Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. William Vizuete is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. His research focuses on atmospheric chemistry and the formation of air pollution.
“Air pollution kills more than six and a half million people globally, been linked to all kinds of diseases. In fact, more people die from diseases from air pollution than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.”
There are a lot of sources of air pollution that we are exposed to, both inside and outside. One of the main pollutants that has been associated with casualties is particle pollution.
“These are mixtures of solid particles or liquid droplets that you find in the air. For example, you have the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, sometimes called the Smoky Mountains. That pretty white haze is particulate matter. When we’re exposed to that at different levels, it’s been associated with diseases such as heart disease and cancer.”
Dr. Vizuete’s team also researches aerosols, which can cause a severe public health risk.
“In order for us to mitigate that risk and our exposure to these aerosols, we need effective policies. Controls to bring our exposure to these atmospheric aerosols down. We have to have an understanding of where these particles come from and how these particles are made in the atmosphere.”
Although UNC does not offer an engineering major, there are ample opportunities for students to study engineering and related fields.
“Just recently, just a few years ago, John Hopkins added their engineering department to the School of Public Health. But we were certainly the first. It goes back to the sanitary engineers before engineering left for NC State. They decided to stay in the School of Public Health because they felt they were much closer to these public health issues. Eventually that evolved into what is now the Environmental Science and Engineering department, where we look at air quality, water quality and health science.”
Dr. Vizuete says that the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering is a great place for students to work because it offers a lot of interdisciplinary work like human behavior aspects, chemistry, physics and more.
“If you’re an engineer or a scientist interested in finding solutions for public health problems, whether it’s water scarcity or air pollution or climate change, you can do that at UNC-Chapel Hill.”
Featured image by Jintong Wu.