Kelsey Bilsback, mechanical engineering, Ph.D.
When considering graduate programs, Kelsey Bilsback wanted to take her physics degree to the next level, and gain a deeper understanding of why science matters.
“While pursuing my undergraduate degree, people would ask me, ‘why are you doing this?’ I wanted a better answer for that question,” she said. While she felt that the theoretical research she conducted as an undergraduate student was interesting for the sake of science, she wanted to work on projects with more practical applications.
The quest for applied research led Kelsey to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University, where she has been studying air pollution in developing countries with Dr. John Volckens since 2013. “Approximately ninety percent of the people in developing countries are using cookstoves for their everyday cooking and energy needs,” said Bilsback, and this reliance on solid fuels is a big concern for human health and the environment.
While household air pollution due to the use of solid fuels is a top-five cause of disease on our planet, Bilsback’s primary research goal is to better quantify cookstove emissions in the developing world. Because people use different stove technologies, fuel types, and cooking practices throughout the globe, Bilsback must gather field data from multiple sites to better understand the problem.
Quantifying cookstove emissions in the developing world
Funded by the EPA to look at climate impacts, Bilsback visited four different representative field sites to gather data: China, Honduras, Uganda, and just this summer, India.
During her trip to India, Bilsback visited ten different homes and measured the characteristics of emissions coming off their stoves as residents performed their normal cooking practices. One of the unique observations she made of Indian cooking practices as they compared to those in the other three countries she visited was that many people were using animal waste as one of their primary fuel sources, which was not commonly observed in any of the other countries.
Amid gathering data, Bilsback appreciated the openness of the people in the homes she visited. “I feel like if someone knocked on my door and asked, ‘can we measure your cookstove emissions?’ I might not be as enthusiastic. But the people we visited were receptive and curious about the work we were doing,” she said.
Though the health implications of cookstove emissions may be central to the developing world, from a climate standpoint it is a global issue, and therefore one that affects us all. While her doctoral research is focused on better understanding the problem of air pollution due to cookstove emissions, Bilsback hopes her work will facilitate creative solutions to the problem in the future.