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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

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

Review of the Breathability and Filtration Efficiency of Common Household Materials for Face Masks

Kwong LH, Wilson R, Kumar S, Crider YS, Reyes Sanchez Y, Rempel D, Pillarisetti A. Review of the Breathability and Filtration Efficiency of Common Household Materials for Face Masks. ACS Nano 2021. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c10146.

(more publications)
Blog posts

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.

Sometimes, you get the unexpected.

Professor Kirk R. Smith, close friend, mentor, and pioneering environmental health scientist, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, June 15th, 2020 at home with his family. This news has been hard to process; a remembrance of Kirk follows.

I don't know where to begin, how to start. So I'll start at our beginning.

I emailed Dr. Smith, as I insisted on calling Dr. Smith then, out of the blue in July 2006. I was applying for a Fulbright in Nepal and proposed an air pollution assessment in a few rural villages. I needed help identifying a local field partner and knew Dr. Smith had worked in Nepal on similar issues. I had no sense of the scale of his work, knew only a little of his renown, and had enough youthful hubris to reach out blindly. Still, I honestly expected no response.

To adapt (or bastardize, you pick) a mantra of Dr. Smith's 1, and the motto of his research group: You don't get what you expect; sometimes, you get the unexpected. Dr. Smith wrote back a few hours after my random inquiry -- succinct and helpful, my first exposure to the notorious slash-k 2. He introduced me to Amod Pokhrel -- at the time, a student in EHS -- who helped me find a field partner and who has been a friend and colleague since. My first experience of one of Dr. Smith's many gifts: his generosity of time and thought. One short act - three lines in total, 2 of which were email addresses - opened a door for me and lay the groundwork for lifelong friendships and collaborations.

About a year later, Dr. Smith and I met in person in Nepal, over lukewarm chai, while I was on my Fulbright. As is often the case, this meeting was (1) after he had given a lecture and (2) before he had to dash off to another meeting. I remember being struck then, as ever, by his warmth, his willingness to interact despite being very busy, his quirky sense of humor, and his intellectual rigor. He encouraged me to consider a PhD at Berkeley. We had about a half hour talk and then went to find cabs: it was pouring, otherwise I am confident he would have walked or taken the bus or a tuk-tuk.

We were infrequently in touch for the next year. I applied to the EHS PhD program at Berkeley in late 2009, got in, and moved into an apartment in Oakland in July of 2010. At some point in that first few months, I called Dr. Smith's home, up Panoramic Way, and Joan answered. Joan scared me just as much as Dr. Smith in those days. I asked for Dr. Smith, and she gave him the phone, saying something along the lines of, "Will you please tell him to stop with this Dr. Smith nonsense?" It was just loud enough that I could hear it, and it worked: 'Dr. Smith' (eventually) gave way to 'Kirk'. An example, one of many, highlighting Joan's wit, grace, warmth, and intellect.

Between then and now, there are a lot of stories -- some are mine, but so many more are Kirk's. We know he was never shy with a story. I never tired of them (okay, yeah: sometimes I tired of them).

I had the privilege of working directly with Kirk - first as a doctoral student, then as a postdoc - for the last decade, on small and large projects of all types, all over the globe. He was the greatest advocate for his students I have ever seen, and our working relationship was the best I have had. I learned much watching Kirk move through the world, with his grace, wit, inquisitiveness, and, when needed, prickly sharpness. Our friendship grew into something deep and constant. I'd like to think I gave to Kirk a thousandth of what he gave to me, but that is unlikely.

My last in-person visit with Kirk was in mid-February, about six weeks after we moved from Oakland to Atlanta, and ten years since we made the opposite journey, from Atlanta to Oakland. Mid-February, just before the pandemic obliterated routine and instated an era of uncertainty. Just six weeks after I had started a new job.

Kirk asked me to return to Berkeley to lecture in two of his classes: one an air pollution and health course that he and I launched with John Balmes, and the other his Environmental Health breadth course, which he was in the process of reimagining. Always reimagining, always improving.

We met a few times during that short visit, between other obligations. Kirk offered advice about new jobs, which he said he borrowed from Joanie, and his own supportive words; we discussed ongoing and potential work together; we ended the day with a nice Korean meal. It was a cool, drizzly Berkeley evening. I remember walking after that meal, full of bibimbap and nostalgia, heavy with memories (and with rice). The next morning's lecture, in the air pollution and health class, was small, intimate, fun; Kirk shuffled out early to go up to Bear Valley with his family. When class wrapped, I dropped some things off at Maria's desk, wandering by Kirk's office, wondering when I would see it again.

I never expected that visit to be the last time we would meet in person or see each other; nor did I expect our lives to be turned upside down by a new, emergent public health threat enabled, in some ways, by the same time- and space-folding habits that enabled Kirk and I (and so many others) to do our work. I never expected to form a deep bond with such an important, transformative thinker, and certainly never expected to count him among my closest confidants, mentors, and dearest friends. I didn't expect to hear the words "Kirk" and "stroke" and "cardiac arrest" strung together a few months later.

