My Research

I have been working with my current research group, headed by Dr. Michael Hannigan, for over four years now working on low-cost sensor validation and exploring the various applications of next-generation monitoring instruments and how they can be employed in air quality investigations.

I am particularly interested in the following questions…

How can low-cost, next-generation monitoring technologies supplement our existing monitoring systems (FRMs) and provide data that can further the protection of public and environmental health?

How can multi-gas-phase sensor arrays be used to collect data on target pollutants, like groups of or even individual hydrocarbons?

How can scientists support community-driven science? For example, how can scientists provide additional tools and education to facilitate the collection of high-quality data by citizen scientists using low-cost air quality monitors and other accessible methods?

Below are some of my current and former projects…

AQ Research

During the summer of 2014 our group participated in the FRAPPE and DISCOVER-AQ sampling campaigns, during which a multitude of methods (air craft, satellite, and ground-based) were used to investigate air quality on the front range in Colorado.   DISCOVER-AQ was a NASA initiated campaign, and FRAPPE was driven by NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research).  Our group was responsible for deploying approximately 20 low-cost monitors, 13 of which were within a 10 x 10 km grid cell.  These measurements allowed us to examine how ozone varies on a relatively small spatial scale, as well as, providing us with the opportunity to co-locate our instruments throughout the field deployment with reference instruments – providing more information about their accuracy.  We also collected CO2 data and information on VOCs, I am currently working to process these signals.

FRAPPE DISCOVER     Platteville

(left – map of monitoring sites; right – monitors mounted on Penn State’s Native Trailer in Platteville CO during DISCOVER-AQ)

Since Sept. 2013 we have also been working to collect baseline air quality data in a rural Colorado community – the North Fork Valley.  The NFV is community primarily dependent on agriculture and also several area coal mines, they also face the possibility of increased energy development due to oil and gas extraction activities.  For this reason a local community group (the Western Slope Conservation Center) was interested in collecting data on current air quality conditions.

P1020074      NFV photo

(left – photo of the North Fork Valley; right – monitor mounted in the NFV and view of the interior)

This project was one of the first opportunities our research group had to engage in a long-term sampling campaign with the monitors.  This project provided many challenges, for example, monitor calibration in a remote area.  We will collect data through the spring and are working on a report which will provide information on air quality data and even more importantly monitor performance.  We hope that this work will provide a starting or reference point if future studies are undertaken in the area.

New Applications for Low-cost Sensors

Multi-sensor arrays have the potential to provide powerful information.  Recently I have been working on using regression analysis and various models utilizing data from multiple low-cost VOC sensors to isolate the response from methane and provide continuous methane concentrations.  In the plot below you can see how we are able to roughly track the daily trends in methane using two ~$10 sensors.  Models 1-4 are various regression models (linear, nonlinear, multi-sensor, etc…) used to develop predictive models for methane quantification.

corr ex

Community Science

Another project is a community based participatory research project in collaboration with an impressive Denver organization, Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart, and with support from AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange. We successfully raised funding for the project using (a crowd-funding platform for science) and are now in the preparation stages for the actual data collection. What is exiting about this project is that we are simultaneously investigating a community’s question regarding potential exposure to pollutants, piloting low-cost passive detection methods for a particular contaminant (perchloroethylene), and encouraging education around radon awareness and radon testing.

Learn more here:

vapor intrusion Picture2

(left – diagram illustrating vapor intrusion; right – passive dosimeter tubes for carbon monoxide detection)

Education and Outreach

As part of our work in the North Fork Valley, we also began working with local high schools in Sept. 2013.  Our initial focus was to provide students an introduction to air quality monitoring and engage them in citizen science work, but what has grown out of it has been the development of a project-based learning curriculum centered around air quality investigations.  We are using the second year of the project to formalize the curriculum, and collect assessment data.  We will make this curriculum publically available at the end of the year.  This work is being conducted through the Education and Outreach branch of the SRN-AWG (Sustainability Research Network – AirWaterGas) NSF funded project intended to support research on all aspects of oil and gas development.  It has provided us with the opportunity to really explore how next-gen monitors can be used in citizen science settings and what type of support is necessary from researchers.

photo5      nfv ss

(left – Michael Russel from our group teaching at Paonia High School; right – myself explaining how the monitors work to a group of students at the science symposium)

The curriculum introduces air quality concepts and monitoring, it then takes students through data collection and analysis, and finally study design.  At this point students conduct their own research project and we provide the support for them to collect, interpret, and present their data.  The curriculum is intended to be versatile, teachers can choose individuals lessons or engage their students in the entire course, and they can adjust it to fit their class schedules.  The curriculum is designed to be used with our groups air quality monitors, but could easily be adjusted if another design is available.

In addition to the curriculum we are currently developing, we have also conducted workshops with tribal students and environmental interns. Specifically we have worked with Dine Navajo College in the Four Corners region, and the Haskell Indian Nations University.

Useful Links


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