From Notion to Reality: Research in Air Pollution Leads to New Chamber
This is the fourth in a series of stories delving into the various research that College of Science faculty members at the University of Findlay are working on. In an effort to show readers, in part, what UF offers its students in the areas of science, these stories will reveal the diverse methods, processes and topics that faculty shares with students.
At the University of Findlay, polluted air is well sought after.
Normally, when there is air pollution around, it’s not something to celebrate. Clean air, in the everyday world, is certainly a wonderful thing, particularly for those who might have allergies, breathing issues and the like.
In the science world, however, at least for Seth Ebersviller, Ph. D., and Kim Lichtveld, Ph. D., and their students in the Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Management Program, the problem is finding the polluted air needed to perform research. “The air is pretty clean in Findlay, so air pollution is definitely difficult to measure here.” Ebersviller said.
“When they monitor the air, there is nothing for students to see,” Lichtveld added. “It’s not exciting for them.” So, while the clean air in the area is good news for its citizens, the healthy air quality in the city and surrounding communities makes any research and experiments attempted by UF students a bit anticlimactic and not in line with the hands-on experience that UF seeks for its students.
So, what do you do? Well, if you’re Ebersviller and Lichtveld, both assistant professors in the ESOH program at UF, you create your own polluted air, but not before you build a place to safely contain and study it. Hence, the construction of an indoor smog chamber, a recent addition to the ESOH Research Lab in the Frost/Brewer Science Hall.
The chamber was planned and built by Ebersviller and Lichtveld with some help from friends and students, using the knowledge they gained while at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The pair have been researching air pollution since they were at UNC, where there were already multiple chambers in use. Once at UF, the two began growing restless with not being able to provide enough realistic experiential learning to their students—a hallmark of a University of Findlay education—so the notion of a chamber project turned to a reality. “We felt like we needed to stir that interest up in students, so we really began putting the plans for the chamber in motion,” Lichtveld said.
The chamber uses two sets of capped ports. One port is used to inject certain pollutants which are mixed together and dispersed within the chamber, and the other sampling port connects instruments that can measure the atmosphere inside without going in and being exposed to the polluted air. Once the research is completed, the air disseminates at a very low and harmless concentration out of existing lab exhausts. There are safety measures like emergency stops in the event that the experiments might need to be abandoned, so the advantages of a controlled environment are always there.
Another benefit is that, since the indoor chamber uses more concentrated ultra-violet light, reactions often happen much more quickly than they do with their outdoor counterparts. This allows research to be done in a time-sensitive classroom and/or lab environment. There is a drawback to this method, however. “Think of it like baking a cake,” Ebersviller said. “If you try to rush by turning the oven up, you’re not going to get the same results.” Still, he said, students can study very specific things using the chamber, and in a much more convenient way than attempting to do it with the outside air. “We built one inside because of the potential for bad weather among other things. It can be used during winter and rainy weather, it’s not dependent on the sun and it was affordable,” he added. This leads to students being able to get the information they need whenever they want it, which is clearly more effective than the alternative.
Learning to protect the health of the world is obviously a huge part of using the chamber in study and research, but there are other great benefits specifically for students as well. For instance, the use of the chamber and its data spans across multiple classes within the department. “That really is the biggest benefit,” Lichtveld said. “Students are going to be able to see how data transfers from classroom to classroom. If we just talk about things in each class, it’s not as tangible. This is how our students learn. It’s only going to create a bigger, better program. Corporate advisors are excited that air is coming back into the department in a big way and we have their full support.”