University of Utah sophomore chemical engineering student Katrina Le was awarded the William H. Corcoran Award from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for most outstanding article published in the journal Chemical Engineering Education for 2018. She received the honor June 17 during the ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida.

The article, Building Air Quality Sensors & Inspiring Citizen Scientists, details a new teaching module for K-12 students to design and test light-scattering, air-quality sensors. The curriculum was developed in an effort to introduce students to chemical and environmental engineering research. The paper was published in 2018 and co-authored by University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor Kerry Kelly, chemical engineering associate professor (lecturer) Tony Butterfield, electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Pierre-Emmanuel Gaillardon, and ECE research assistants Kyle Tingey and Thomas Becnel.

Le (pictured, center) attended the Academy for Math, Engineering & Science in Salt Lake County and interned with Butterfield before starting at the U last year. “Katrina was actually a high school student at the time she authored this paper with us. She is very likely the youngest awardee of the Corcoran award in its 30-year history,” Butterfield said.

The paper details a way to teach young students the importance of air quality by allowing them to build a working air pollution sensor out of LEGO-styled toy building blocks. In addition to the plastic blocks, the students also use a low-cost Arduino microcontroller board and light-scattering sensors to measure the particulate matter in the air. The paper, which was published in the journal Chemical Engineering Education, can be viewed here.