Atmospheric Researcher Joins Ranks of UVA’s Astronaut Scholars

Jacob Bushey seeks to answer the question of how plants influence, and are influenced by, the changing climate. (Contributed photo by Nate Diemer)

Jacob Bushey is researching the effects of ozone on transpiration, carbon assimilation and photosynthesis in plants, and now he will be able to brainstorm with his fellow Astronaut Scholars.

Bushey, of Virginia Beach, a rising University of Virginia fourth-year environmental sciences and chemistry major, with an undeclared minor in religious studies, has been named an Astronaut Scholar. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation commemorates the legacy of America’s pioneering astronauts by awarding grants of up to $15,000 to students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics with the intent to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree.

“It’s well documented that ozone, a pollutant found in the troposphere, damages plants and reduces their capacity for photosynthesis,” Bushey said. “What researchers don’t know is how this damage occurs, which is the current focus of my work.”

Bushey was originally drawn to this topic because of its connection to atmospheric chemistry.

“Humans are responsible for the immense changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere that have led to reduced air quality and climate change,” Bushey said. “These changes have complications for human health, agriculture, the economy, extreme weather events, etc., creating great ripple effects through society. In order to better anticipate these ripple effects, scientists need to understand the basic mechanisms governing the uptake of these pollutants by the biosphere.”

Bushey’s work seeks to answer a very specific question that will improve understanding of how plants influence, and are influenced by, the changing climate. He is anxious to discuss his work with other Astronaut Scholars.

“The greatest impact that meeting other scholars will have on my work is the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm with them,” he said. “I have no idea who I’ll be meeting or if they’re working on anything similar, but I know that those discussions will help me better articulate my work and allow me to hear fresh ideas from some talented student researchers.”

As an Astronaut Scholar, Bushey understands that he has joined a dedicated group.

“I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to connect with the talented students in my cohort, as well as other scholar alumni,” Bushey said. “These students will all go on to be leaders in their respective fields, and I can tell that they’re all motivated and interesting people. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get to know them. We’ll all be looking to grow these professional relationships as we begin our careers.”

James N. Galloway, the Sidman P. Poole Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, focuses his biogeochemical research on the natural and anthropogenic controls on chemical cycles at the watershed, regional and global scales. He is familiar with Bushey’s research and knows him as someone who stands out.

 

“I met Jacob in late August 2018 during the first meeting of Environmental Science ‘Resources and the Environment,’ course with an enrollment of 140 students,” Galloway said. “With such a large class, it often takes several lectures to develop connections with individual students. This was not the case with Jacob. After the first lecture he came with several questions about the course material. He was genuinely curious about the topics discussed in class. That initial meeting in late August transitioned into weekly meetings on a variety of topics – ranging from how he could get involved in research to how can environmental sciences be used to address global problems.”

For Galloway, Bushey’s promise has borne fruit.

“Jacob has gone from strength to strength in academics, research and service,” Galloway said. “He is one of the most curious people I know, and he follows up that curiosity with an enthusiasm for exploring new ideas that emerge from that initial curiosity. He is a pleasure to work with and I have no doubt he will keep on being curious for his entire life.”

Aside from his work in chemistry and the environment, Bushey is also interested tying the subjects together through religion and is pursuing this through religious studies, which he plans to declare as a minor.

“My interest in religious studies was originally strictly personal,” Bushey said. “I’m a Christian and I chose to attend UVA in part because I wanted the opportunity to learn more about my faith from an academic perspective. When I was touring, I met a student who was double majoring in chemistry and religious studies, which was my original plan. It’s a unique combination, so meeting another student with those interests gave me confidence that I would have the opportunity to explore both disciplines at UVA.”

That personal interest has taken on a professional dimension.

“Classes such as ‘Religion, Ethics, & Global Environment’ have helped me see the connection between my STEM courses and religion,” Bushey said. “I want to help start a dialogue on the common ground between faith and science and continue that throughout my career. I think both the Christian and scientific communities ought to share the common goal of planetary stewardship, and I look forward to the opportunity to bring both of those perspectives to the table.”

An Echols Scholar and a College Science Scholar, Bushey is a member of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and UVA’s Club Running program. He is also a recipient of a 2021 NASA Virginia Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Research STEM Scholarship and a Raven Society Scholarship. A graduate of Ocean Lakes High School, Bushey wants to study abroad and pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric chemistry or a related field.

“My current career goal is to be a professor at a research university so I can continue to pursue topics that interest me, do research with a tangible societal impact and also mentor and teach aspiring young scientists,” Bushey said.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jacob this year as he applied to multiple fellowships,” said Brett Evans, a senior fellow in the Office of Citizen Scholar Development, the fellowships office of UVA. “In addition to an infectious enthusiasm for his research, Jacob possesses an uncommon dedication to the interior work of self-reflection and writing that these fellowships – and a career in research – require. I couldn’t be happier for him. He is a joy to know and I look forward to seeing what he’ll be doing in the future.”

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Matt Kelly

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