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Cahill to serve as fellow to U.S. Senate committee

University of Alaska Fairbanks professor Catherine Cahill has been  selected to serve as a fellow to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural  Resources Committee. Starting in January, Cahill will spend up to a year  in Washington D.C. learning about public policy while contributing her  scientific expertise to a broad range of energy and natural resource  issues facing Congress.

"This will give me a completely new perspective on how the science we do gets implemented into policy," said Cahill, a chemistry professor and  UAF Geophysical Institute researcher.

The committee has jurisdiction over energy production and related  policies, mining, and management of federal lands, including national  parks and refuges. Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the committee's  ranking Republican member.

UAF Vice Chancellor of Research Mark Myers recommended Cahill for the  fellowship.

"This is a great opportunity for Alaska to have someone with Cathy's  expertise and sound scientific judgment working on the Senate  committee," Myers said. "She cares about the direction her country goes in."

Cahill researches atmospheric aerosols, which are solid or liquid  particles that stay suspended in air. Cahill said most aerosols are  microscopic in size and can come from natural or manmade sources.

A physicist by training, Cahill's research dovetails with atmospheric  science, chemistry, biology, geology and nuclear physics. Many of her  studies are in Alaska, looking at the relationship between aerosols and  the arctic climate.

She often partners with federal agencies like the National Park Service  or the U.S. military to investigate aerosols and their effects. She is  working with the U.S. Army Research Lab to evaluate air pollution in  places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where Americans are stationed.

While Cahill is known for her research, she is also known her ability to  help people understand all angles of an issue, the role they play and  the actions they can take to improve the situation.

"Cathy can make sense of science in almost any context whether it's in  the classroom, with her colleagues, at a public lecture or in a room  full of legislators," said Paul Layer, dean of the UAF College of  Natural Science and Mathematics. "She really has a gift, and she'll be  putting it to good use."

Cahill said the fellowship opportunity came at just the right point in  her life. After 15 years of teaching, she became a full professor last  spring and received a prestigious service award for working with state  and local government to shape policy on air pollution issues.

"I was at a point where I asked myself, do I sustain or go in a  different direction. What's next in my career?" she said. The "next" will now take Cahill more than 4,000 miles southeast to the  nation's policy hub, after which she will take a sabbatical before  returning to UAF. She's packing her bags and preparing her six-toed cat,  Bigfoot, for the big move.

"I still can't believe this is happening," Cahill said. "I have a lot to live up to, but I know that I have a lot to contribute as well."

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