Cafe Sci: Is Carbon Capture Realistic?

February 13, 2017

Is Carbon Capture Realistic?

Christopher Wilmer

Assistant Professor,
Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department,
University of Pittsburgh

Join University of Pittsburgh professor Chris Wilmer for a discussion of the future of carbon capture technology. This very active area of engineering research explores the development of technologies that can be retrofitted onto fossil fuel-based power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Retrofitting thousands of coal power plants across the globe would be a massive undertaking, and researchers need to know how feasible such a project would be.

In his talk, Wilmer will consider this problem from the molecular scale and ask what the most efficient carbon capture membrane would look like, whether it can realistically help mitigate global warming, and how it compares to existing technologies.

Wilmer is an assistant professor in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on the use of large-scale molecular simulations to help find promising materials for energy and environmental applications.


Recorded Monday, February 6, 2017 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.


If You Can’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist: Connections of Air and Climate Pollution with Policy Decisions

February 2, 2016

Neil Donahue

Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering

Director Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University


If  You Can’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist: Connections of Air and Climate Pollution with Policy Decisions


The effects of climate change, air pollution, and efforts by leaders to address these effects are pressing issues that pervade recent news-cycles – from climate talks in Paris to the increase in “red alert” days in Beijing. Dr. Neil Donahue will discuss “If  You Can’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist: Connections of Air and Climate Pollution with Policy Decisions.”

Donahue is a Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University; and a Science & Engineering Ambassador with the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. He directs the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research.

Climate pollution is mostly invisible and diffuse. More traditional air pollution — haze and smog — is visible and localized.  However, both cause a world of hurt, and addressing them together may be a key to making progress on both.  The “social costs” of pollution can be very high, with the costs of climate pollution distributed over the globe and over generations, while the social costs of air pollution bourn locally and immediately, including contribution to millions of deaths every year.

Donahue will discuss the role of three current research activities towards enabling decision-makers to consider the costs and benefits of policies that could affect both pollution types.  The research includes fundamental experiments about fine atmospheric particles at CERN, the particle-physics research institute in Geneva; a collaboration to model the life-cycle of carbon in regional pollution in China; and development of a decision support tool for city policy makers to compare policy “intervention” options in terms of costs and effectiveness for climate and air-pollution benefits.

Donahue seeks to understand how Earth's atmosphere works and how humans affect the atmosphere. He strives to help all graduating CMU students understand the climate problem and to apply their outstanding problem-solving skills to solutions of this enormous challenge.

Donahue’s research focuses on the behavior of organic compounds in Earth's atmosphere. The world experts in his research group study what happens to compounds from both natural sources and human activity when they are emitted into the atmosphere. Recently, the group’s research has focused on the origin and transformations of very small organic particles, which play a critical role in climate change and human health. Particles scatter light, influence clouds, and kill roughly 50,000 people each year in the U.S., mostly of heart attacks.

Donahue earned a degree in physics from Brown University and a doctorate in meteorology from MIT. He spent nine years as a research scientist at Harvard before returning to Pittsburgh in 2000.


Recorded on Monday, February 1, 2016 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.


Rain, Rivers, and Resources: How Watersheds Change Drinking Water

November 12, 2015

Jeanne M. VanBriesen
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University




Rain, Rivers, and Resources: How Watersheds Change Drinking Water


Follow along with the slide show here.

How do everyday choices impact the water supply? Carnegie Mellon University professor and Carnegie Science Award winner Dr. Jeanne M. VanBriesen will discuss her research in ““Rain, Rivers, and Resources: How Watersheds Change Drinking Water” on Monday, Nov. 9, from 7 – 9 pm, at Carnegie Science Center.


Rivers teem with fish and plants, offer a space for recreation, and provide the source of the water we drink. Rain water, on its way to rivers, runs across watersheds. Watersheds are land surfaces that house activities such as mining, farming, producing electricity, and building homes. These activities pose a challenge to maintaining high quality water for ecosystems, recreation, and potable water supply. VanBriesen will talk about engineering systems that manage the quality and quantity of water resources. She’ll discuss how the choices people make around energy resources in our watersheds affect the options to treat drinking water.


VanBriesen, who serves on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board, is the Duquesne Light Company Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Her research is in environmental systems, including detection of biological agents in water systems and impacts of energy extraction. 


She earned her bachelor’s degree in education and her master’s and doctorate degrees in civil engineering from Northwestern University. She is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Delaware and has served on the board of the Association for Environmental Engineering and Science Professors. Earlier this year, VanBriesen was awarded the Environmental Award in the Carnegie Science Awards program for her water quality research.

Recorded Monday, November 9, 2015 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

CATTfish and Flamingo, a new way to measure water quality from CMU

September 17, 2015

Dave Speer

President & Co-Founder
MellonHead Labs


CATTfish and Flamingo, a new way to measure water quality from CMU

Why does water quality matter to you? Carnegie Mellon University start-up MellonHead Labs will explain water quality issues and what part can we can play in the water economy.

Dave Speer, president and co-founder of MellonHead Labs will speak about: Water quality issues facing Pittsburgh and the nation, how CMU is involved and water and environmental programs, how these programs function and are supported/funded, and the future of water quality monitoring, technology, and IoT (internet of things).

CATTfish was created by the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. The CATTfish system provides a simple and easy way to track water quality at home.

In 2014, a new venture, MellonHead Labs, was formed to bring this innovative environmental sensing product to market. The sensor is used by both citizens and industry to track water quality changes over long periods of time and large geographic areas. Cloud-based visualization of large data sets allows easy interpretation of results.

Speer is a fourth-generation Pittsburgher who attended University of Delaware for his undergraduate degree, George Washington University for graduate school, and Carnegie Mellon University for his business launch and start-up founding.

Recorded on Monday, September 14, 2015 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.