U.S.-India collaborations on show at conference
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org July 20, 2013 6:48PM
Eric Isaacs (left), director of Argonne National Laboratory, and Sunil Kumar, dean of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, take part in a recent conference in Downers Grove. | Cindy Wojdyla Cain~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 22, 2013 7:02AM
DOWNERS GROVE — Somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas, black carbon particles swirl in the atmosphere in such large quantities they can be seen by satellites.
The particles are the byproduct of vehicle emissions and wood or coal burning in the nearby Ganges valley, which is one of the most densely populated regions in the world.
The aerosol particles like to absorb radiation, which keeps heat closer to Earth. But whether or not that activity leads to global climate change or interferes with India’s annual monsoon season is unknown.
Rao Kotamarthi, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont, wants to find the answers to those questions because black carbon particles are found around the globe.
“How worried should we be about all of these short-term warmers?” he said.
So he formulated an experiment in 2007, which was approved by the U.S. Energy Department in 2010.
In July 2010, Kotamarthi’s team send six trailers full of equipment to the Himalayan foothills in northern Indian. The equipment monitored the black carbon particles, atmospheric radiation and cloud moisture levels until April 2011.
Kotamarthi needed help with his experiment. So he collaborated with his alma mater, the Indian Institute of Science (IIS).
That collaboration is just one example of how scientists, academic institutes and private businesses all work with IIS to foster the advancement of science around the globe, said Sunil Kumar, dean of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.
Kumar also is an alumni of IIS, and he is serving as chairman of a conference this weekend of the IIS Alumni Association of North America. The three-day event, which was held at Ashyana Banquets in Downers Grove, drew dozens of professors, scientists, entrepreneurs and business people from both India and the United States.
Kotamarthi was schedule to lead a discussion Sunday on the high-performance Argonne computer that helps him with his black carbon research.
Argonne Director Eric Isaacs was the keynote speaker on Saturday morning. Isaacs talked about using “big data” to create better cities in the world. A time is coming when that data will be collected from a wide variety of sources to reduce traffic jams, cut down on power usage and lower pollution, Isaacs said.
India is expected to increase its population from 1.2 billion to 1.7 billion by the year 2050. And India, combined with China, will account for about half of the increase in energy use over the next 20 years, Isaacs said. The use of air conditioners alone in India is expected to increase by 14 percent annually, he added.
“This is a real challenge,” Isaacs said. “The question is, what can we do about it?”
Some of the answers to Kotamarthi’s inquiries into black carbon particles, and Isaac’s concerns about rapid population and energy-consumption growth in India and China may come from collaborations with IIS scientists in India and abroad, Kumar said.
“The Indian Institute of Science is India’s premier graduate school in science and engineering,” Kumar said. “There are about 7,000 alumni in the U.S. And the alumni association organized this conference as a way to showcase the institute as well as to foster collaboration ... between industry and academia in the U.S.”
As for Kotamarthi, he’s still crunching his black carbon data in Argonne’s super computer, the fifth fastest super computer in the world, to try to find answers to his questions.
“The ultimate goal will be: What is the role of these aerosoles on monsoons, at least for this region, and how well can we understand it? And how important are these for climate change?” he said.