Welcoming Dr. Tori Barber

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Dr. Tori Barber

The department welcomes talented physical and atmospheric chemist Dr. Victoria “Tori” P. Barber, who will join the UCLA faculty as an Assistant Professor on July 1, 2023.

Drawing on her experience at the nexus of physical and atmospheric chemistry, at UCLA Barber will combine spectroscopy, and mass spectrometry, and computation to explore atmospheric oxidation chemistry across levels of complexity. Such work represents an important, and oft-overlooked bridge between the fundamental physical chemistry of individual reactive intermediates and atmospheric composition. Her work will result in better predictions of air-quality and climate, contributing to the mission of UCLA to its community.

“We are excited to welcome Tori to UCLA,” said Professor Miguel García-Garibay, UCLA’s Dean of Physical Sciences. “She will continue the tradition of excellence in physical and analytical chemistry in our program, with a focus on addressing critical questions related to air quality and climate science.”

Barber did her undergraduate studies at Swarthmore College, majoring in chemistry and obtaining a minor in educational studies. While there, she worked with Professor Josh Newby on the fluorescence spectroscopy of jet-cooled anethole, publishing a first author paper. Barber went on to the University of Pennsylvania for her graduate studies, where she worked with Professor Marsha Lester, a world leader in the spectroscopy of reactive species in the gas-phase. After a short four years, she received her Ph.D. in physical chemistry with an impressive eight papers, with four as first author. She then went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to work in her current position as a postdoctoral associate with Professor Jesse Kroll, a professor in civil and environmental engineering, and widely considered to be a world leader in the chemistry of organic species in the atmosphere.

“We are super excited that Tori is joining the department,” said Distinguished Kenneth N. Trueblood Professor Neil Garg, the Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “We are all very fortunate to have a scholar of Tori’s caliber joining our faculty.”

“Our department has long had a ‘hole’ in environmental chemistry, and I’m so excited to see someone of Tori’s caliber both filling that hole and adding to our strength in experimental physical chemistry,” said Professor Ben Schwartz, co-chair of the search committee.

Barber’s postdoctoral effort at MIT has demonstrated significant breadth, suggesting an ability to push multiple research directions with her future group. One focus is the study of alkoxy and peroxy radicals, key branch points in atmospheric oxidation mechanisms. Barber used real-time, mass spectrometric detection of reactants and products to ascertain the chemistry of these species in complex environments relevant to the Earth’s atmosphere. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Barber took this effort in a new direction, adapting and developing tools for automatic reaction prediction, an advanced computational approach which allows one to build complex networks and discover new chemical pathways. She used these tools to predict new atmospheric species, some of which she has since detected in the laboratory.

At UCLA, Barber’s group will use a combination of physical and atmospheric chemistry tools to unravel the mechanisms of reactions in the atmosphere. She will use laser spectroscopy to study elementary reaction steps of reactive organic intermediates, with a focus on increasing complexity. She will also construct an environmental chamber, where she will study non-traditional atmospheric reaction pathways under realistic conditions. She will further build on her computational expertise, using automatic reaction prediction to explain experimental results, identify new experimental targets, and generalize experimental insights to additional species and conditions. Mapping these reaction pathways will ultimately result in better predictions of atmospheric composition, air quality, and climate.

In addition to being a dedicated researcher, Barber has a deep passion for both formal teaching and informal mentoring. She has completed formal coursework in education, earning an undergraduate minor in education and a graduate teaching certificate at the university of Pennsylvania, where she won accolades as a graduate student teaching assistant. At MIT, she has served as a guest lecturer, and acted as a research communications fellow, coaching colleagues on effective science communication. She is highly motivated to incorporate active learning and alternative assessments in her classes, and is committed to creating an empathetic and flexible environment for her students. Barber is motivated and excited to bring her research into the classroom, and engage students on the pressing questions in physical and atmospheric chemistry.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.