Pollution trackers hit the road to pinpoint airborne culprits

Pinpointing sources of unhealthy air pollutants is the goal of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher Linsey Marr, who has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award to support her investigation.

Marr, an assistant professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recently secured the five-year CAREER grant, which is worth $400,000 and is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

"Air pollution is a serious health problem that causes heart attacks, asthma, and premature deaths," Marr said. "It also degrades visibility and drives global climate change. My CAREER project takes a novel approach to measuring air pollutant emissions."

Marr and her graduate students will mount instruments that measure pollutant concentrations and wind velocity on the top of a van with an extendable mast -- "like a TV news van," she said. The research team will travel to Roanoke, Va., the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and Baltimore, Md., parking the van in various locations.

The pollutant trackers will measure carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas; nitrogen oxides and organic compounds, which are key ingredients in smog formation; and airborne particles -- the chief culprits for health effects.

"Current estimates of air pollutant emissions are highly uncertain," said Marr, who developed a fuel-based motor vehicle emission inventory for central California while a doctoral student at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. "We anticipate that our measurements will add considerable new insight to the quantification of different types of emissions. Scientists can use this information to improve their understanding of air pollution, and policy makers can devise more effective plans to improve air quality."

Every CAREER project includes an educ

Contact: Liz Crumbley
Virginia Tech

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