Alan Cogen intern makes aerosol measurement device solar-powered

By Shelby Condit

Shiva Tarun (left) and Liam Lewane (right) in front of the Portable Optical Particle Spectrometer (POPS) developed by NOAA and Handix Scientific. Tarun and Lewane helped develop a solar power system and ability to connect to cloud storage, making the device autonomous. Photo by Ali Akherati.

Liam Lewane is a recent graduate from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University. Lewane began his journey at the CSU Energy Institute as an intern in the control room of the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab in 2014 and was a recipient of this summer’s Alan Cogen internship award.

For the internship, Lewane and two other students from the Energy Institute worked in collaboration with Handix Scientific in Boulder, Colo. to create a one-of-a-kind device to measure air pollution. The team of students worked together to augment a Portable Optical Particle Spectrometer (POPS) with autonomous abilities. Originally developed by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and licensed by Handix, POPS is used to measure aerosols in the atmosphere. “The primary motivation is that there are these fine particles as a result of incomplete combustion of fossil fuels,” said Professor Shantanu Jathar from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at CSU, an expert in air quality and advisor to Lewane. Jathar added that the incomplete combustion contributes significantly to air pollution.

Previously, researchers needed to physically access the POPS to collect the data and ensure they were powered sufficiently. “You had to plug it into a wall or a battery and get the data from an SD card,” said Tim Gordon, Ph.D., senior scientist at Handix and project manager for the students.

To make the device autonomous, the students had to add two elements: a solar-powered power system and remote data collection. This would allow the device to run 24/7, provided there is adequate reception, and send data back to researchers via the cloud.

“Liam has been working in my group for three years now as an undergraduate researcher. He helped build the aerosol chamber located in the open lab space. It’s been fun and very exciting, and I’m sad to see him leave.” — Professor Shantanu Jathar

Lewane focused on developing the mechanical and electrical design for the solar-power system that runs the instrument. “One of my big goals has been to make sure the instrument runs continuously,” he said.

A benefit to the autonomous operation of POPS is the accrual of more information from more locations in a cost-effective way. Ultimately, the device will be deployed at locations that are representative of different urban environments, such as schools, congested areas of traffic, and construction sites.

“No one has done a thorough job in measuring the particle size at multiple locations at the same time in a smaller urban domain.” — Professor Shantanu Jathar

“The ultimate goal is to monitor air pollutants at and around the National Western Complex in Denver,” said Lewane, adding that the POPS device will also be installed on the roof of the CSU Powerhouse Energy Campus.

Dylan Giardina, an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering shadowed Liam and helped build models to better understand how long the solar-charged batteries would last, while Shiva Tarun, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, worked to set up the hardware and software that transmitted data that the POPS generated. Giardina and Tarun are continuing the work with Professor Jathar and Handix Scientific this fall to develop five autonomous POPS systems.

Gordon, senior scientist and project manager, said the partnership has been a win-win. He’s gotten deliverables and the chance to mentor, while the students gained experience with something tangible to show for it. “We’re happy with the way this has gone. The students have been pretty motivated and sharp,” said Gordon.

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