Daily Iowan Spotlight: UI Professor Makes Strides to Save the Planet

Friday, July 30, 2010

By Kate Fowler
Daily Iowan

Greg Carmichael is trying to change the world — or at least, the air.

The professor of chemical and biochemical engineering has written one key study concerning air pollution, using measurements of black carbon around China before and after the Beijing Olympics.

The study — which he conducted along with five colleagues — suggests black carbon is a key global-warming agent.

Growing up in the "Silent Spring" era of environmental activism in the 1970s, Carmichael has dreamed of cleaning up the Earth's pollution.

"I've never questioned my field of choice," he said. "We can save lives right away by preventing air pollution."

Learning early on that most pollution problems are chemical in nature, he entered the field of chemical engineering at Iowa State University. He attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky and received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1979.

But Carmichael likes to look at the big picture.

He not only looks at industry as a cause for climate change but also at smaller-scale, less-obvious causes. For instance, a project in India to study the effects of cooking stoves on air quality — and the effect was surprisingly massive, he said.

"[Carmichael] has made outstanding contributions to our understanding of air pollution and its impacts on environment and human welfare," said Professor Ram Ramanathan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., a coauthor of the Beijing study.

"He has really put [the UI] on the global map in the air-pollution problem," he said.

But it's not all about the studying or the research for Carmichael. It's also about the students.

"It's inspiring to be surrounded by young people," he said. "There is always something new … [We're] helping to shape the next generation of researchers."

It's not enough for Carmichael to try to save the Earth. He also likes to travel across it.

"I think he's been to every continent except Antarctica," said his wife, Candace Carmichael.

The couple, who met at Iowa State University, have since lived in Kentucky, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and of course, Iowa City, she said.

But throughout his travels, Greg Carmichael always ends up returning to the UI. And it's largely because of the students.

"The biggest reward is absolutely training the students and seeing them go on, seeing their contributions to society," he said. "Students are extended family."