Alumnus (Postdoctoral Fellow) and Associate, Harvard-China Project
Researcher Spotlight (first published 2018): When Meng Gao was in high school in Nanjing, he remembers seeing a distinct haze settling on the city one night. “The next day, my teacher told us it wasn’t fog, because that’s what we thought,” says Gao, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard-China Project. “And our teacher told us that if we breathed it, it wouldn’t be good for our health.” For Meng, it was a revelation. “I’d like to do something to contribute to solving that,” he thought at the time.
That mission brought him to the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, where he earned a degree in atmospheric physics in 2012, and then to the University of Iowa, where he earned his PhD in chemical engineering in 2015, studying a mix of atmospheric physics and chemistry. Soon after graduating from Iowa, he saw an opening at the Harvard-China Project, thought the description matched his background, and applied, hoping to broaden his research. “I knew that clean energy was a solution for the haze problem — and the climate change problem, and the China Project conducts research in all of these areas” says Meng. “So I wanted to gain some new expertise.”
While much of his PhD work had focused on researching specific “haze” events, his current research is focused on the long-term trends in these events in China, as well as in India — and the impact of climate change on these trends. He’s also collaborating with Prof. John Evans of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, looking at the health impacts of fine particulate matter, and working with other Harvard-China Project researchers to examine the long-term effects of climate change on the potential of wind power. “I’ve enjoyed getting experience in this really diverse group,” Meng says of his work at the Harvard-China Project, “because I can learn a lot from people with different backgrounds.”
In the end, his goal remains the same one he’s had since high school: finding a solution to the haze. “The Chinese government really wants to solve this problem,” says Meng. “But if you want to solve a problem, you have to understand the problem. That’s the first step.” We know what causes it, of course, says Meng: energy consumption and the resulting emissions of air pollutants. “But for economic development it’s not realistic for government to cut emissions altogether,” he notes. “So, we really want to understand which is the key point to solve that problem. The goal for my research is to provide some positive implications to the government to help it efficiently reduce emissions and air pollution.”
(Written by Dan Morrell)