Dr. Gary Z. Whitten

By | April 01, 2002
Home: Point Reyes Station, California

Company: Systems Applications (SAI), a subsidiary of ICF

Occupation: Chief Scientist

Dr. Whitten has been involved in the field of gas-phase photochemistry for 40 years. He received his undergraduate degree in physics from Stanford University, his Ph.D. in gas-phase kinetics from the University of Washington, and did postdoctoral research on stratospheric ozone modeling at the University of California at Berkeley. Before joining SAI in 1975, he was a research chemist at Shell Development Corporation for 7 years and a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory for 3 years. He served on the Modeling Advisory Committee of the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Dr. Whitten is a leading authority on the fundamental reactions that occur in the atmosphere for many hydrocarbons, their partially oxidized intermediates, oxygenates such as MTBE and ethanol, carbon monoxide nitrogen oxides, nitrates, sulfur oxides, chlorine, oxidants such as PAN, and other peroxides. Specifically, he has been called upon to give testimony as an expert witness on the subject of the air quality impacts of a variety of precursors and emissions sources at more than 20 hearings, including before Congress, State Legislatures, the U.S. EPA, and numerous state and local air quality agencies. He is responsible for the carbon-bond approach to condensation mechanisms that is used in air pollution models in the United States and many other countries. His international experience includes key participation in projects that studied transportation fuel impacts on air quality in Mexico, Chile, Holland and Taiwan.

In simple terms:

Dr. Whitten's work, physical chemistry, is the overlap of physics and chemistry - basically it is a science concerned with how fast and to what degree different kinds of molecules react in gas phase (in the air, essentially). The science often relies on computer modeling to predict outcomes, and usually compares the results to actual reactions in controlled environments.

Whitten has been described by those in the ethanol industry as one of the "bright stars" that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relied on for air modeling research, such as the Urban Airshed Model, first developed in the late 1970s and continuously improved upon since then. Whitten simply describes himself as a contractor and a scientist. Much of his work has been not only primary contracts with the EPA, but also contracts to maintain and improve existing scientific models.

The Carbon-bond Approach:
Whitten is responsible for creating the "Carbon-bond Approach" to condensation mechanisms used in air pollution models in the U.S. and many other countries. There are now believed to be about 30,000 reactions taking place at any given time in an urban air environment. Whitten developed - and continues to improve - a method which condenses those 30,000 reactions down to 100 reactions for scientific anlyses. Dr. Whitten is currently preparing to publish the latest version of the report, entitled Carbon-bond Five (a fifth generation report) he said.

On the ethanol industry:
"There is a stronger need for energy independence in the U.S., and a lot of talk about sustainability," Whitten told Ethanol Producer Magazine. "You even have some credible people talking about the end of the petroleum era now, so I think ethanol and other renewable fuels have a bright future. But you never know what will happen. Someone might come along soon with fuel cell technology, or fusion technology, and then where is the industry at? Of course, those things do not happen overnight."

On science and industry:
Dr. Whitten told Ethanol Producer Magazine he believes science has been questioned in political terms "rather too much in recent years."

He explained, "In a debating society, science does not always have a 100 percent consensus. It is difficult to argue that one idea is good - and another bad - based on political motivations. If you want scientific data to back a political agenda, you're going to end up with a considerable amount of slack. For example, it's like these scare tactics used in California with the gasoline price spikes; in my personal opinion, it is somewhat difficult to blend gas with ethanol in California because there needs to be a more flexible and friendly regulatory environment in regards to ethanol. . . Science is there to support that.

"The bottom line is this: science is flexible. A study, or a model, that might be considered "good science" in Indiana might be considered "bad science" in California. And, in my opinion, that is unfortunate. "

Most gratifying aspect of his work:
"I think it is gratifying to be involved with so many important issues. It's also been gratifying to travel and spend time in the White House and in Washington D.C. I've always been interested in pursuing work that is useful and I believe what I have contributed has been important and worthwhile."

Major influences:
His grandfather and grandmother. "My grandfather was an "educated man," and a school teacher. And my grandmother was one of the first female graduates of Stanford University - She graduated in 1899."

Dr. Whitten has raced bicycles competively and will soon take part in a triathalon with his daughter. He also enjoys snow skiing, outdoor activities, and spending time with his family.