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Our research focuses on the impacts of energy use - typically at the household level - on air pollution, climate, and health. While progress on providing clean household energy arguably follows development trajectories, there is need to accelerate this transition through innovative policy and dissemination approaches. Our research group builds the evidence base for these transitions based on health, environmental, and economic benefits using the multidisciplinary field of Environmental Health Sciences as the foundation of our work. We use and develop lower-cost sensors to objectively answer questions where evidence is lacking and explore novel techniques to link vulnerable populations with effective interventions.

Recent Publications

LPG stove and fuel intervention among pregnant women reduce fine particle air pollution exposures in three countries: Pilot results from the HAPIN trial

Liao J, Kirby M, Pillarisetti A, et al. LPG stove and fuel intervention among pregnant women reduce fine particle air pollution exposures in three countries: Pilot results from the HAPIN trial. Environmental Pollution 2021: 118198. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2021.118198.

Barriers to and facilitators of uptake and sustained use of LPG through the PMUY in tribal communities of Pune district

Patil R, Roy S, Gore M, Ghorpade M, Pillarisetti A, Chakma J, Juvekar S. Barriers to and facilitators of uptake and sustained use of LPG through the PMUY in tribal communities of Pune district. Energy for Sustainable Development 2021. doi.org/10.1016/j.esd.2021.04.008

(more publications)
Blog posts

Jim Salter at Ars Technica: "Learn to think in sed, awk, and grep"

Saltar provides an overview of redirection and three commonly used command line tools in a nice article at Ars Technica. While these may seem like esoteric utilities, they can be truly useful for a variety of data cleaning and processing tasks. While the article doesn't provide a comprehensive overview of the commands -- it would be impossible to do so in anything short or readable -- it does help one understand how the commands work and how they can be used. A recommended, quick read and longer-term reference. (h/t sixcolors.com)

Data Science Community Newsletter: COVID on campus - Worse this year than last?

ADSA's Data Science Community Newsletter is an excellent resource for data science news. It is catered toward academics, but I think likely would be of interest to folks far beyond the academy. Among many interesting topics -- climate, civil liberties, arXiv's 30th birthday, a new CDC center directed by Marc Lipsitch (!!!) -- there was this:

On some campuses already back in session, COVID is already playing out with worse outcomes compared to the same time last year. University of Wisconsin-Madison, which does not have a vaccination mandate, set aside empty dorms and used empty hotels last year for quarantine. This year dorms are at full capacity, hotels are full of football fans, and sick students are lodged in several family housing units in a complex with children who cannot be vaccinated. At University of North Carolina Wilmington, Professor Kevin McClure tweeted that they added "another 122 positive cases [yesterday]. over 300 cases total. 52 out of 150 quarantine beds in use. This time last year we added 3 positive cases." It would be unwise to make any broader assumptions about college operations based on two schools. Dr. Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, said "We've only gotten 18 months into this pandemic, and the pandemic is going faster today than it was in 2020 and much of 2021." ... "We've had 5 pandemic changing variants in the last 6-9 months and that isn't going to slow down." Humility remains a virtue as we decide how to proceed.

Shocking and stupid that major universities are not mandating vaccines. Mine is.

"And so on. Or else."

Kurt Vonnegut:

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?... Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

(h/t kottke.org)

"Face masks make it harder to hear, but amplification can help"

Teaching through a mask has been on my mind of late, as I am leading a large, in-person lecture class that starts in a couple of weeks. The University of Illinois Augmented Listening Laboratory has done a nice set of research on face masks, their impact on vocalization and hearing, and how amplification can help. They looked at a common set of available face masks, including cloth, flannel, N95s, KN95s, and surgical masks. They did not take into account filtration efficiency -- that is not their area of focus or specialization.

This research showed that more breathable masks, such as surgical masks and plain-weave cotton, transmit sound better than plastic windows and densely woven fabrics. It is important to note that we did not evaluate how effective the masks are at blocking droplet transmission; it is possible that the most effective masks against the virus are the least effective for sound, and vice versa. Fortunately, all masks seem to work well with lapel microphones, which could benefit teachers and others who will need to be heard while wearing a face mask.

