Chakrabarty receives NSF grant for on-the-ground wildfire research

Rajan Chakrabarty, assistant professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering has received a grant for $410,856 from the National Science Foundation for, as he describes it, “Three weeks of intense wildfire-smoke science.”

Chakrabarty and his research group are participating in Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments and Air Quality (FIREX-AQ), a large-scale investigation into the properties and consequences of emissions from large fires. NASA, NOAA, and various research groups including more than 40 universities from the US and abroad are involved.

Chakrabarty's research group has built specialty equipment from scratch: even the circuit boards of the photoacoustic spectrometer are stamped with a WashU seal. The equipment is travelling by van to Idaho in August. Once there, the researchers will use it to take samples of the air near wildfires. At the same time, other researchers will be taking samples from suborbital heights and various altitudes down to the ground, capturing a comprehensive vertical picture of the dynamic properties soot caused by wildfires.

The data will be used to help Chakrabarty’s lab understand the differences and similarities between their experiments in the lab and conditions in the real world. It will also be used as a ground truth; data that can be used to help translate and calibrate satellite data.