The Environmental Protection Agency has selected MIT as the site of one of four exploratory environmental research centers.
Each of the four universities housing a so-called Center for Excellence will receive an annual grant of $1 million for a period of up to 10 years. The four were picked from 87 applicants based on recommendatisons of an independent scientific review panel and site review teams.
MIT-in collaboration with the California Institute of Technology and the New Jersey Institute of Technology-will focus its research on the transformation, transport and control of airborne toxics.
Dr. Adel F. Sarofim, Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, will direct the MIT center. Associate directors are Dr. John H. Seinfeld, Louis E. Nohl Professor at Caltech, and Dr. Richard S. Magee, professor of mechanical and chemical engineering at NJIT.
The MIT center's focus was stimulated "by the ongoing national debate on how best to control the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbonaceous particulate matter," according to Professor Sarofim.
He said the increasing motivation for control of VOCs is related not only to the abatement of ozone levels, but also to the public perception that ambient air is a major vehicle for human exposure to harmful chemicals.
"Despite many years of attention, the adequate control of airborne organic compounds remains one of the most vexing problems facing the nation's quest for improved air quality," he said, adding:
"It is the purpose of the center to conduct research needed to provide EPA with the tools-improved methodologies, predictive and interpretive models-to connect reliably the identities and concentrations of airborne organic compounds with major anthropogenic pollutant emission sources."
"There is no similar comprehensive university-based program in the nation.
"A key feature of the center's research program will be the development of a mechanistic understanding of the factors that govern the detailed chemical compositions of the effluents from mobile and stationary combustion systems, and how these compositions are influenced by atmospheric transformation, for purposes of both developing better understanding of the use of signatures for source-attribution purposes and guiding the development of risk-reducing control strategies."
Dr. Sarofim has been actively engaged for three decades in research, teaching and professional service in the areas of energy and the environment, with a commitment to building the interdisciplinary bridges needed to solve some of the more pressing environmental problems. At MIT he serves on the steering committees of three interdisciplinary research centers: the Hazardous Substances Group, the Energy Laboratory and the Center for Environmental Health Sciences.
The EPA Center for Excellence at MIT will be associated with the latter two MIT groups.
MIT scientists who will participate in the research during the first year of operations, in three specific areas, include:
Mobile Combustion Sources: Professors John B. Heywood, James C. Keck, Wai K. Cheng and Victor W. Wong of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory, and Professor John P. Longwell of the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Stationary Combustion Sources: Professor Sarofim and Professor Janos M. Beer of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Drs. William A. Peters and Majed A. Toquan of the Energy Laboratory.
Combustion Chemistry: Professor Jack B. Howard of the Department of Chemical Engineering.
Other principal areas of research at MIT will be Atmospheric Transformation, Monitoring and Source Attribution, and Control.
The other Centers of Excellence funded by the EPA are at the University of California, Davis, focusing on ecotoxicology; Michigan Technical University (in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota), concentrating on clean manufacturing technologies; and the University of Maryland System, Horn Point, conducting research on the multiscale coastal marine ecosystem.
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 24).