Published: June 20, 2023 By

VanceAssistant Professor Marina Vance of the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award for research that will investigate the use of fixed-location and mobile low-cost air quality monitors in Indonesia.

Fulbright Scholar Awards are prestigious and competitive fellowships that provide unique opportunities for scholars to teach and conduct research abroad.

Vance will spend a year on the island of Java, working in collaboration with local researchers at the Centre for Climate Risk and Opportunity Management in Southeast Asia and Pacific (CCROM-SEAP) at Bogor Agricultural University.

“I’m hoping to learn from their expertise in outdoor air quality, while also bringing my expertise in indoor air quality,” Vance said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to combine the two areas of focus.”

Although the importance of reducing outdoor air pollution has been centered in the public consciousness for some time, there is increasing awareness of the necessity to improve indoor air quality as well, especially when one considers that most people spend about 90% of their lives indoors.

Along with plans to investigate ways to fine-tune the measurements of fixed-location and mobile low-cost air quality monitors, Vance also hopes to understand better how indoor and outdoor air pollution influence one another. 

“There’s newfound public interest in understanding the quality of indoor air since the COVID-19 pandemic,” Vance said. “Raising awareness about everyday ways we can improve it is definitely part of the motivation of my research.”

Vance focuses on the study of aerosols, otherwise known as particulate matter, or PM, which are minute particles suspended in the atmosphere and account for a specific form of air pollution. Inhalable PM, which is less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10), and fine PM (PM2.5), which is less than 2.5 microns in diameter, are both known for their negative effects on human health and the environment.

In Java, Vance plans to monitor PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations in two different ways. First, she plans to use research-grade measuring instruments at CCROM-SEAP and potentially other institutions across the island.

Although these research-grade measuring instruments are highly calibrated to monitor the particulate matter found in the atmosphere of their specific locale, they have their limitations. A challenge is accounting for the spatial heterogeneity of concentrations, especially in a large country like Indonesia.

In addition to using research-grade measuring instruments, Vance plans to use mobile low-cost air quality monitors like PurpleAir, which scientists have begun using as a research tool because of their potential for greater spatial coverage. These sensors can also provide greater time resolution, with minute-level or 10-minute averages reported, in comparison to the daily averages reported by monitoring stations.

However, due to the novelty of the technology, the measurements of these sensors are not always 100% accurate until they are calibrated for the specific makeup of the particulate matter in the local atmosphere.

Field techniques for calibrating mobile low-cost sensors are an ongoing area of study for researchers and scientists. By collocating them with measurement stations and comparing the data sets, Vance hopes to gain insights into how to improve the sensors.

“These can also be very useful for everyday consumers in their homes,” Vance said. “You’re cooking, for example, and the indoor air pollution gets bad. The sensor will let you know that you should open a window or turn on the exhaust hood over your stove.”

Along with the opportunity to take her research in new directions, Vance looks forward to spending a year in a new culture and climate with her family.

Vance has a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter with her husband Eric Vance, an assistant professor in applied mathematics at CU Boulder, who was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award in Indonesia as well.

“There will be challenges for us in the coming year,” said Vance, “but also great opportunities to grow together as a family.”