MecE Professor Accelerates Aerosol Science

Dr. Jason Olfert, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta was recently awarded NSERC’s Accelerator Grant, an additional $120,000 awarded based on the merit of an applicant’s NSERC Discovery Grant.

Olfert studies aerosol science. “Aerosols are what we call particles when they’re suspended in air,” he explains. “I’ve developed a device that can accurately measure the various sizes of particles suspended in a sample of air and determine the range and distribution of particle sizes. It does this without electrically charging the particles, which causes problems in other instruments.”

“The grant is to develop mathematical techniques, which doesn’t sound very exciting” says Olfert, laughing. “But the technique will make my device much more useful to aerosol science and increase its applications.”

Olfert developed his “aerodynamic aerosol classifier” in collaboration with a UK company, Cambustion. The classifier determines the range and distribution of particle sizes suspended in a sample of air by measuring their aerodynamic properties which, Olfert explains, are related to their size. 

On his sabbatical from the University of Alberta in 2014-2015, Olfert worked with Cambustion in Cambridge to design and test a commercial version of the classifier. “Cambustion has been really great,” says Olfert. “They’ve licensed the device and we’ve got patents in Canada, the US and Japan.”

With his Accelerator Grant, Olfert will develop a mathematical technique called data inversion, which will translate the raw data of the classifier into a readable and useful output. “CT scanners are a good example of how an inversion algorithm works,” explains Olfert. “The radiation in the scanner sends signals to the detectors on the outside of the machine, which then need to be turned into a 2D picture. An inversion algorithm does that translation.”

The inversion algorithm that Olfert develops with his Accelerator Grant will translate the classifier’s data into readable measurements of aerosol properties, with various applications. “There are pharmaceutical applications, for example,” says Olfert. “You can use the classifier to determine the size of pharmaceutical aerosols, which will tell you where the particles will deposit in the lung.”

Olfert’s NSERC Accelerator Grant will contribute to new knowledge and new applications in Canadian aerosol science.

Visit the Cambustion website for more information, including an animation of the classifier.