University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor Kerry Kelley has received a National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award for 2020.

Kerry E. Kelly

Kelly has received a $400,000 grant to develop and deploy in northern Utah nanofiber sensor arrays in a network to identify the source or sources of formaldehyde. The low-cost portable sensors, together with advanced analytical techniques, will provide location information to help pinpoint the sources of the pollutants.

Formaldehyde is a key air pollutant and known human carcinogen. Each year, over 25 million Americans are exposed to formaldehyde at levels exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cancer risk threshold.

The project is similar to another pollution sensor network that Kelly has developed using low-cost sensors that can detect particulate matter in the air. Those sensors, part of a project called AirU, are distributed all over Salt Lake County.

The grant will also be used to help with the further education of STEM students, particularly those from underrepresented groups. Kelly has used a similar version of her PM2.5 pollution sensors to help teach Utah K-through-12 students the importance of monitoring air quality.

Kelly received her bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Purdue University, a master’s in environmental engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in environmental engineering from the University of Utah. She became an assistant professor in 2015 and is also an associate director of the Program for Air Quality, Health and Society at the U. She also received the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Environmental Division Early Career Award, which honors those with “outstanding contributions in environmental chemical engineering in the early stages of the recipient’s career.”