Going Green with Gracie



In celebration of Earth Week, we met up with Gracie Wong, third year atmospheric pollutant expert, Earth Systems Science major, and Public Health minor. I had first met Gracie at the Summer Institute for Sustainability Leadership (SISL) the summer of my first year at UC Irvine. Since then, Gracie has actively promoted sustainable initiatives and practices at UC Irvine through the Global Sustainability Resource Center (GSRC) and numerous other campus involvements.

One major project she is currently working on is air quality research under the Earth Systems Science professor, Sae Wung Kim. The research project involves researching atmospheric chemistry, air pollution, and air quality. Using machines to measure the compounds in the air, they assess the concentrations of different pollutants in the air. This upcoming summer, Gracie will be collecting air samples over the ocean and testing for compounds in Alaska! How cool is that (both figuratively and literally)?

She enlightened me with the fascinating process of cloud formation and the biological activity that forms methyl halides and dimethylsulfides (DMS), the largest source of sulfur gas in the atmosphere. These compounds and chloroflourocarbons (CFC) break the earth’s ozone layer and can lead to dire consequences. When I asked Gracie which air pollutant she finds the most interesting, she answered, “Ozone!”. As she describes it, it’s both good and bad. It’s bad in the troposphere, which is where we live, because it’s an irritant for the lungs and is bad for our health. Meanwhile it’s good in the stratosphere because it filters out radiation. The concentrations of Ozone change throughout the year.

In addition to her studies and research, Gracie has participated in the Costa Rica Program, where she learned about sustainable living. She has also been a chaperone for the Alternative Spring Break Program. Gracie currently works at the GSRC as a food waste fellow, where she works to lower food waste on campus. As we talked about her responsibilities and “waste audits”, where she sorts waste into compost, recyclables, and landfill waste, she whipped out a wonderful little cookbook she had created to promote college sustainability. Inside were a ton of easy recipes and tips to reduce the amount of food trash we produce. Some tips include:

  1. Eat local foods. This reduces our carbon footprint by reducing long distance food transportation.

  2. Eat foods in season. Growing out of season food takes more preparation, storage, and advancements.

  3. Avoid food waste. Saving food scraps and leftovers not only reduces waste but helps save money.

Physical copies of the College Sustainability Cookbook can be found at the Global Sustainability Resource Center, located at G464 on the fourth floor of the Student Center. Access the digital version through this link: https://sites.google.com/uci.edu/housingsustainability/cookbook?authuser=0



Fun Questions

  1. If you were an animal what would you be and why?

A hummingbird, because they’re almost always looking for things to do! They’re very active.

  1. What has been your most memorable travel experience?

The Costa Rica Program. It was not touristy. You go to a farm and live outside for 10 days. It was more of a learning experience, and it was my first time traveling without my family. Only with friends!


  1. What career are you working towards?

I hope to get my PhD in the atmospheric sciences and study air quality monitoring. I’ll probably work in a government sector related job or a researcher.


  1. What are some everyday activities we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and be more sustainable?

Rinse out recyclable trash and recycle it! It’s not too much work. For example, I eat a lot of yogurt from the larger containers, not the smaller ones, but you can rinse out the containers and recycle them.


  1. How are you celebrating Earth Day?

Working. Promoting Earth Week! There are a ton of events on campus.


  1. Do you have anything else you would like to tell students at UC Irvine?

Try to not use single use plastics. Bring your own utensils and try to be more mindful about plastic.