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!