Cody Finke, Environmental Science and Engineering graduate student, and Justin Jasper, Resnick Sustainability Institute Prize Postdoctoral Scholar, are the runner ups for the Dow Resnick Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) at Caltech. They have been working Professor Michael Hoffmann to enhance a modular, solar powered, electrochemical, on-site wastewater treatment system created by their group for toilets in the developing and developed world. With an operating cost of less than 5 US cents per day, this wastewater treatment technology meets benchmarks for affordability in the developing world. It also has the potential to protect human health and ecosystem well-being in communities most at risk to disease and resource-loss through environmental pollution. [Resnick Institute story]
Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering and director of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, and John Seinfeld, the Louis E. Nohl Professor and professor of chemical engineering, have shown that biogenic emissions—organic carbon compounds given off by plants and trees— affect air quality. Wennberg states that, "if you mix emissions from the city with emissions from plants, they interact to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere." Seinfeld adds, "particles in the atmosphere have been shown to impact human health, as they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs of people. Also, aerosols impact Earth's climate through the scattering and absorption of solar radiation and through serving as the nuclei on which clouds form. So it is important to know where particles come from." [Caltech Press Release]
Agustin J. Colussi, senior research associate in environmental science and engineering, and colleagues have found that airborne particulates impair the lungs' naturaldefenses against ozone. Their research focused on what happens when air meets the thin layer of antioxidant-rich fluid that covers our lungs, protecting them from ozone, an air pollutant that pervades major cities. "We found new chemistry at the interfaces separating gases from liquids using a technique that continuously monitors the composition of these interfaces," Colussi says. Under normal physiological conditions, ascorbic acid instantly scavenges ozone, generating innocuous byproducts. However, the researchers discovered that when the fluid is acidic, a pathological condition found in asthmatics, ascorbic acid instead reacts with ozone to form potentially harmful compounds called ozonides.