July 21, 2008

CoE Grants Fund Diverse Set of Research Projects

By Tampone, Kevin


Who would have thought it could be useful? Really, it's an irritant to everyone from allergy sufferers to neat freaks.

But a team of Clarkson University professors is aiming to use something akin to dust in measuring airflow and temperature within indoor environments. The project is funded with a $100,000 grant from the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) in Environmental and Energy Systems.

The dust we're talking about here is, of course, a hit different from what piles up on your coffee table or work desk. It's composed of micron-sized, photoluminescent particles. It's so advanced, researchers call it "smart dust."

Clarkson Professors Igor Sokolov and Douglas Bohl will use the CoE grant to investigate production of particles inexpensive enough to be useful and a laser-based technique for measuring their temperature and movement. The end result, hopefully, will be a new way to model airflow and temperature in rooms, Sokolov says.

The scientific breakthrough came on the particles themselves, Sokolov explains. He and his research team developed a way to pack artificial particles with fluorescent molecules.

That fluorescence is what will allow the researchers to measure the movement and temperature of the smart dust, Sokolov says.

The next question, of course, was what to do with these brightly glowing and very small particles.

"We almost had the feeling like we were standing in front of a huge valley and we could go any direction," he says.

The CoE grant provided the first direction the Clarkson group will take, although there are applications in areas far beyond indoor air quality. A similar technique could be used in analyzing the flow of water and there are even ways the particles could be used in medicine, Sokolov says.

The grant was part of the center's Collaborative Activities for Research and Technology Innovation (CARTI) program. It was one of six $100,000 awards the center announced June 16.

Researchers at four members of the Center of Excellence received the grants, which are aimed at basic research in air quality and water-resource management. Money for the awards comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition to the work by Sokolov and Bold, other projects will focus on investigating urban air pollution, understanding mercury pollution in Lake Ontario, researching salt contamination of streams and groundwater, quickly detecting waterborne toxins, and modeling how urban water runoff affects natural water sources.

Recipients included Suresh Dhaniyala of Clarkson University, Charles Driscoll of Syracuse University, Stuart Findlay of the Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies and Don Siegel of Syracuse University, Yan-Yeung Luk, Michael Sponsler, and Ren Dacheng of Syracuse University; Giorgos Mountrakis, Karin Limburg, Myrna Hall, and Bonggi Hong of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

SU's Siegel says his project with Findlay will attempt to determine where salt contamination in streams and groundwater originates. In addition to salt naturally occurring in the environment, contamination could come from sources like septic systems or road salt.

It's possible to "fingerprint" the source of contamination by analyzing other substances present in water samples, Siegel says. The major concern for researchers is whether the tons of road salt tossed on pavement throughout the Northeast every winter is entering water systems.

"The ultimate goal would be to try to come up with some idea if road salt is coming down through soil and into the water table," Siegel says.

The project will also attempt to forecast salt levels in water in the future.

Copyright Central New York Business Journal Jun 20, 2008

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