Steinbrenner Institute Overview
Steinbrenner Institute
The Environment @ Carnegie Mellon

From Neil's Desk

The Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research is committed to advancing scholarship associated with environmental issues.  One of the existential issues facing our planet today is climate change, and climate science continues to face a headwind of doubt and misinformation.  
Solutions to climate pollution will require unprecedented advances in science, engineering, and design, but also business, political science and our understanding of human perceptions of long-term problems via the social sciences.  To further this, the Steinbrenner Institute is leading an initiative to ensure that all CMU graduates are climate fluent.  By “climate fluent” we mean that graduates are able to think critically about climate issues and have a basic understanding of how climate change will influence their careers, whatever their program of study, and in many cases how they can contribute to climate solutions.

Our objective is to seed and inspire climate fluency projects across CMU.  We have started with focused efforts, such as a current project to develop material for all required courses in the Chemical Engineering undergraduate curriculum that will not only serve the educational objectives of each course but also in total comprise a course entitled “climate science for chemical engineers” that nurtures that fluency in our chemical engineering graduates. We are interested in working with any program at CMU to move toward our goal.  We do not envision a “one size fits all” approach but rather an ensemble of approaches that are well matched to each program. Neil Donahue, Faculty Director, Steinbrenner Institute

Meet the 2016-2017 Steinbrenner Institute Doctoral Fellows

Kerrigan Cain is a PhD student in Chemical Engineering. Kerrigan’s hometown is in historic Hartville, Ohio, but he went to Case Western Reserve University in nearby Cleveland, Ohio, where he received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Business Management, Summa Cum Laude, in 2015. His experiences while on two separate co-ops with OMNOVA Solutions motivated him to pursue a PhD in Chemical Engineering.  He was also a member of the record-breaking baseball team during his undergraduate career.
Kerrigan’s research investigates aerosol-water interactions in the atmosphere, specifically how an aerosol’s volatility and oxidation level affect its cloud droplet formation properties. His work will be used to significantly reduce the uncertainty surrounding aerosols in global climate models by using novel experimental techniques to measure these interactions.  (Cain is also the Robert W. Dunlap Fellow, because his research sits at the intersection engineering and public policy.)
Lydia Jahl is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemistry. She graduated in 2014 with a B.S. in Chemistry from Harvey Mudd College, where she implemented an online sampling system to study brown carbon in Los Angeles ambient air. After her undergraduate studies, Lydia worked as a research chemist at E. & J. Gallo Winery in California studying non- conventional winemaking techniques. In the fall of 2015, she returned to the field of atmospheric chemistry and joined the Sullivan Lab within the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies.
Lydia studies the emissions of biomass burning through the use of controlled experiments in smog chambers. The emissions from such processes affect air quality and the global energy budget. Her research is specifically helping to determine the effects of these emissions on ice cloud formation and the presence of tropospheric oxidants such as atomic chlorine.
Bowen Yu is a second-year PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His work is centered around developing and making low-cost, high-efficiency next generation solar cells. Specifically, Bowen focused on how to fabricate large-scale pyramid-like structures as solar selective absorbers for high-efficiency energy conversion.
Furthermore, Bowen participated in the project of making thermal interface materials with highly enhanced thermal conductivity and mechanical strength. Bowen is a recipient of National Scholarship from Education of Ministry of China (2015) and Graduate Outstanding Scholarship from Harbin Institute of Technology (2014).  Bowen enjoys reading, and traveling in his free time.

The goal of Bowen's research is to develop low-cost, high-efficiency solar thermophotovoltaic (TPV) cells, one type of 3rd generation solar cells based on solar thermal energy conversion. Through resolving the challenges in materials design and transport processes, successful development of this transformative technology can be achieved.
Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions
Carnegie Mellon University has launched a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research center, funded by a $10 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions represents an unprecedented approach to the integrated management of air quality, climate and energy.  The center will measure and map air pollutant concentrations across the country to improve the health of vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and those suffering from cardiac, respiratory and other medical conditions. It will develop air quality assessment tools to help average citizens and policymakers alike understand which regions and neighborhoods hold the most health risk. 

One goal of the center is to develop an app that will recommend the route to take for a bike ride or morning jog based on real-time air quality measurements that compare one route to another. Another goal will address the urban development of future cities as their electricity and transportation needs evolve. According to Allen Robinson, the new center’s director and head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, public policy will need to evolve, also.

Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering has 10 faculty members who will collaborate with experts from seven other participating institutions across North America. In addition to Robinson, other project leaders include: Peter Adams, professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy; Spyros Pandis, research professor of chemical engineering; and Albert Presto, assistant research professor of mechanical engineering.
Watch video here
“Policymakers need to understand how future changes in cities, transportation and industry impact air quality and public health. Ideally, this knowledge will lead to the creation of smarter cities.”   (Allen Robinson)
Wayne Chuang - Steinbrenner Institute Doctoral Fellow (2011-2012)
Atmospheric aerosols affect our climate and kill millions of people world wide each year. They are produced in part by the chemistry that occurs between reactants in the air. My research focused on modeling aerosol formation through the condensation of organic vapors onto particles. The CLOUD experimental consortium at CERN found that emissions from trees can be oxidized to nucleate many new particles.
Through our collaboration with CLOUD, my modeling work showed that these new particles can grow quickly through organic vapor condensation, and can reach sizes relevant to cloud formation. This points to more reflective clouds in the pre-industrial era (when plant sources dominate) and affects climate models that assess the impact of human activity on climate since the pre-industrial era. This led to a paper in Nature on which I was second author.  In another study I found that smog chambers, in which we study the chemistry of organic emissions, need to be modeled dynamically. Our model is capable of reconciling prior experimental results with recently discovered organic chemistry pathways. 

We continue to increase collaboration between modelers and experimentalists. Atmospheric chemistry is complex, and further experiments are needed to determine the range of volatilities and concentrations of organic compounds. The CLOUD group is continuing to investigate organic chemistry and aerosol formation in different atmospheric conditions, such as under higher nitrogen-oxide (NOx) concentrations that typically occur in areas with greater human activity, and we seek to expand our model to include these scenarios. Experiments at CMU will also further refine our model and our understanding of chamber effects.
After graduation, I hope to continue working in the field of environmental science. Air quality and climate change are pressing issues that need to be addressed with more scientific research and public policy. Ultimately, I hope to impact environmental policy in a way that promotes our health and our sustainability on this planet.
New Website for the Steinbrenner Institute
We are excited to announce that the new Steinbrenner Institute website has been launched  at The new page will help us present SEER activities and news more prominently. We invite you to visit our new page!
Sustainability Weekend: April 6-9, 2017
Environmental Colloquium with Poster Session: April 7, 2017
We are pleased to have the opportunity to share the efforts of the Steinbrenner Institute with you and we look forward to any feedback that you might provide .. especially with regard to our new educational goal to make every CMU graduate climate fluent!
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Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research
5120 Scott Hall
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

PLEASE CONTACT: Deborah Lange, (412) 268-7121,

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Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research · Carnegie Mellon University · 5120 Scott Hall · Pittsburgh, Pa 15213 · USA

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