This is helpful guidance. I wish they had put more emphasis on some of the masks that perform better from a filtration efficiency (for example, the KN94s). My current thinking, after reviewing their paper and discussions in more public forums is to stick with a KN94 or an N95 in the classroom with a lapel mic.

Clear communication: NYU's Céline Gounder on the Ezra Klein Show

Ezra Klein, early in the interview:

Wonderful. Thank you for talking with me, Dr. Gounder. I'm going to go walk into the ocean now.

and then, a bit later:

Céline Gounder
... one of the problems we've had throughout this pandemic, is we've looked for silver bullets, simple solutions, and there's not one simple solution here. You really do have to combine multiple different public health measures. So that includes encouraging people to mask up again indoors, especially if there's a lot of transmission, while at the same time, incentivizing people who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated for them to be able to return to a more normal life, for all of us to be able to return to a more normal life.

Sherry Turkle on time and the pandemic: "a liminal time, a time out of time"

Sherry Turkle, author and professor, spoke about her memoirs on Fresh Air. An astonishing story. She ended with a reflection on the pandemic that really resonated:

... this experience, you know, of the pandemic, it's what the great anthropologist Victor Turner called a liminal time. It's like a time out of time. It's a time betwixt and between where you get a chance - the rules are broken and you get a chance to reassess what you really need. And I think that's what we have now. We have a chance to come back and not be wowed by technology and reassess the virtue of the human and relationships and to act more deliberately in our relationship with them.

Another way I would put that is that we've had a chance to kind of step away from our country and see it at a distance in so many areas of life - in race relations, in political relations, in gender relations and also in our relationships with our technology. And seeing things fresh and seeing them anew gives us a chance to come back and act more deliberately in all of these areas. And that's why, even though this has been such a frightening and alienating experience, I think it also is a chance to start fresh. And I end up feeling optimistic about the future.

Washington Post: Tracking Biden's environmental actions

Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens tracking Biden's environmental, climate, and environmental health actions:

President Biden has placed climate change squarely at the center of his White House agenda, using his first hours in office to rejoin the Paris climate accord and begin overturning more than 100 environmental actions taken by the Trump administration.

The order also makes environmental justice a priority across the government, establishing an interagency council in the White House and standing up new offices in both the Health and Human Services and Justice departments.

Those initial moves are the first in what promises to be a much longer -- and more arduous -- effort to unwind the Trump administration's sweeping environmental and energy policies, which were marked by aggressive deregulation, prioritizing the fossil fuels industry and sidelining efforts to combat climate change or protect imperiled animals.

The Post sorts the policies into the following bins: Air pollution and greenhouse gases, Chemical safety, Drilling and extraction, Infrastructure and permitting, Accountability, Water pollution, and Wildlife. For each category, they list "New" policies put into place by the Biden administration and those that are "Easy to overturn" (by executive order, for example), "Medium" (reversible by rewriting regulation or court rule), and "Difficult" (lengthy regulatory process, Congress, or court ruling).

Worth a look. A really useful resource.

Aerosols in the Skies after Krakatoa

Pechuel-Loesche Cloud Shadow With Red Diffusion Light During the Disturbance Period (Midday) -- Jena, April 24th 1884

While looking for art for our walls, I stumbled upon the image above, from

a German book published in 1888 -- Untersuchungen über Dämmerungserscheinungen: zur Erklärung der nach dem Krakatau-Ausbruch beobachteten atmosphärisch-optischen Störung, which roughly translates as "Studies on twilight phenomena: to explain the atmospheric-optical disturbance observed after the Krakatau eruption". 1

The book is by Johann Kiessling, "a scientist from Hamburg nearly unknown to science historians" who sought to "find the physical laws governing normal twilight phenomena and those of the extraordinary phenomena in the disturbed interval 1882-1886," during and after the eruption of Krakatoa. Among his findings, many of which still have relevance today2:

Kiessling also did experiments with ammonia hydrate and with smoke particles. He burnt sulphur and found that the developing sulphuric acid strongly promotes condensation.

According to Kiessling diffraction rings develop due to 'reflection' in homogeneous fog--today we speak of light backscattering; he wanted to explain by them the ring-like counter-twilight. In his experiments, the light source was electric arc light. The diffracted light was strongly polarized. Richarz, who, two decades later, studied the similar atmospheric phenomena called 'glory', considered Kiessling's experiments as giving a suitable explanation of these phenomena.

