Profile: Robert Healy
Robert Healy in an Environmental Chemistry research student in the Chemistry dept of University College Cork.
He is trying to work out what happens to car exhaust fumes when they are released into the atmosphere.
Robert simulates what happens in the real atmosphere in a huge artificial atmospheric chamber where he pumps in noxious gases, shines UV light on the gases and then detects what reactions happen in the atmosphere between different gases and compounds.
He is specifically investigating what happens to benzene when it is released into the atmosphere and how it changes when exposed to sunlight and other compounds. He is also discovering how nanoparticles are formed from exhaust fumes. These nano particles can be particularly harmful to humans when inhaled in the lung as they become lodged and start attacking the surrounding tissue.
It is hoped by understanding the way different compounds react with each other that scientists can make recommendations for air pollution measuring guidelines. It should also help classify how dangerous some compounds in fuel are.
A lot of funding comes from the EU because it is important to understand air pollution and as a result there is a lot of cross-collaboration between research departments across Europe.
Robert has had a lot of travelling opportunities as part of his Ph.D – presenting papers at different conferences and working for 6 month stints in different universities. He thinks the cross-collaboration is a great part of the work because it’s not competitive about finding a cure or a drug, it’s about making the picture clearer and more detailed for the scientific community.
Robert’s favourite part of his job is the travel – he’s had the opportunity to work in Switzerland and Spain over the last few years of his Ph.D.