As a graduate research student at CU Boulder, I’m thankful to have a lot of variety in my work. Pictured to the left, I smile like a baboon as my brilliant adviser and an undergraduate researcher stand to my north. Ernie, on the right, was instrumental in surveying residents in a nearby North Boulder community and collecting samples from their homes. We gather indoor and outdoor air samples for 24 hours onto filters which are later analyzed for carbon and biological components. These particles are deemed PM2.5 (Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter) and can bypass our mucociliary defense systems to be deposited in the lung’s alveoli and even the bloodstream!
I also have the honor of conducting cultural and economic assessments of heating alternatives for the Navajo Nation. Wood and coal stove use for heating is prevalent for the Navajo given the low cost, availability, and cultural acceptance of these fuels, but are very dirty.
The combustion of solid fuels (and diesel in motor vehicles) produces a lot of PM2.5. The elemental carbon
content (soot) of PM2.5 has been shown to promote an overall warming effect in our atmosphere, estimated as
high as 1 W/m2, and can directly impact human health through exposure. This is just one pollutant of concern.
People in developing areas are especially susceptible to airborne pollutants given the high cost of cleaner
burning fuels. Though fossil fuels are generally considered non-sustainable, the transition to liquid or gaseous
fuels from wood, coal, and dung is a major improvement in terms of quality of life for the residents in these
communities. The use of passive solar technologies for heating is also a major focus of our efforts, as these are
entirely sustainable and promote wise use of natural resources, while reducing reliance on low efficiency
combustion processes. Human health and environmental implications are closely tied together, and we seek to
minimize both by raising awareness of the current situation, assessing alternatives, and opening discussion.
– Wyatt Champion
Environmental Engineering Graduate Student
University of Colorado Boulder