I expected our plans for new studies - that we discussed, just days ago - to bear fruit through our collective efforts. I expected that we would carry on for at least another decade of work, of stories, of excitement, of quibbles, of jetlag and food poisoning, of kids and grandkids, of small and large adventure, of gentle silence and enthusiastic proclamation, of our Kirk.

Sometimes, you don't get what you expect, or what you inspect. Sometimes, you get the unexpected.

  1. "You don't get what you expect, you get what you inspect."

  2. Dr. Smith's emails were short, very short, and unique. The subject line was usually the first part of a sentence: whatever he was emailing about; the next terse phrase continued that thought; they invariably ended with '/k'.

PMUY beneficiaries get 3 free LPG cylinders in response to COVID-19

From the Economic Times of India

"The relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore will help the nation deal with disruptions from the Covid-19 outbreak," he said in a statement. "Comprehensive measures announced today, will mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the rural and urban poor, farmers, health workers, migrant workers, divyangs, senior citizens and other vulnerable sections of the society."

More detail from Times of India

The guideline issued for the scheme on Tuesday said the Centre will transfer the full cost of a cylinder as advance by the fourth of the month till June. This will allow the households to book the refills under the free-cylinder scheme.

The guidelines also allow the connection holder to retain the advance payment and use it till March 2021 for buying a cylinder in case a household does not take all the three cylinders under the special scheme. But, households can get only one cylinder a month and there has to be a minimum 15-day gap between two bookings for refills. These measures are aimed at checking misuse of the scheme or diversion of subsidised cylinders meant for the poor.

The Colonial Roots of India's Air Pollution Crisis

A fascinating interrogation of the air pollution crisis in India in EPW by Asher Ghertner. The full article is behind a paywall, unfortunately; Rutgers has a good summary:

Drawing on the "fact" of small Indian lungs, key Indian government ministries have argued something quite different, suggesting that Indian lungs are not uniquely vulnerable to air pollution but rather uniquely "adapted" to tropical air/dust. Small lungs, in other words, are somehow less affected by pollution - they claim. These ministries have used the anatomical difference in Indian lung size to challenge the applicability of World Health Organization and Global Burden of Disease (GBD) integrated exposure-response (IER) functions for air pollution--which define the expected increase in death and illness caused by levels of pollution exposure within a population. Ghertner uses these ministries' arguments and testimonies from judicial records to show how the same argument used in the colonial era to submit Indian workers to unshielded "miasmas" now subjects all citizens to a process of slow death by breath. This also normalizes what he calls a "sequestration" model of atmospheric conduct that maintains that the solution to pollution is enclosure - escape into private cars and townships or self-defense through air pollution masks and personal purification systems - not pollution abatement.

John Balmes: Don't Let a Killer Pollutant Loose

Professor John Balmes, close colleague and friend, and physician member of the California Air Resources Board:

PM 2.5 kills people. There has been little dispute that microscopic particulate matter in air pollution penetrates into the deepest parts of the lungs and contributes to the early deaths each year of thousands of people in the United States with heart and lung disease.

One recent study called PM 2.5 “the largest environmental risk factor worldwide,” responsible for many more deaths than alcohol use, physical inactivity or high sodium intake.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s own website says: “Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including: premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms.”

Which makes it deeply troubling that the very people at the helm of the Trump administration’s E.P.A. responsible for protecting public health and the environment are now pursuing a course that would make the air we breathe even more hazardous.

Understanding Air Pollution with Art: "The Air of the Anthropocene" and "Mutual Air"

Playground, India Institute of Technology Campus, Delhi, India - PM2.5 500 - 600 µg/m3

Artist Robin Price and Professor Francis Pope use experimental photography to “see” small particles as part of their “Air of the Anthropocene” project (h/t Zoe Chafe). The photos are stunning. From a Guardian piece highlighting many of the photos:

Using a custom-built digital light painter and wearable particulate sensor, I take long exposure photographs that paint the amount of PM2.5 particles in the air as particles of light. As the light painter’s sensor detects more pollution it draws correspondingly greater numbers of light particles into the photograph. The effect is as if the microscopic pollution has been enlarged and lit up, shedding light on the invisible particles.

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Artist Rosten Woo uses chimes to make air pollution audible:

Mutual Air is a network of roughly thirty specially designed bells that generate a soundscape reflecting and responding to the changing composition of our local and global atmosphere. By sonifying air-quality fluctuations, Woo hopes​ to engage the public in an experiential understanding of climate science and how aspects of our atmosphere, while a shared resource, reflect socioeconomic disparities.

His work was featured on PBS News Hour:


See also Smog Meringues and British Pathe - Air Pollution