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University of Virginia Spearheads Effort to Measure Pollution Levels from Space

1189 Days ago

Multidisciplinary team of faculty and students is developing first-of-its kind tool that can offer incredibly detailed measurements of NO2 gas

Charlottesville, Va., April 02, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Most of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds appropriate levels, underscoring an imperative to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, a greenhouse gas that is typically emitted from cars, transport vehicles, and power plants.

The University of Virginia’s departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Astronomy, and Environmental Sciences are developing the prototype components for a spectrograph and spacecraft that can measure NO2 levels in cities across the globe, identifying high-pollution areas that require immediate attention.

“A near infrared-slit spectrograph can offer NO2 measurements to a degree of detail and accuracy that we can not currently obtain from space,” said Chris Goyne, associate professor at UVA Engineering and director of UVA Engineering’s Aerospace Research Lab.

“With a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary team at the helm of this project, along with a team of devoted students, we can help translate the current concept of this scientific instrument and spacecraft to reality.”

Goyne teamed up with professors Sally Pusede from Environmental Sciences and Michael Skrutskie from Astronomy to begin to develop the components of a spectrograph that can better measure NO2 levels from Earth’s orbit. The levels vary greatly in time and space within the atmosphere. Current instruments cannot capture that variability, highlighting a need for a spacecraft and scientific instrument that can provide a more detailed understanding of a gas that contributes to atmospheric haze, smog and acid rain.

In offering higher spatial resolution than current space-based instruments, scientists could use this spacecraft to better interpret current satellite NO2 observations--and in turn, fully understand the emission, chemistry and transport of NO2 in the atmosphere.

The team, along with undergraduate and graduate students across these disciplines, is in the process of building those prototype components of the spectrograph to increase its technology readiness. They are also tasked with further developing the concept for the scientific instrument and spacecraft.

“We are excited to leverage the support of our undergraduate and graduate students in this endeavor,” said Goyne. “Together, we can complete a project that will generate space-based measurements, making a significant impact here on Earth."

The successful project, supported through seed funding from the University of Virginia’s 3 Cavaliers Program, will help catalyze the launch of a new research thrust for the University of Virginia. This activity will then serve at the nexus of a network of external government partners striving to develop, and implement similar-scale innovations.


About UVA Engineering: As part of the top-ranked, comprehensive University of Virginia, UVA Engineering is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected engineering schools. Our mission is to make the world a better place by creating and disseminating knowledge and by preparing future engineering leaders. Outstanding students and faculty from around the world choose UVA Engineering because of our growing and internationally recognized education and research programs. UVA is the No. 1 public engineering school in the country for the percentage of women graduates, among schools with at least 75 degree earners; the No. 1 public engineering school in the United States for the four-year graduation rate of undergraduates students; and the top engineering school in the country for the rate of Ph.D. enrollment growth. Learn more at engineering.virginia.edu.

Wende Hope
University of Virginia School of Engineering

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