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Machines from US university may help monitor Mumbai’s air

PUBLISHED ON DEC 17, 2019 12:25 AM IST

In the next six months, researchers from Washington University in the United States of America will bring advanced air quality and health monitoring equipment to Mumbai and collaborate with researchers from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) to monitor air pollution and study its health impact. Their new research facility was inaugurated on Monday.

The Aerosol Air Quality Research laboratory is in IIT-B’s campus, at the environmental science and engineering (ESE) department. IIT-B researchers will work with researchers from McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University. The two institutes also launched a new joint master’s degree programme (see box).

The researchers will monitor real-time health impact due to air pollution using equipment like portable electrocardiogram monitors, real-time air quality monitoring through wearable mobile sensors, and detailed spatial data using satellite maps. The project is currently at the proposal stage before the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). “We are happy to collaborate with Washington University. Exact details of the project are yet to be worked out,” said Sudhir Srivastava, chairman, MPCB.

“Research of this kind is critically-important for India as there are complex problems and solutions that can’t be developed individually,” said Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering. “Capacity building is needed, and for this we will bring high-tech instrumentation for fundamental research in aerosol science and engineering, which has never come to India before. There are over 2 lakh such instruments in China but India currently has a few 100.”

Working with Delhi government, Biswas and his team have already deployed similar instruments which will give the government real-time detection of sources. “New equipment will be brought to Mumbai for on-ground air quality monitoring, identifying sources, and overall high resolution satellite mapping within the next six months,” said Biswas.

“Doing cutting edge air pollution source identification by combining satellite data with ground level sensor-based air quality monitors is a good approach. Regulatory agencies need to use such leading-edge technology for polluted cities in India at a major scale,” said Ronak Sutaria, founder and director, UrbanSciences, an independent air quality monitoring group.

Meanwhile, IIT-B has collected samples of particulate matter pollutant (PM2.5 and PM10) for 10 of 18 non-attainment cities in Maharashtra (including Mumbai) under the National Clean Air Program (NCAP) for identifying sources, as mandated by MPCB. The samples, which were collected from five locations in each city using four samplers (two each for PM10 and PM2.5), have been kept in the new lab.

“In the context of air quality, there are things in India that are known and need to be addressed today. But once this first worry of pollution is brought down, we need to go the next level (in depth research) for which we need to setup instrumentation now. For this, we are inaugurating this lab,” said Virendra Sethi, professor (ESE department), IIT-B. “Once sampling is done, we will identify where the pollutants are coming from and based on that prioritise which source needs to controlled at the earliest.”

The final report will be submitted to MPCB by December 2020

IIT-B students can pursue M Tech in Aerosol Science from 2020

IIT-B and Washington University on Monday launched a new joint master’s degree programme, which is the first-of-its-kind aerosol science programme in engineering for students in India. Fourth-year students pursuing the Bachelor of Technology degree from IIT-B can apply for the programme from May 2020. In the future, the programme will also be available for third-year students. “This is an additional opportunity with tremendous national and international support to work on some cutting-edge research, opening up the scope for international exposure and come back as leaders,” said Pratim Biswas, assistant vice-chancellor for international programmes at Washington University.

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