From innovative underground drones and weather satellites, to improving indoor air quality and climate prediction, researchers are finding new ways to look at the world.
Machine Learning for Climate Prediction
Associate Professor Claire Monteleoni
Monteleoni is a leading researcher in the new and interdisciplinary field of climate informatics, broadly defined as any research combining climate science with approaches from statistics, machine learning and data mining. She uses machine learning to combine climate models to get the best possible predictions of future outcomes and to forecast hurricane tracks to give communities more time to prepare. Her group also uses machine learning to explore how extreme weather events like drought are related to climate change overall. In September, Monteleoni brought to Boulder the eighth International Workshop on Climate Informatics, an event she co-founded in 2011.
What’s in Your Indoor Air?
Assistant Professor Marina Vance
Vance recently led the largest collaborative study to date on indoor air quality at a research house at the University of Texas Austin. The project, titled HOMEChem, was conducted with 20 faculty members from 13 universities. Researchers outfitted the house with varying instrumentation and then performed everyday activities like cooking and cleaning, with the goal of understanding the chemical processes happening in indoor environments and how they may affect those inside.
Water, Health and a Changing Climate
Professor Rajagopalan Balaji
Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering
Balaji’s research is an interdisciplinary effort to ensure sustainable water quantity and quality for growing populations under increasing climate variability. His current research looks at how past societies responded to climate variations and how the lessons learned there can be applied to current natural resource management problems. Other projects model climate extremes at national parks and examine the health effects of climate change, like the growing risk of epidemics of chronic kidney disease.
Watching the Weather with ‘Microwave Eyes’
Professor Albin Gasiewski
Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering
Thanks to Gasiewski’s work, there will soon be a fleet of mini-satellites orbiting the Earth, providing improved weather forecasting to people who need it most, including farmers, airlines and shipping companies. His team’s work, licensed to space technology company Orbital Micro Systems, would allow for observation of the Earth every 15 minutes using “microwave eyes.” Unlike the more common infrared or optical satellites, these passive microwave frequencies can see through clouds, detect water vapor and precipitation, and track weather conditions as they evolve. The work has also provided learning opportunities for dozens of undergraduate students in electrical engineering and the Colorado Space Grant, who have contributed to both the microwave sensing systems and the vehicles that will take them to low-Earth orbit.
Window Blinds – Who Needs ’em?
Professor Michael D. McGehee
Chemical and Biological Engineering
McGehee and his team are developing windows that can switch from clear to tinted when voltage is applied, depending on the season or time of day. The windows don’t need blinds, allow for more natural light and cut down on glare. Another new technique they’re working on could increase solar energy cell efficiency from 21 percent to 25 percent. It works by covering existing cells with a kind of perovskite created from salt solutions that offers great light absorption, among other properties prized in a variety of technologies. McGehee works closely with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder.
Taking Drones Underground
Professor Sean Humbert
Humbert is leading an interdisciplinary engineering team to design drones that can explore underground environments like subway tunnels, mines and caves. It’s part of a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that challenges teams from across the country to complete three increasingly difficult underground tasks to discover the best systems and methods. The work may one day enable teams of flying and rolling drones to work together to search through dark and dangerous environments to find human survivors of earthquakes, chemical spills and more. The project starts in September, when Humbert’s group will begin testing its robot on a mock search and rescue operation in miles of steam tunnels.