UM smoke researcher honored by major science organization

Bob Yokelson, an accomplished University of Montana researcher who studies biomass burning and is a member of the SMART FIRES research team, recently was named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. AGU is the world’s largest Earth and space sciences association, with nearly 60,000 members in 137 countries.

This marks at least the third time a UM faculty member has earned this rare distinction. Others include Steve Running, a UM climate change expert and professor emeritus of ecosystem and conservation sciences, and Harold Urey, the UM graduate, professor and Nobel Laureate who helped invent the atomic bomb.

“I was surprised and happy that our work was nominated by other scientists – without my knowledge – and then selected by the AGU. I’ve been fortunate to have great students, postdocs and collaborators,” Yokelson said. “Fires have a huge influence on the atmosphere, and a quarter century ago we started deploying advanced technology around the globe to study the chemistry of fresh smoke and how it changes over time.”

Yokelson is a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences. He primarily studies biomass burning and its role in air quality, atmospheric chemistry and climate.

The AGU Fellows program recognizes those who have made exceptional contributions to Earth and space science through a breakthrough, discovery or innovation in their field. Fellows act as external experts, capable of advising government agencies and other organizations outside the sciences upon request. Yokelson was one of 53 selected worldwide in the 2023 Fellows class.

AGU offered this in its Fellows announcement: “Bob Yokelson was selected because of his outstanding scientific achievements, contributions to furthering scientific advancement and exemplary leadership. He also embodies AGU’s vision of a thriving, sustainable and equitable future powered by discovery, innovation and action.”

AGU will formally recognize this year’s recipients at AGU23, which will convene more than 25,000 attendees from over 100 countries in San Francisco and online everywhere in December.

Yokelson has earned international recognition before. In 2019 he landed on a list of the top 1% most highly cited researchers in the world from the Web of Science Group.

Contact: Bob Yokelson, UM chemistry research professor, 406-243-4022,