News - 9/30/09

Valpo pollution study team returns from Japan

A Valparaiso University student research team has returned from Japan after studying the impact of efforts to reduce air pollution, and working to shed greater light on how emissions from China are affecting other nations.

Dr. Gary Morris, an associate professor of physics and astronomy who has conducted extensive research of the transport of air pollution over long distances, and two undergraduate students traveled to Japan in July to continue an air pollution research project that started last summer.

Accompanying him to assist with the balloon launches and data analysis were Nathan Kellams, a junior physics major from Portage, and Ted Pietrzak, a junior meteorology major from Edwardsburg, Mich.

"I learned a great deal while doing this research in Japan," Kellams said. "I was introduced to the dynamics of the atmosphere and its different layers, as well as how this can influence different kinds of pollution."

Kellams says he gained experience preparing instrumentation to measure the pollutants, and also launching weather balloons with the instruments attached.

Beyond the research, he said the immersion in a new culture was enriching.

"I also had the chance to appreciate the Japanese culture and learn what it is like to interface with those from another country in a scientific research setting," Kellams said.

Pietrzak said his time in Japan was a unique experience, and his research was a life-transforming experience.

"It seems obvious that pollution has detrimental effects on the Earth and its inhabitants. The most obvious solution to this would be to try eliminating as much pollution as possible, which requires radical lifestyle change," said Pietrzak. "Instead of studying pollution or any other field of scientific research further, I would rather work on simplifying my lifestyle."

Valpo's research team replicated its 2008 work – when it launched 10 research balloons before, during and following the Olympics (Watch the VIDEO HERE). Direct comparisons between the two years of data will provide insight into the impact of China's pollution on air quality in Japan.

"There's pretty clear evidence that Japan's air quality is being negatively affected by Chinese emissions, but the question is to what extent," said Dr. Morris, whose project is supported by a Fulbright Scholar grant and NASA's Office of Earth Sciences. Dr. Morris and his students conducted their balloon launches at Hokkaido University.

Dr. Morris remains in Japan until late December to analyze pollution data at the Frontier Research Center for Global Change in Yokohama. He says the data collected will better quantify how much air pollution China is generating, show how that pollution is affecting neighboring Japan and indicate the effectiveness of China's pollution control strategy for the Olympics.

Before the end of his five months in Japan, Dr. Morris hopes to travel to Beijing and meet with air pollution researchers there. "China has very high-density industrial regions that generate significant air pollution with very few emission control measures," he said. "It's a growing concern in the region and beyond."

During his time in Japan this summer and fall, Dr. Morris will post updates about the research and data collected on Valpo's Web site as well as on his project blog.

Dr. Morris has previously conducted research on air pollution emitted from countries in East Asia during spring 2006 as part of a NASA research project, and he has studied air pollution in Houston since 2004, launching nearly 300 balloons over the past five years.

Valpo students help set community service record

The students, faculty and staff of Valparaiso University joined forces Saturday to help fight world hunger during the second annual VU Day of Caring, packaging 107,352 meals for starving children.

Valpo students and staff worked in shifts on the Day of Caring, packaging meals using specially formulated rice-soy casserole ingredients from the hunger relief organization Kids Against Hunger. About two-thirds of the meals will now be transported to food pantries across northwest Indiana to feed families, and the remainder will be shipped overseas to feed children in Haiti and Kenya.

"This is a record for any packaging event that I am aware of for Kids Against Hunger and for a Thrivent event for sure," said Carsten Falkenberg of Thrivent Financial, which sponsored and assisted in organizing the event. "This was a coordinated effort by a variety of students, Valpo organizations, church members, Thrivent chapters and community members that was highly successful and exceeded our goals."

Valpo's volunteer work was coordinated to help Kids Against Hunger, a non-profit group that works to feed starving children worldwide. Kids Against Hunger leaders assist with recruiting volunteers, setting up food packaging satellite locations and building partnerships with humanitarian organizations worldwide, enabling Kids Against Hunger to deliver meals to starving children and their families in more than 40 countries.

More than 420 students, faculty, staff and community volunteers participated, including members of Valpo's football and softball teams and fraternities and sororities.

Valpo junior Jacob Schur was able to reach out to fraternity men and sorority women as the Interfraternity Council's vice president of recruitment.

"One major focus of Valpo Greek life is philanthropy, and I knew that the fraternities and sororities would step up to the plate and hit a grand slam with this event," said Schur. "All I had to do was present the idea of participating in the Kids Against Hunger event in a Panhellenic/IFC meeting and the idea caught on like wildfire. The credit really goes out to the individual fraternity and sorority chapters for mustering up volunteers on such short notice."

As they packed meals in 2.5 hour shifts, Valpo students found the work rewarding, and a foundation for the future.

"I feel great. I'm having fun with my team and helping others," said Valpo sophomore and softball team member Jordan Rutkowski. "I now know I will want to do more hands-on community service later in life."