Freshman May Become First UC Merced Ph.D
Ricardo Cisneros is on campus only on Thursdays this semester, for the capstone course in his Atmospheric Aerosols and Public Health fellowship awarded through UC Davis. The rest of the time, he's focused on completing his dissertation.
Cisneros is poised to become the first person to receive a doctorate from UC Merced.
His Ph.D. researchin the Environmental Systems graduate programcenters on what he calls a "real-world problem" - air pollution and public health. Specifically, Cisneros studies ozone concentrations in Valley and Sierra Nevadalocations, advised by Sam Traina, vice chancellor for researchand dean of graduate studies.
"My original hypothesis was that the mountain air would be cleaner," he said. "We found just the opposite."
Ozone concentrations in the Valley decrease at night as the toxic combination of three oxygen atoms - which Cisneros said burns the insides of our lungs like the sun burns our skin - breaks down. In mountain locations like Shaver Lake, where he first focused his studies, different inversion and wind effects cause the ozone concentrations at night to stay about the same, resulting in greater overall exposure.
Another surprising finding was that ozone was traveling through canyons like the San Joaquin River drainage, resulting in Valley pollution landing in otherwise-pristine areas on the east side of the Sierra.
Cisneros now also studies effects of fire - prescribed burns and wildfires - on air quality.
He started his air quality research while employed at the U.S. Forest Service before beginning his program at UC Merced.
"I worked in the mountains, and I was going back in my spare time to recreate," he said. "I still love it. For me, it's really fun - hiking, being in the forest - all in the name of science."
He's returning to the Forest Service after his Ph.D. - with some added responsibilities. His new position will be half management, half research, and he'll be responsible for forming liaisons with research universities like UC Merced.
"In order for us to do our job as managers, we need answers provided by research," Cisneros said. "It will be my job to pave the road for that, and the best way will be by collaborating. If we share our data, apply for grants with university researchers, and then write papers and give seminars together, we will have a lot more to offer, within California and nationwide."
Cisneros has had some chances to share his knowledge with broader audiences already - presenting at a conference in Florida and traveling to Colombia to offer a two-week course in forest and environmental health.
But he appreciates the chance to earn a UC doctorate close to his Fresno home. He's been able to continue doing work for the Forest Service, shape his own research goals and stay close to his young son.
"A new university, for me, has also been interesting," he said. "Our work here is interdisciplinary, and that's my mentality."
He hopes to continue his work discovering what parts of the forest are safer, in terms of air quality, for recreational uses - and eventually, to apply that model to other forests.