A University of Reading scientist has been awarded a research prize for her work measuring atmospheric electricity in Antarctica, the Middle East and even up volcanoes.

Dr Keri Nicoll, an associate professor in the Department of Meteorology, was awarded the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Atmospheric and Space Electricity Early Career Award.

Projects involving Dr Nicoll include Electrical Aspects of Rain Generation, funded by the United Arab Emirates Rain Enhancement Program, which is investigating whether delivering charge into clouds can affect cloud droplet properties and therefore improve rainfall in water-scarce regions.

Other recent research activity includes leading the international GloCAEM (Global Coordination of Atmospheric Electricity Measurements) project, which established the world’s first near real-time database of atmospheric electric field measurements, with data from 17 sites around the world.

Dr Nicoll said: “I am very honoured to receive this award from AGU and hope that it highlights some of the important research being done in fair weather atmospheric electricity, and it’s relation to cloud and climate processes”.

A total of 85 scientists received awards across 22 sections from the AGU, the world’s largest Earth and space science society, in its 2020 awards programme.

The Atmospheric and Space Electricity Early Career Award is presented every other year, and recognises significant contributions in this area of science within 10 years of receiving a PhD degree.

Dr Nicoll finished a five-year NERC Independent Research Fellowship in 2020. Her work primarily concerns atmospheric electricity and cloud measurements, with a focus on developing instruments that can be attached to balloons and unmanned aircraft.

Her GloCAEM project is allowing researchers worldwide to investigate global lightning activity, climatic variations, and space weather influences on atmospheric processes much more efficiently and robustly, with easy access to data which has never existed before.

One of Dr Nicoll’s co-researchers on these projects, Professor Giles Harrison, was also this week awarded the Christiaan Huygens Medal by the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for his work advancing understanding of electrical charge on Earth and in outer space.

Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Head of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, said: “It is hugely pleasing to see a Reading colleague being awarded this prize in such an important area of research.

“Dr Nicoll’s groundbreaking research projects are advancing this field of science by unearthing brand new data. This has clear benefits to society in potentially helping the world cope better with challenging climates and dangerous weather processes on Earth and in space.”

In a statement on announcing the award recipients, the AGU said: “The discoveries and solutions you have collectively made are remarkable. Each of you made tremendous personal sacrifices and selflessly dedicated yourselves to advancing the Earth and space sciences.

“You have achieved outstanding accomplishments in your disciplines despite the recent challenges that our global community has faced. You have made important contributions to the scientific community by challenging, reinforcing, or reinvigorating all of us to think bigger, broader, or differently. Like those before you, each of your contributions has served as a building block to and for others to advance our understanding of Earth, its atmosphere and oceans, and space, including the planets and beyond.”