Watch What You’re Breathing

There's a truck called MAPLE driving through Southern Ontario. It's not serving food; it's collecting data on what's in the air everyone's breathing.

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If you’re in Southern Ontario, you might see a white truck emblazoned with the word “Maple” traveling the streets.  No, it’s not a Canadian-themed food truck. Instead, it is filled with sensitive equipment that can measure the composition and size of particulate matter in the air. MAPLE, or Mobile Analysis of ParticuLate in the Environment, is the mobile sampling vehicle from the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research operated by Professor Greg Evans research group from the University of Toronto.

Atmospheric aerosol is a fancy name for particulate pollution floating around in our air.  We breathe these tiny particulates every day, and they affect both our health and our environment.

“The air that we have surrounds us, it’s part of us, it’s in us, it’s something that has shaped us over time, and it’s now something that we are shaping,” says Evans. “If you live near a very major road, it can be potentially impacting your health and, in fact, one in three Canadians live near major roadways.”

The Evans research group investigates where these particulates come from, where people are exposed to them, and what happens after people are exposed, to help us understand how to adjust our lifestyles. Some people are more vulnerable to particulate inhalation and it’s important for this population to know when they should be outside or when they shouldn’t.

Professor Evans also collaborates with all levels of government in order to help guide policy.  For example, eliminating coal-based electricity in Ontario helped to decrease particulate pollution. Now vehicles are one of the major sources of particulates in the air.  The Evans research group recently found that fuel-efficient engines that reduce CO2 emissions actually increase black carbon particulate emissions. This type of information can help guide policy and public behaviour.

“Air pollution is invisible,” says Evans. “We can’t see it, so we don’t worry about it, and we don’t worry about the emissions that we contribute. The investments we make today can either be detrimental or beautiful opportunities for our children.”

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Greg Evans studies the air you breathe. He is a Professor in the University of Toronto Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and the Director of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR).  This multi-disciplinary centre investigates the impacts of air pollution on our environment, health, and climate. He is also the Director of University of Toronto’s Collaborative Program in Engineering Education and the Associate Director of the Institute for Leadership in Engineering Education. As a passionate instructor, he is working to reshape what and how we educate engineers in Canada.

Prof. Evans is a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recently awarded:  the 2015 Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations Award, the 2015 University of Toronto Presidents Teaching Award, the 2014 Allan Blizzard Award for collaborative teaching, the 2013 Northrop Frye Award for integrating research and teaching, the 2010 Engineers Canada Medal for Distinction in Engineering Education and the 2009 Ontario Professional Engineers Award: Engineering Medal- Research and Development.