Civil and Environmental Engineering

Bringing air quality models into policy and systems analysis

January 26, 2018

10:30 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

Gates Hillman Centers 4401


Fine particulate matter (PM) is arguably the most important air pollutant. It consists of sub-micron-sized airborne particles, from diverse sources, composed of both organic and inorganic compounds. Exposure to fine PM is associated with approximately 100,000 premature deaths annually in the United States and several million globally.

Decisions regarding energy, transportation, and agricultural systems involve complex tradeoffs between societal needs, public health, global climate, and other considerations. In many cases, air pollution considerations are paramount; in cost-benefit calculations, premature mortality from fine PM often exceeds climate and other environmental damages. Yet, the health effects of air pollution are often neglected in these analyses because they are hard to quantify. Models must account for a complex set of atmospheric chemical reactions that form PM and for its spatial distribution, which determines human exposure.

This seminar will discuss this challenge, show some examples where state-of-the-art air quality models have been used to inform such decisions, and describe work my group has done to give decision-makers simple but accurate tools to account for air pollution health effects.


Peter Adams is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the Engineering and Public Policy Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Adams’s research largely focuses on development of chemical transport models and their application to decision-making, especially related to fine particulate matter. Adams also has extensive expertise in the simulation of aerosol microphysical processes, ultrafine particles and the formation of cloud condensation nuclei in global climate models. Areas of research have also included the effects of climate change on air quality, short-lived climate forcers, atmospheric ammonia and particulate matter formation from livestock operations, and the simulation organic particulate matter.

Adams currently serves on the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Particulate Matter Review Panel. He was selected for a Fulbright grant to collaborate with researchers at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Bologna, has been a Visiting Senior Research Scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and received the Sheldon K. Friedlander Award for outstanding doctoral thesis from the American Association for Aerosol Research.

He has previously served on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee and the Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Toxics New Guidelines Proposal Committee, served as a consultant to the California Air Resources Board, and served in various capacities the American Association for Aerosol Research.

His research is supported primarily by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense. Adams received his BS degree in Chemical Engineering, summa cum laude, from Cornell University. He was awarded a Hertz Foundation Applied Science Fellowship for graduate study and received MS and PhD degrees in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. He also holds an associated faculty position in the Chemical Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon.

Upcoming Events