Joan Daisey, Air Quality Expert and Mentor to Young Scientists
One of the leading air quality experts in the U.S. and an international leader in exposure science, Joan M. Daisey was dedicated to building a bridge between the indoor and outdoor air quality research disciplines. Across more than 100 publications, her work explored the composition, sources and transport of pollutants such as tobacco smoke, expanding our understanding of human exposure to those pollutants.
Born in New York City, Daisey received her B.A. in chemistry from Georgian Court College in New Jersey in 1962 and her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Seton Hall University in 1970. She taught chemistry at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, New York, before joining New York University Medical Center's Department of Environmental Medicine in 1975. There, she was a principal investigator in numerous multi-institutional field projects, including the Airborne Toxic Elements and Organic Substances Study.
After 12 years at New York University, Daisey joined Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) in 1986. As a senior scientist at the Lab, she was a principal investigator for many research projects on environmental tobacco smoke, the sources of and exposures to volatile organic compounds and particles and on the soil-to-gas transport of volatile organic compounds into buildings as an exposure pathway.
Before her untimely death from cancer in 2000, Daisey headed what was then called the Environmental Energy Technologies (EET) Division's Indoor Environment Department, which had grown under her guidance and leadership to an annual budget of over $6 million and more than 60 staff.
Her work on secondhand tobacco smoke brought that issue to international attention and help establish a world-class research program at Berkeley Lab on environmental tobacco smoke exposures that remains vibrant and productive to this day.
Throughout her career, Daisey taught, advised, and mentored many young scientists. One former associate, quoted in a tribute to Daisey published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology, said, "Dearest Joan, I can truly, honestly say my life has been changed because of you. You had faith in me, you showed me how, and now I am a woman in science. From you, I will pass on to the next generation the torch of belief in self, the joy of discovery, the ability to dream dreams and accomplish them."
Tom McKone, a senior staff scientist, notes that Daisey encouraged him to move to Berkeley Lab from his position at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
“I have been grateful ever since,” McKone says, “not only for her encouragement but for all the time and effort she devoted in my early years at Berkeley Lab to help me develop professionally and build a research career and a research group here.”
Professional Impact and Public Service
“When Joan started work at Berkeley Lab, there was limited communication between scientists studying outdoor air quality and scientists studying indoor air quality,” says Bill Fisk, senior scientist. “Her research helped show how outdoor air pollution affected indoor pollutant levels and also how features of buildings influenced our exposures to outdoor air pollutants.”
At the same time, Daisey’s research made it clear that indoor levels of many pollutants far exceeded outdoor air levels. Consequently, it was necessary to consider indoor air quality when assessing pollutant exposures and health risks. In her leadership both in and outside of Berkeley Lab, Joan helped connect these two research communities.
Daisey was a founding member of the International Society of Exposure Science (ISES) and helped guide its development into a premier organization addressing human contact with harmful substances. She was president of ISES in 1995 and received its Constance L. Mehlman Award in 2000, shortly after her passing. The award recognized her “outstanding contributions in exposure analysis research that helped shape a national or state policy.” Daisey helped establish an annual award for young scientists in 1998 as chair of the group's awards committee. Today, the Joan M. Daisey Outstanding Young Scientist Award honors her legacy.
“Joan was a significant role model for many of her colleagues — showing by example how to manage a research enterprise yet remain a strong contributor to many of the scientific projects under her direct guidance,” wrote colleague Rich Sextro in a remembrance. “However, an underecognized contribution was the model she established as a woman in science.”
She was an early member and one of the first women to join the American Association for Aerosol Research—at a time when few women were in the field. She was a member of the group’s board of directors for five years and served the organization in several capacities.
Daisey was a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) from 1987 to 2000 and was chair of the Board from 1998 until her passing. Her work with the SAB included participation in several committees, including leadership of the SAB’s Human Exposure and Health Subcommittee. She served on the DOE Lab Directors’ Environmental and Occupational/Public Health Standards Steering Group from 1993; the Board of Scientific Counselors of ATSDR (1988-1990); and the National Research Council’s Committee on Advances in Assessing Human Exposure to Airborne Pollutants from 1987 to 1989.
Don Barnes, SAB staff director at the time of Daisey’s death, said, “The historical record will have a more difficult time capturing her personality and her impact on people. With clear, sparkling eyes and a quick, ready smile, she possessed a wit sharp enough to prick an over-inflated ego, a wisdom kind enough to encourage an over-worked colleague, and sense enough to know when to use which.”