New Duke India Initiative seeks to collaborate on combating air pollution

India loses billions of dollars per year due to air pollution, a topic being explored in the new Duke India Initiative (DII). 

Mark Deshusses and Mike Bergin—both professors of civil and environmental engineering—explained the mission of DII at a discussion Wednesday in the Old Chemistry building. Inspired by Bergin's research on the damage of air pollution in India, DII aims to lead interdisciplinary team projects to promote research, education and entrepreneur collaboration among Duke and its partners in India. 

Bergen said one of the research projects in India that led to the foundation of DII involved observing the discoloration of the Taj Mahal. 

“We put one inch marble pieces on the Taj Mahal and left them for a few months,” Bergin said, adding that the white tiles became brown from discoloration likely caused by increasing amounts of air pollution. 

A second focus of Bergin's work was on assessing the effects of air pollution on the efficiency of solar panels in India.

“Cleaning [the solar panels] increases electricity generation by two-fold,” Bergin said. 

He explained that leaving solar panels unclean can result in “losing billions of dollars per year.” He also noted observing similar results in other countries, including China and Mexico. One of the main contributors to the air pollution seen on the solar panels was the residue left by smoke from burning biomass and waste. 

Bergin led another study in India with Duke students to investigate this further. Students collected and burned biomass and waste from different areas to look at the different pollutants that were emitted. They also took aerial pictures of areas with large amounts of waste using a drone. 

Students looking to further explore the issue of air pollution in India, or any other research and educational activities related to India can apply to faculty projects later this year. Participation is highly encouraged, and involved students will have opportunities to work on projects with Duke's partners in India. DII is also considering including a semester-long study abroad option for students. 

Students attending the launch of DII were excited at the chance to contribute to Duke's efforts in India. 

“This is very exciting,” said sophomore Tenzin Yangkey, who grew up in India. “I like the opportunity to come back and research.” 


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