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Undergrads working with Harvard researchers

Visiting scientists to study greenhouse gases throughout Indianapolis

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A team of UIndy students will spend the next two weeks collaborating with Harvard University researchers on a study of greenhouse gas emissions in Marion County.

The visiting scientists are led by Dr. Steven C. Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science at Harvard and one of the world’s leading experts on the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The international group also includes researchers from a German university and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“This team is world-renowned as far as atmospheric science is concerned, and it is an honor to have them engage our budding, undergraduate researchers,” says Dr. Levi Mielke, assistant professor of chemistry at UIndy, whose own research interests include environmental chemistry and air quality.

Six UIndy undergraduates, representing four academic departments, are receiving hands-on training and instruction while assisting in setting up detection instruments at five points around the city and analyzing the results. They’re even earning a salary, thanks to UIndy support and a grant from the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The overall goal is to determine the amount of carbon dioxide and methane greenhouse gases being produced in Indianapolis, and to determine the sources of these gases.” Mielke says.

One measurement site is the Ivy Tech campus off North Meridian Street, where readings also will be taken by a high-altitude balloon.

“I’ll be stationed at Ivy Tech, doing the high-altitude ballooning,” says senior Carly Nicholson, “which is my research specialty, so I’m super-stoked.”

Why Indianapolis? Mielke says Purdue University and Penn State researchers have been conducting airplane and ground-based studies of greenhouse gases in central Indiana for several years, amassing a foundation of data that has drawn the interest of researchers around the world.

“Indianapolis has become kind of a model city to see how much greenhouse gas is produced on a citywide basis,” Mielke says.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are two of the main pollutants linked to global climate change. Wofsy, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, studies the atmosphere in an effort to understand the factors that affect its chemical composition and to help design programs to reduce undesirable changes.