By a further study of reports collected by the naval observatory and by shipping companies, and by considering and evaluating all available material, Kiessling could definitely trace the distribution and the path of the Krakatoa smoke masses together with their condensation products. He had correspondence even from Peking and Tokyo. He argued that the dust and fog clouds encircled the Earth twice or three times from the east towards the west with a velocity of about 40 ms-1. He could further show that such an air current does exist in the high atmosphere parallel with the Equator. Some parts of the cloud separated from the main mass and propagated northwards and southwards, respectively, and then diffused to the whole temperate zone. The dust masses disappeared after two to three years due to fall-out.

Clearly a slouch. In his tome, the original version of which can be downloaded from ETH Zurich's library, the last pages are "a wonderful series of chromolithographs from watercolour images by Eduard Pechuël-Loesche." The images are incredible and available in high resolution at Google Arts & Culture. A number are posted below.

Circular Twilight Glow at Sunrise -- Hereroland (present-day Namibia), September 4th 1884

Red Sunset at the End of the Rainy Season (Evening) -- Loango Coast (present-day Republic of Congo) April 1st 1875

  1. The Public Domain Review

  1. Schröder W. and Wiederkehr K-. H. 2000. Johann Kiessling, the Krakatoa event and the development of atmosheric optics after 1883. Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 54249-258

Towards safe drinking water and clean cooking for all

Isha Ray, writing with and channeling the late Kirk R. Smith, in Lancet Global Health:

In the past 40 decades, there have been many innovations in the development of low-cost and efficacious technologies for WASH and household air pollution, but many of these technologies have been associated with disappointing health outcomes, often because low-income households have either not adopted, or inconsistently adopted, these technologies. In this Viewpoint, we argue that public health researchers (ourselves included) have had an oversimplified understanding of poverty; our work has not focused on insights into the lived experience of poverty, with its uncertainties, stresses from constant scarcity, and attendant fears. Such insights are central to understanding why technologies for safe water or clean cooking are unused by so many households that could benefit from them. We argue that, rather than improved versions of household-scale delivery models, transformative investments in safe water and clean cooking for all require utility-scale service models.

In the months before Kirk passed away, this topic -- the combination of WASH and HAP interventions, the merging of decades of thinking about usage, service delivery, affordability, and quality of interventions -- was a common theme. See also 'Let the "A" in WASH Stand for Air: Integrating Research and Interventions to Improve Household Air Pollution (HAP) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) in Low-Income Settings.'

an aside: I think they must have meant "the past 40 years" or "past 4 decades" -- but also Kirk worked on these issues with such mental intensity and productive output it may as well have been 40 decades.

Deregulation in the Trump era - and rolling it back

A lot has been made, rightly so, in recent days of President Biden's rollbacks of the Trump Administration's gleeful dismantling of environmental, health, and other regulatory safeguards. Both the NYT and Brookings have been keeping track of what's happening on the regulatory front, with Brookings doing so since at least 2018 if not earlier.

Brookings breaks down the regulatory changes into 12 discrete categories, spanning topics from COVID to Environment to Telecommunications.

brookings.png

NYT focuses on >100 Environmental regulations and rules rolled back by the Trump administration.

nyt image

Both sources are interesting and useful. I'm looking for an analog for the current administration -- a rollback of rollbacks tracker, if you will.

Fresh Air: Biden's Plan To Enact A Climate Agenda

Terry Gross interviews Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, who outlines the Trump administration's big last-minute push to roll back environmental regulations and to open up drilling in ANWR, among other things. A really interesting and succinct overview of what's going on and how the Biden Administration may respond. Recorded the day before Biden's inauguration.


Among many interesting parts:

GROSS: I want to ask you about this. One of Trump's signature campaign promises was to bring back the coal industry. How did that turn out?

EILPERIN: So in fact, what we've seen is, despite President Trump's dogged efforts to bolster the coal industry, what's happened is that roughly 15% of the nation's coal generated capacity has gone out of business under his time in office. And so that's a faster decline in coal capacity in any single presidential term, so even faster than what happened under Barack Obama. And in addition to the plants that have already retired, there's another 73 that had indicated that they will close more coal burning units by the end of the decade.