New MIT program aims to monitor air, water quality around the globe


Researchers from MIT and two Singaporean universities met last month for an inaugural workshop to launch a bold new international research program called CENSAM. The program will develop pervasive environmental sensor networks to collect data on parameters such as air and water quality from many sources, and use this data to provide accurate, real-time monitoring, modeling and control of the environment.

One of the first goals of the research group is to provide proof of the feasibility of the concept in a carefully managed urban area like Singapore. The greater hope is that these concepts might one day be widely applied on different scales to provide up-to-the-minute data about the environment in areas as small as a building or as large as the Earth's biosphere.

CENSAM, the Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling, is a research component of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre (or SMART Centre), a joint project of MIT and the National Research Foundation of Singapore that was announced Jan. 23.

Professor Andrew Whittle of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is head of the CENSAM research group. Whittle and an initial group of about 15 MIT faculty members from civil and environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, architecture, and earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences will work with researchers from the National University of Singapore, the Nanyang Technological Institute, the Singaporean Public Utilities Board, and other governmental agencies and companies.

"Our grand challenge is to build up expertise in the general areas of environmental sensing and modeling. Our longer-term goal is to develop a model representation of the built and natural environment that will seamlessly transition from the micro-scale of a building to the macro-scale, say of the South China Sea East Asia region," said Whittle, whose own expertise is in the underground construction of urban environments. He has already developed prototype sensor network technology to monitor underground water distribution and sewer pipes in Boston.

CENSAM research will fall into five broad areas: the built and natural environment; urban hydrology and water supply; coastal environment; marine environment; and development of ways to monitor and model Singapore's urban environment.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 6, 2008 (download PDF).


Topics: Civil and environmental engineering, Environment, Global

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