National Clean Air Month: An Engineer's Advocacy Guide

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Meet the Expert: Vincenzo Piuri, PhD

Vincenzo Piuri

Dr. Vincenzo Piuri is a Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Milan, Italy, where he was the Department Chair from 2007 to 2012. He received his MS and PhD in computer engineering from Politecnico di Milano, Italy.

Dr. Piuri’s research and industrial application interests are in AI, intelligent systems, pattern analysis, machine learning, cloud computing, and digital architectures. As one of Italy’s leading scientists, he’s published over 400 scientific papers in international journals, international conferences, books, and book chapters.

Dr. Piruri has held several leadership roles at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and is also the founder and co-chair of IEEE’s Environmental Engineering Initiative, an interdisciplinary forum for the environmental engineering community. Dr. Piuri is an IEEE Fellow, a member of IEEE Eta Kappa Nu, an Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Distinguished Scientist, and a Senior Member of the International Network for Natural Sciences (INNS).

How Environmental Engineers Help Improve Air Quality

“Air quality is absolutely important,” says Vincenzo Piuri, PhD, founder, and co-chair of IEEE’s Environmental Engineering Initiative. “A limited amount of pollution is not creating a significant danger, but if we go in big cities, with a lot of traffic, with factories nearby, and the wind is moving the pollution from the factories to the city, it’s not the ideal environment to live. We should reduce air pollution as much as we can to ensure that we and the coming generations will have a livable environment.”

Environmental engineers work towards better air quality in a number of different ways, but it all starts with monitoring. Engineers will study, design, and deploy sensors and monitoring systems that collect information about a specific geographic environment. By gathering data around a region’s airflow and pollutants, they’ll be able to put together approximate models that can be useful in both historical and predictive contexts.

This is much more complex than your average bit of data collection. Even a relatively small geographic area is impacted by an enormous number of difficult-to-predict factors. Valleys, lakes, forests, and buildings all affect airflow, which, in turn, carries and disperses pollution particles.

Forming predictive models for air quality requires scientific methodologies, cutting-edge technologies, and sharp engineering minds. Decision-makers rely on these engineer-designed models to inform their actions at the industrial or policy level, which can, in turn, have a tremendous impact on the environment.

“Engineering can also provide us with technological solutions to improve air quality,” says Dr. Piuri. “Engineers and scientists in related areas may work on devices that can be used in factories, or in the private heating systems, or in cars, to try to reduce the amounts of pollutants which are generated, or better control the pollutants which are delivered into the air.”

How Various Fields of Engineering Contribute to Clean Air Initiatives

While environmental engineering is often considered its own discipline, it also draws together many different areas of engineering. For example, sensors and monitoring systems require computer engineers and electrical engineers. A factory will need both industrial and chemical engineers to consider its control systems to minimize or even remove pollutant emissions. Effectively managing environmentally-friendly traffic systems requires not only civil engineers, but also automotive engineers who are re-evaluating how cars are fueled, and what pollutants those cars emit, if any.

“What is worthy to note is that even if someone is going to work in the area of sensors or computing or automation, for example, they can still work in the area of environmental engineering,” Dr. Piuri says. “Environmental engineering includes a broad set of technologies.”

Spotlight on IEEE’s Environmental Engineering Initiative

The breadth of environmental engineering, along with its increasing importance, inspired Dr. Piuri to start IEEE’s Environmental Engineering Initiative. IEEE is an association of professionals and researchers across several different engineering disciplines, it fosters knowledge sharing, education, and networking. Members who are active in the Environmental Engineering Initiative promote new research findings, new industrial applications, new technologies, and new opportunities related to environmental engineering across several sectors. The idea is to take what is a large but fragmented group of engineers who are split across different specialty areas and bring them into a single forum.

“So far, the initiative is focusing only on the technological areas which are in the scope of IEEE,” Dr. Piuri says. “That includes electrical engineering, electronic engineering, computer engineering, and related disciplines such as control system automation or sensors. But it’s not involving other areas like civil engineering or chemical engineering. In the future, one of the goals is to cooperate with other associations to create a comprehensive forum. It will take time, but it’s very important to have a comprehensive view of the problem.”

Right now, the problem is getting worse, and the consequences of failing to solve it are dire. The world not only needs more environmental engineers, but it also needs more engineers of all stripes working together to restore, and preserve, one of our most precious resources. The good news is that the tide is shifting, at least in the professional and industrial spheres: more engineers are thinking environmentally, and more companies are looking for engineers who are environmentally focused.

“Even if someone is taking a degree which is not labeled as environmental engineering, it’s still possible to work in this field,” Dr. Piuri says. “There are many companies around the world which are hiring people to work in this area, many more than in the past. There are many, many opportunities.”

Resources for National Clean Air Month

Clean air is everyone’s concern, and improving it takes an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort. To tap into the wider conversation around clean air, check out some of the resources below.

  • ALA’s Stand Up for Clean Air Initiative: You can join the American Lung Association (ALA) in helping protect the nation’s air quality through education, activism, and awareness.
  • CDC’s Air Quality Resources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides research, data, and other tools for professionals tracking the health impact of air pollution.
  • EPA’s Clean Air Act Overview: Presented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this overview of the Clean Air Act of 1970 includes information on how air quality is progressing (and deteriorating) in the United States, and how different stakeholders play a part in improving it.
  • IEEE’s Environmental Engineering Initiative: The Environmental Engineering Initiative is an interdisciplinary forum and community for members to share experiences, reach out to underserved technical segments, contribute to standardization activities, and expand knowledge dissemination across disciplines.

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