Professor Adrian Rusu earned a grant from The Weather Company to work with students to create new apps for air pollution education.

Professor Adrian Rusu earned a grant from The Weather Company to work with students to create new apps for air pollution education.

According to the World Health Organization, exposure to outdoor air pollution leads to roughly three million deaths a year worldwide. In certain parts of the world like China and India, it is particularly threatening, shortening the residents’ lives by up to seven years. And the problem isn’t limited to Asia. As the planet heats up, more and more cities in the West will also be affected.

Adrian Rusu, PhD, School of Engineering professor and department chair of Computer Science, along with two teams of Fairfield University students both undergraduate and graduate, has been given a grant from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, to collaborate on building an app that will combat this pressing environmental issue of air pollution.

“A big challenge in making people aware of the problem is showing the pollution levels in a simple way,” said Kourosh Karimkhany, head of Weather Underground, a division of The Weather Company that provides real-time weather information via the Internet. “We also need to represent air pollution graphically on the web and in mobile apps, which creates a few more challenges – which is something we hope Fairfield students can help us solve.”

Nearly 25 students will be involved with the project. Several classes will be divided into teams that will compete on technical elements and will engage in real-time work in air quality visualization directly with team members at The Weather Company.

“This is what engineering is all about — real world experience – hands-on work to solve real problems,” said Dr. Rusu, who bridged the relationship with The Weather Company last year and is an expert in visualization, having worked previously with the Federal Aviation Administration on next-generation air traffic controls.

This past September, a team led by Karimkhany from The Weather Company, which includes Weather Underground and The Weather Channel digital properties, flew in from different locations across the country — Massachusetts, Georgia, California — to kick-off the project on campus with Fairfield engineering students. Karimkhany presented on project elements and protocol, but also on the subjects of air quality, the need for good air quality products, and how they might change the world.

“Over the past couple of years, technology has reached a point where you can measure air quality well and once you know what air pollution is like around you, that’s the first step to doing something about it,” said Karimkhany.  “Not only should this be something that informs people, it should be something that makes people want to download it, share it with their friends, and keep using it on their phones. The trick to a good product is that people become passionate about it.”

Karimkhany also detailed that weather information is one of the most sought after features that many companies need, relying on The Weather Company to power their products.

And it’s the student minds and collaboration that will help The Weather Company uncover possibilities and build the new software programs through research.

“I think students are going to bring a very different perspective,” said Robyn Weeks, director of mobile products at The Weather Company who was a part of the team on campus this fall. “This is a complete fresh slate — new ideas, new thought processes.”

Fairfield students are excited at the prospect of working with professionals who are building cutting edge technologies and appreciate that it gives them a challenging avenue in which to stretch their skillsets and make industry contacts.

Jung Soo Kim MS’18, a graduate student who is studying software engineering to facilitate a career change after having children, said she feels these work experiences with real clients are invaluable.

“They force students to apply the information and principles learned in a classroom setting,” Kim said. “This makes it both easier to remember the information as well as understand what tools and techniques are currently used in a particular company or industry.”

Nicole Kwasnaza ’18, a senior undergraduate studying computer engineering, is looking forward to seeing real-world applications for data visualization and how that data will make an impact on the environment and fellow citizens. “It will be really inspiring to see how we can help other people,” she said. “Maybe we can save lives or prevent diseases using this app.”