University of Utah chemical engineering associate professor Heather A. Holmes has received a Fulbright Future Scholarship (funded by the Kinghorn Foundation) to work with scientists in Australia to improve wildfire smoke transport modeling. She will be studying in Melbourne beginning next year.

Holmes will be going to the School of Electrical, Mechanical and Infrastructure Engineering at the University of Melbourne for four months to collaborate with faculty in engineering as well as atmospheric and environmental sciences. Her goal is to establish long-term collaborations with the aim of improving models used in air quality warning systems that protect people living in fire-prone areas.

Her research goals while there are three-fold: To develop a new model to simulate convective atmospheric turbulence that will improve numerical forecasting in the western U.S. and Australia for summer months when fire danger is highest; use the new model improvements in a numerical weather prediction model to simulate bushfire smoke transport in Australia; and establish collaborations with multiple facilities to exchange scientific and cultural knowledge related to fire science, land management and fuels treatment, and public policy.

Holmes received her bachelor’s degree from Montana State University and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Utah, all in mechanical engineering. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hamburg and the Georgia Institute of Technology before becoming an assistant professor in the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 2014. She joined the U in 2020.

Her research group uses ground-based sensors, atmospheric models, and satellite remote sensing to investigate atmospheric physics, air pollution sources, transport and dispersion, and provide data for human health and public policy assessments. Her goal is to improve models used in air quality warning systems that protect people from poor air quality due to wildfire smoke and temperature inversions, both common in the western U.S.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, she is developing new atmospheric models to improve air quality forecasts of wildfire smoke in mountainous regions. She is also part of a team led by Matthew Strickland from the University of Nevada, Reno, and funded by the National Institutes of Health to investigate the health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure in Reno, Nevada.

Holmes was awarded the Fulbright scholarship in 2020 but could not begin work in Australia until next year due to the global pandemic.