Faculty of Pure and Applied Science prof investigates the poor and potentially dangerous quality of our air

It’s a disturbing fact of industrialization that the very air we breathe may pose an increasingly dangerous threat to our health as we venture into the 21st century. Diane Michelangeli, professor of atmospheric science in the Faculty of Pure and Applied Science at York University, is one of the pioneering spirits currently investigating the poor and potentially dangerous quality of our air.

Gas emissions – from sources as diverse as cars and cows to power plants and plant life – mingle in the Earth’s atmosphere. Smog is one result, but so is particulate matter: tiny, solid particles (like dust) that, if small enough, can penetrate deep into our lungs causing serious, even life-threatening respiratory problems.

Using sophisticated, three-dimensional computer models, however, Michelangeli is charting not only the complex paths gas emissions follow as they circulate through the atmosphere, but also the pivotal moments in which particulate matter forms. Because few scientists have access to good, working computer models, Michelangeli’s work is innovative, answering a pressing need in atmospheric research. In terms of real-world applications, her computer models may also serve a very important economic purpose, allowing industry to better understand how it should control its emissions cost-effectively.

Of course, typical of York’s approach to research, Michelangeli’s work is interdisciplinary, cutting boldly across the seemingly incompatible fields of chemistry, meteorology, microphysics and computer science. It’s yet another example of the unique, collaborative spirit of York, whose scientists are always stretching their imaginations beyond the limits of their disciplines.

By focusing on real-world issues like the quality of the air we inhale, and by taking an unconventional path, York is once again redefining the pursuit of innovation. And redefining the possible.

Article by Jason Guriel, a first-year graduate student in English, and the 2002-2003 York SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge).

SPARK was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on NSERC-supported research at participating universities.