

“The research is also relevant to work being done on recent climate changes,” Geology Department Chair David Bercovici said.

For instance, he said, Wang’s research will glean important insights into the hotly debated snowball Earth hypothesis. The hypothesis, which remains controversial, suggests that the Earth was nearly or completely frozen during various periods in the past. Understanding this ancient phenomenon will shed light on modern-day climate issues, such as melting ice caps and glaciers — speculated to be a by-product of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Wang currently co-teaches a graduate seminar class, “The Physical Science of Global Climate,” which covers topics such as atmosphere science, ocean science, and climate modeling and predictions.

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