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Your Environment. Your Health.

CURES Center Member Wins “AI for Earth” Award to Address Environmental Issues

May 22, 2018

From left: Award winners Shi and Zhang are leading an innovative effort to advance methods for detecting and monitoring water contaminants.

From left: Award winners Shi and Zhang are leading an innovative effort to advance methods for detecting and monitoring water contaminants.
(Photo courtesy of Wayne State University)

A team of Wayne State University (WSU) researchers have received the “AI for Earth” Azure Award from Microsoft. The award will provide WSU researchers access to innovative data science, spatial analysis, and visualization tools to examine how pollutants from Superfund and other hazardous sites contaminate Michigan water supplies and threaten human health and the environment.

Weisong Shi, Ph.D., a CURES Center member, will lead the effort along with Yongli Zhang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. Shi is a member of the CURES Environmental Modulators of the Immune System (EMI) research interest group. One focus of CURES EMI research is to understand how contamination of our water supplies can lead to poor immune health.

According to Shi and Zhang, communities in Michigan may be exposed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and other pollutants from Superfund sites and other sources. People can be exposed through many pathways: drinking contaminated water, eating contaminated fish, or absorbing chemicals through the skin.

Current methods to understand how pollutants move through the environment and how humans are exposed are complex and expensive. According to Zhang, the WSU research team will advance these methods by incorporating sensing networks, machine learning, cloud computing, and mapping tools to develop an open-source, cloud-based simulation tool. The tool will create a comprehensive network for real-time detection and monitoring of water contamination. It will also include user-friendly maps, visuals, and educational materials.

“We will develop a distributed monitoring network that contains sensors at one Superfund site and selected locations in the adjacent watershed as a pilot project to monitor and analyze VOCs and SVOCs in real time by levering our edge computing technique and the AI services provided by Microsoft,” said Shi in a WSU news story. “In addition, we will be able to monitor other environmental and water conditions such as temperature, pH, conductivity, and more.”

They hope the simulation tool will help raise public awareness about water contamination issues in a timely manner, and help improve water quality for Michigan communities located near hazardous waste and Superfund sites.

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