STUDENTS USING TRAX FOR MORE THAN COMMUTING

University of Utah researchers Logan Mitchell, Erik Crosman, John Horel and John Lin in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences are in the process of gathering air pollution data across the Wasatch Front with the help of the Utah Transit Authority light rail train (TRAX).

Using instruments installed on TRAX, which travels through the Salt Lake Valley, the team can collect spatial data of pollutants such as greenhouse gases. The team can then determine in real time how pollutants vary during the day and across various regions of the valley. Data is collected every one minute and archived in real time every five minutes.

Funded by the Utah Legislature, the 18-month project is the first of any major city to place air quality monitors on top of light rail trains.

Two atmospheric sciences undergraduates involved in the research, senior Ben Fasoli and junior Luke Leclair-Marzolf, took some time to answer questions about their experience.

How did you get involved in this research and how long have you been involved?

Fasoli: I got involved over a year ago. I was initially working on other projects for professor John Lin’s lab, but the projects slowly evolved into this one.

Leclair-Marzolf:
I just got involved this summer through John Horel’s lab.

What were your roles in this project?

Fasoli: We contributed to many different parts of this project. Looking back, I think we did a little bit of everything. Logan initially had the idea for the project back in February 2014. From September to November, we spent time in lab brainstorming how each individual piece of the project would work. From November to December, we put everything together and started figuring out how to code the data, and after December, we probably dedicated about four to five hours working on the project each day. After receiving clearance from the proper authorities, we designed the data collaboration system for the pilot program and figured out how to fit and organize everything into the box that collected air pollution data. Then we installed it all into the train and wrote the post-processing scripts for data.

Leclair-Marzolf: Over the summer during the pilot program, we both contributed to installing and maintaining the monitors. We’d have to do this at 3 a.m. during the train’s off hours, so that was fun. Afterwards, Ben was more in charge of the post-processing code and I handled quality control issues.

How has conducting this research impacted your academic and professional development?

Fasoli: I would say that upon graduation, Luke and I will have an advantage over job and graduate school competitors because of all of the skills we’ve gained through our research. Instrumentation, coding, teamwork, leadership and organization are just a few of the things we’ve learned from working on this project. These are all transferable skills that will apply well in any academic or professional setting.

Leclair-Marzolf: There’s a large gap between what you learn in school and what’s out in the world. Hands-on experience is absolutely necessary to be successful post-graduation, whether you go on to graduate school or enter the workforce.

What was your favorite part of this project?

Fasoli: The satisfaction of it all finally coming together and working. We went through so many leaps and hurdles to get this project going, so it’s rewarding to see our hard work pay off. It’s really exciting to have been part of this when it was only an idea to now seeing it as a physical, tangible thing. It’s cool to be able to wake up and look at the air quality every morning before biking to class.

Leclair-Marzolf: I agree with Ben; seeing the project work after all of the time and effort we put into it is the best feeling.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Fasoli: Continue my education at the U and earn a master’s degree in atmospheric sciences. I’m currently involved in a lot of projects in the department and don’t want to leave yet because I’m so invested in them.

Leclair-Marzolf:
Hopefully get a job! Ideally, I’d like to work for Utah’s Division of Air Quality.