By Published: July 11, 2022

Nepal has some of the worst air quality in the world. The Health Effects Institute estimates more than 42,000 deaths were attributed to air pollution in the country in 2019 alone.

Prateek Shrestha (MMechEngr’15; PhD’18), who is from Kathmandu, Nepal, wants to motivate the youth in his home country to address the problem through a small quadcopter drone he and his team created that will take aerial measurements of air pollution in Nepal. He hopes the measurements can spread awareness to residents about the poor air quality and inspire similar projects throughout the country. 

“The mountains that I used to see from the north side of my house while growing up were invisible for most of my college days,” he said.

“Air pollution is a global problem that sees no international boundaries.”

Over the years, they disappeared behind fugitive dust and diesel emissions.

Shrestha, who now lives in Henderson, Colorado, started his drone project in 2019 to exemplify what “people can do at a personal level if they are truly motivated,” he said. 

After building a team of researchers — including a pico-satellite startup in Nepal called Orion Space — and academics to further expand the initiative, Prateek now works on the project at the advisory level. Currently, they are working on a system that can deliver data from low-cost air sensors mounted on the drone in real time to a ground station based in Kathmandu.

“Countries like Nepal, which are very low income, feel the brunt of climate change disproportionately,” said Shrestha. “What we need is a collective level of preparedness for the harsh conditions that climate change can bring, and increasing our awareness to these issues is the first and most important step.”

Outside of his drone project, Shrestha remains committed to the environment in his work. As a research engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab, he examines energy performance of residential buildings, such as how residential buildings built with 3D-printed concrete could impact energy performance, and how to ventilate buildings with fresh air at minimal energy and cost. 

He credits much of his current work to CU Boulder, especially his time working with air-quality expert and engineering professor Shelly Miller on indoor-air-quality research, and researchers from engineering professor Mike Hannigan’s lab. 

“Air pollution is a global problem that sees no international boundaries,” Shrestha said.

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