SPUR 2021 HAPPIEST Projects

These projects are funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, they are also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together. Projects are listed in alphabetical order by faculty mentor last name.

APPLY TO HAPPIEST PROJECTS >>

NOTE: While we are hoping for an in-person SPUR experience, given the structure of SPUR (many participants are not U students and/or are not local to Salt Lake City) and depending on U policy for summer 2021 (on-campus research and/or U-related travel restrictions), we are prepared to offer a fully remote SPUR experience should events necessitate the transition. 

Psychiatry | School of Medicine


AEROPOLLEN EXPOSURE AND THE RISK OF SUICIDE DEATH IN UTAH

Amanda Bakian, Research Associate Professor

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with the national economic costs of suicide approximated to be $53 billion annually. While suicide’s causes are complex, suicide clusters in families and it is widely hypothesized that interactions between an underlying genetic predisposition and environmental factors are in suicide’s causal pathway. We recently reported a heightened risk of suicide following short-term exposure to fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide among all suicides in Salt Lake County, Utah from 2000-2010. Similar findings have been replicated in culturally, meteorologically, and geographically diverse regions of the world including Japan, China, Korea, and Belgium. While the biological mechanisms underlying ambient air pollution exposure’s association with suicide have yet to be well-elucidated, growing evidence implicates a role for inflammation and oxidative stress. In addition to ambient air pollution, aeropollens (i.e. pollen grains located in the air) are another potential environmental exposure linked to suicide mortality that may elicit an inflammatory response to increase risk. If so, then both ambient air pollution and aeropollens represent modifiable risk factors for suicide mortality thereby providing opportunities for intervention. If so, it is important to understand comprehensively the association between aeropollens and suicide death. The relationship between aeropollens and suicide mortality, however, has yet to be investigated in a U.S. population.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

Chemical Engineering | College of Engineering
Global Change & Sustainability Center


UNDERSTANDING INDOOR AIR QUALITY WITH LOW-COST SENSORS

Kerry Kelly, Assistant Professor

More than 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where air quality does not meet health standards. Indoor and outdoor air pollution cause serious adverse health effects, such as asthma, heart disease, cognitive impairment, and premature mortality. Recently studies have identified an increased risk of mortality due to COVID-19 in regions with elevated particulate air pollution and identified COVID-19 genetic material on air pollution particles. Indoor air quality is particularly important because most individuals spend over 80% of their time indoors. The goals of this project are twofold. First, the students will fabricate and test air quality sensors for measuring indoor air quality in the homes of 10 families living on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. These sensors will include digital and color-coded displays. Second, students will study how hosting sensors changes families’ exposure experiences, including their perceptions and behaviors. The exposure experience encapsulates the nexus between embodied health experiences and scientific understandings of pollutant exposures that influence decision-making regarding the management of risks. Students will: fabricate indoor air pollution sensors; conduct pre- and post-sensor installation interviews with the 10 families; administer surveys to families via a mobile app; analyze indoor air quality data; identify sources of air pollution and barriers to reducing exposures in families’ homes; and advise families on how to mitigate air pollution in their homes. This interdisciplinary research project will provide students with opportunities to construct sensors and conduct social science research and help local families improve indoor air quality.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

City & Metropolitan Planning | College of Architecture + Planning
Global Change & Sustainability Center


ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH OUTCOMES AT HIGH SPATIOTEMPORAL RESOLUTIONS

Daniel Mendoza, Visiting Assistant Professor

Exposure to air pollution has been associated with multiple negative health outcomes such as pulmonary and cardiovascular events, particularly among vulnerable populations. Over 200,000 people live in Salt Lake City, capital city of Utah and county seat, with over 1.2 million residents in the Salt Lake City Metropolitan area. Salt Lake City is surrounded by mountains to the south, east and west, creating a topographical basin that traps pollution during wintertime stable layers or cold-air pools (also known as inversions) leading to high levels of pollutants, especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Interstate highways, an international airport and railroad traffic, industrial pollution sources, windblown dust and wildfires are among the complex sources that contribute these episodic pollution events that are most frequent and severe in the winter and summer. With a growing population and increasing wildfire and dust storm occurrences summertime air quality is becoming an increasing public health concern. Due to the lack of granular, reliable air quality measurements, all previous pollutant exposure and health-related studies have intrinsic resolution issues when examining scales smaller than a county or city. This reduces applicability, since a single sensor cannot portray intra-city variability, nor truly represent individual or neighborhood-scale exposure. This leads to significant mischaracterization of a population’s vulnerability and potential health outcomes. Understanding that the burden of poor air quality is not shared equally among populations is a key motivator for understanding environmental exposure at neighborhood scales.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »

Psychiatry | School of Medicine


DISPARATE IMPACT OF POOR AIR QUALITY ON ETHNIC MINORITIES

Robert Welsh, Associate Professor

Over the past decade there has been an increasing focus on the adverse neurological and cognitive effects of air pollution. Increasing evidence implicates chronic exposure to high levels of particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometer in diameter) and other air pollution in cognitive decline. Additionally, research suggests that air pollution leads to changes in brain structure. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s evidence neuropathological similarities to animal models of pollutant exposure, as well as to autopsy studies of children living in high-pollution areas. Air pollution exposure is associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular functioning and concomitant adverse effects on cognition, including progression to dementia. Prospective studies have identified inverse associations between amount of exposure over a given number of years with current cognitive functioning or decline in functioning. Cross-sectional studies also indicate that individuals, and especially older individuals, exposed to poor quality air demonstrate worse performance on objective cognitive measures relative to individuals with less exposure. Understanding how air pollution affects various groups, including ethnic minorities is paramount. In the coming decades, the proportion of elderly that are Hispanic in the U.S. will double or even triple. These facts point to the pressing need to better understand the interaction of air pollution, socioeconomic factors, health, and lifestyle on cognition and brain changes in an older Hispanic population. This project will collect state-of-the-art neuroimaging data, air quality data, and cognitive testing from a cohort of elder Hispanics.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Learn more »