ME Undergrad Participates in the National FIREX Campaign

ME undergraduate student, Liam Lewane, recently shared his latest project at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research campaign, addressing environmental air quality.

Liam Lewane

Lewane is a student in Dr. Shantanu Jathar’s Laboratory for Air Quality Research, and recently participated in the NOAA Fire Influence on Regional and Global Environments Experiment in Missoula, Mont. “Liam is an exceptional student with an extraordinary ability to do experimental research work,” Dr. Jathar said.

The FIREX campaign included researchers from a variety of universities and organizations collaborating to study emissions and their impact on our atmosphere.

“I first became aware of the campaign when Dr. Jathar described it to me while I was developing the smog chamber. It was a fantastic opportunity, not only getting to design and build an instrument like the smog chamber, but to get to use it in a research campaign that addresses what is becoming more and more of a problem in the world. I couldn’t pass it up,” Lewane said.

The chamber being set up at the FIREX campaign last October at the Fire Science Lab in Missoula, Mont.

The purpose of a smog chamber is to provide a controlled environment in which to study atmospheric chemistry processes – specifically the formation and aging of fine particle pollution. The chamber is a large, 10-cubic-meter, Teflon bag suspended in a temperature-controlled enclosure. Emissions from energy and combustion sources are injected into the chamber and reacted with oxidants, simulating chemical processes similar to the Earth’s atmosphere. The contents of the chamber are then blasted with ultraviolet light delivered via light banks installed inside the enclosure. For certain experiments, the enclosure walls can be removed so the chamber is exposed to direct sunlight. The light initiates photochemical reactions in the chamber similar to what occurs in the atmosphere during daylight hours. Over the course of an experiment, the contents of the chamber are monitored.

The chamber was designed to be mobile, so it can be disassembled and transported to different locations. Lewane’s chamber features a system to reduce chamber volume, which shortens the time it takes to clean the chamber after each experiment. This innovative feature may revolutionize the way smog chambers are built in the future. Lewane will also be credited as coauthor on some of the resulting FIREX research literature, which is a major accomplishment for an undergraduate student.

After graduation in 2018, Lewane would like to enter the energy industry and focus on making renewable energy technology more efficient and accessible. He is also considering joining Engineers Without Borders. “Before any of that though, I’m pretty sure the first thing I’ll do after graduation is get a good night’s sleep,” Lewane said.

With so many tremendous accomplishments under his belt already, it is hard to fathom what the future holds for this motivated young student. Congratulations, Liam!

Dr. John Volckens Receives $1.5M Grant From EPA STAR


Kelsey Bilsback (left), CSU mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, checks flow rates on a portable sampler before beginning emissions sampling in Tamil Nadu, India.

Last year, we covered a story about Professor John Volckens receiving a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the health effects of inhaling emissions from cookstoves that use biomass combustion. Additionally, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency – Science to Achieve Results, recognized his work in the area with a $1.5 million grant to continue researching the repercussions of biomass combustion cookstoves, focusing on their effect on the climate and the implications of cookstove interventions on a global/macro scale.


A Honduran Home where research took place.

Specifically, this project aims to develop and apply a framework to quantify climate, regional air quality, and indoor air quality benefits of cookstove interventions. The study is composed of in-depth laboratory experiments and immersive field studies in China, Honduras, Uganda, and India.

ME graduate student Kelsey Bilsback, with help from Megan Graham, an environmental and radiological health sciences graduate student, and Jack Kodros, an atmospheric science Ph.D. student, among others, have been collecting emissions and usage data from households to better understand how and how often individuals are using their cookstoves and the composition of the emissions being emitted by their cookstoves. Each field study takes place across several weeks; the study should be complete by the summer of 2017.

EPA NIH graphicThe laboratory and field data will be used in conjunction with computer modeling efforts led by Dr. Jeff Pierce, of CSU’s Department of Atmospheric Science, and Kodros to predict the climate and health benefits from different potential cookstove interventions. How clean is clean enough to really make a difference in health and climate conditions around the world?




Photos courtesy of Michael Johnson of the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group and Rose Eilenberg of Carnegie Mellon University.