Scott Kelleher conducts his research in the most adverse of conditions, at the scene of prescribed wildfires in Colorado. With the help of his advisor, Dr. John Volckens, and dedicated lab members, Kelleher developed a cost-effective air sampler to monitor wildfire smoke. The data collected will analyze smoke’s effect on human health.
Kelleher, a graduate of Montana Tech, grew up on a beef cattle, wheat, and barley farm near the Canadian Border and became intrigued by potential benefits that advanced engineering practices could have in rural environments. Joining Dr. Volckens’ lab at CSU was the perfect opportunity to put his passion to work.
“The long-term goals of this project are very motivating. It’s applying science and technology in an affordable new way to make the lives of those responsible for monitoring smoke much easier, with the main thought of protecting public health in mind,” Kelleher said.
To see his innovation in action, Kelleher recently spent two weeks in southern Colorado at the perimeter of a 6,000-acre burn where he set up 13 air samplers. His air sampler is based off the design of an Ultrasonic Personal Aerosol Sampler (UPAS) developed In Dr. Volckens’ lab. Kelleher’s version of the sampler can be operated entirely from a smart phone and includes a hardened enclosure for weatherproofing, a solar cell for charging an extended-life battery, and a gravimetric analysis device that collects particles onto a filter which is later weighed and analyzed for particulate matter concentrations. It also includes a real-time optical particle sensor that tracks the diameter of smoke particles. Capturing this data is crucial in detecting if the diameter of the particles are small enough to penetrate human lungs.
Monitors currently used in the field cost upwards of $10,000 to $20,000, but Kelleher’s sensor is roughly $500.
Last fall, Kelleher presented his findings at the Second International Smoke Symposium in Long Beach, Calif. The remainder of his thesis will be made of up additional prescribed burn experiments and a thorough investigation of the data collected.
“Hopefully, one day, my technology will enable anyone worried about air pollution to conduct monitoring right in their backyard.” After graduation, Kelleher hopes to impact farmers and small businesses with his technology, coming full circle to his early days on the farm.