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Akua Asa-Awuku

Associate Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering
Akua Asa-Awuku
Improving Air Quality
Working in the world’s largest indoor air quality chamber, Akua Asa-Awuku looks at particle formation in the atmosphere and how it interacts with water, affecting cloud formation and global climate change.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Environmental Protection Agency Grant (2011)
  • NSF-FACES Career Initiation Grant Recipient (2009)
  • NSF- FACES Postdoctoral Fellowship (2008)
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Post Doctoral Scholar (2008)
  • Outstanding Teaching Assistant, Georgia Tech (2006)
  • NASA Earth Sun-Systems Graduate Fellowship


Q: How do clouds play a role in climate?
Particle formation and composition affect cloud formation. Particles provide the seeds for water vapor to condense so clouds can form. Clouds reflect energy back into space, causing a cooling effect that can counteract what we see from greenhouse gasses that warm.

Q: How do particles affect air quality?
In terms of visibility on humid days, when we have a lot of particles in the atmosphere, the particles swell with water so we have less visibility. The role in which water condenses on those particles is part of the research I do, which is why I look at the composition of particles.

If we inhale particles, they have detrimental effects. We expose particles to high amounts of water vapor super saturation within our respiratory system, which can also form droplets and change the locations that they deposit in the respiratory system.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your research?
My previous background is in chemical engineering and I’ve always been interested in incorporating environmental aspects into what I do. I’m very concerned with the Earth and how we as humans can make a positive impact and understand the detrimental impacts.

Q: Why should everyone be concerned with climate change?
I understand not everyone may be concerned with climate change but everyone should be concerned with air quality, and the two are very much intertwined. The components that affect air quality also impact the atmosphere and climate. Climate change will significantly impact the way we live – our economics, transportation, our quality of life.

Q: What is the best part of doing your research at UCR?
Having the tools we need to succeed. UC Riverside’s College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research & Technology (CE-CERT) has the world’s largest indoor air quality chamber. It is temperature- and pressure-controlled allowing us to simulate particle formation in the atmosphere. In addition, we have advanced instrumentation to look at the chemistry and physics of particles we form including the chemicals of the gas phase and physical properties such as water uptake and volatility of the particles.

Q: How does the chamber work?
We’re able to inject gas phase species and oxidants like ozone and see how they react with the precursor gas we inject to form low volatility condense phase materials that form particles, and we watch how they evolve in our chamber.

Q: What is the future of air quality research?
We've made many advances in air quality however much is still not understood about the composition and fate of gas-phase and particles in the atmosphere. The emissions and evolution of trace species that can be detrimental to health and their links to human respiratory symptoms and diseases must be quantified.

Q: How is California doing? Are we making progress?
We have over 50 years of atmospheric expertise at UC Riverside. Many important results and findings from the research done at UCR have been incorporated into state and federal regulations. The air quality in the Inland Empire has vastly improved but there is still more we can do.

Q: Why is UC Riverside a great place to work?
We have a community that truly cares. From undergraduate to graduate students, faculty and administration, we all care about making a difference where we live and where we work.

Q: What does Living the Promise mean to you?
To me, Living the Promise is being true to science, following problems that matter and finding solutions that make a difference.

Q: What advice do you have for students graduating in the next five years?
I would advise students to hone their talents and focus their efforts on to something they care about. Passion is important and having the expertise to apply it really counts, no matter what the profession.

Akua Asa-Awuku “I understand not everyone may be concerned with climate change but everyone should be concerned with air quality, and the two are very much intertwined.”

—Akua Asa-Awuku
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