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.

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.