"Tica" Novakov, a Pioneer in Black Carbon Research

Tica had an illustrious career for decades at Berkeley Lab. His work has been published hundreds of times in peer-reviewed journals and his publications have been cited in more than 6,000 articles.

An early picture of Tica in the Lab. Born March 16, 1929, in Yugoslavia, he passed away January 2, 2015 at the age of 85 in Kensington, California.

"Tica" Novakov, a Pioneer in Black Carbon Research

Tihomir (Tica) Novakov, who helped coin the term black carbon in the 1970s, pioneered the now massive field of research on the nature and impacts of carbonaceous aerosols in the environment. In addition to posing a direct health threat via inhalation, black carbon is important as a short-lived forcing agent for climate change.

In the atmosphere and on snow and ice, black carbon absorbs sunlight, which contributes to global warming and changes to regional climate. The presence of carbonaceous particles also changes the nucleation of rain droplets, leading to changes in precipitation.

Tica (pronounced Ti-sha) Novakov inspired a large number of researchers including current Energy Technologies Area (ETA) scientists Lara Gundel, Thomas Kirchstetter and Hugo Destaillats.

It took a while for the scientific community to accept that carbonaceous aerosol particles were common in the atmosphere or important at all. That the idea is accepted now is thanks to Novakov's research group, which studied the issue for decades.

Novakov had a positive influence on many people he encountered and influenced throughout his career, including Tom Kirchstetter, director for the Energy Analysis & Environmental Impacts Division at the Energy Technologies Area, Berkeley Lab.

"Tica taught me to be a scientist - that we think in terms of solving problems rather than doing projects.  He bolstered my curiosity for understanding and  showed me the importance of describing our natural world in simple terms," Kirchstetter said.

Early Life

Tihomir Novakov was born in Sombor, Serbia in 1929. His father was a veterinarian and his mother was a homemaker. While in high school, Novakov began to build X-ray tubes and radios, furthering his scientific knowledge on his own.

After graduating from the University of Belgrade with a PhD in Nuclear Physics, he taught at that university and worked at the Vinča Nuclear Institute. Novakov immigrated to the United States in 1963 and began working in the research department of Shell Oil Company, studying catalysis.

In the early 1970s, he applied his expertise in x-ray spectroscopy to assist Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) in chemical analysis of particles in southern California smog and became intrigued with answering the question of why the airborne particles were black. He joined Berkeley Lab in 1972 and founded the Atmospheric Aerosol Research Group, whose members traveled the world conducting groundbreaking research on the measurement, properties and effects of carbonaceous aerosols.


Novakov's group was the first to apply X-ray photoelectron and Raman spectroscopy to samples of atmospheric aerosols, which helped to establish the existence of a large fraction of carbon and provided definitive identification of physical structures similar to graphite and activated carbon in urban and remote aerosols, including in the Arctic.

Following these discoveries, the Novakov group coined the term “black carbon” to refer to the sunlight-absorbing portion of ambient particulate matter. The group, which included Hal Rosen, Anthony Hansen, Ted Chang, Henry Benner, Ray Dod and Lara Gundel, developed new analytical techniques for measuring black carbon, the most notable of which is the Aethalometer.

The Aethalometer, a name that is derived from a Greek word that means "to blacken with soot," is today the mostly widely used instrument worldwide for measuring atmospheric concentrations of black carbon. Novakov hosted the first International Conference on Carbonaceous Particles in the Atmosphere at Berkeley Lab in 1978 to provide a forum for scientists to discuss this emerging research field. The conference series continues today, alternating every few years between Berkeley and Vienna.

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