Sylvia Dee, Caroline Masiello and Mark Torres receive grant to study environmental implications of COVID-19


Grants to Rice faculty support diagnostic, environmental, social projects

The Rice University COVID-19 Research Fund Oversight and Review Committee announced it will fund six additional projects by faculty working to mitigate the effects of the new coronavirus.

Researchers at Rice, some with the help of off-campus colleagues, plan to develop a device that rapidly identifies high-risk COVID-19 patients; a mobile phone-based test to detect the virus; a project to show how images, narratives and histories shape pandemic response; a study of how COVID-19 response policies impact air quality; a survey of Harris County residents to identify barriers to staying at home; and a study of the environmental impact of COVID-19 in Texas.

Six new projects represent the second round to be backed by the fund; the initial four projects were announced on April 20. The application window has recently closed and additional awards will be announced in the coming weeks, according to the committee led by Marcia O’Malley, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Mechanical Engineering and a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science. O’Malley is a special adviser to the provost on educational and research initiatives for collaborative health.

The EEPS-led project proposed by Sylvia Dee, Ted Loch-TemzelidesCaroline Masiello and Mark Torres will take advantage of a “crucial but short-lived research window” to evaluate the short-term impacts of rapid environmental mitigation during the coronavirus crisis and how environmental pollution and economic activity affect each other. The crisis, they suggest, provides a glimpse of how Earth’s environment and its climate system might respond to aggressive, fast-paced carbon-mitigation. It also provides an opportunity to assess which sectors of the economy — energy production, the restaurant industry or grocery supply chains — contribute maximally to environmental pollution, given explicit knowledge of closure and shelter-in-place policy timelines.

To aggressively monitor and capture environmental change from several months before the pandemic through the return to business as usual, undergraduate researchers will gather and synthesize data to build a mapping software tool for Texas. Users will be able to zoom in on their home counties and see how COVID-19 policies affected local environmental pollution conditions in real time, in both mapped and graphical visualizations.

Dee and Torres are assistant professors of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences. Loch-Temzelides is the George and Cynthia Mitchell Chair in Sustainable Development and a professor of economics. Masiello is a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences.



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