Walbridge Fund 2021 graduate researcher explores finding methane leaks with lasers

Wednesday, Jul 21, 2021
by Morgan Kelly, for the High Meadows Environmental Institute

The High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) has selected 11 Princeton University graduate students as 2021 recipients of the Walbridge Fund Graduate Award for Environmental Research. The awardees include Michael Soskind, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering.

Soskind plans to expand the functionality of a mobile laser-based detection system he developed for precisely locating and repairing methane leaks in natural gas infrastructure. He will focus on developing a high-power amplifier for the device’s laser that would make it more effective at detecting trace amounts of this potent greenhouse gas in windy conditions and in low-reflectivity environments such as urban centers.

His project is titled “High-Power, Narrow Linewidth Laser Source for Fugitive Trace-Gas Sensing and Localization." He is advised by Gerard Wysocki, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The other 10 awardees, from across seven disciplines, will explore environmental topics such as an efficient, low-cost material for capturing carbon emissions at the source; the development of new genetic tools that would use light to produce the proteins essential for making meat and dairy alternatives; the response of black-carbon particles to atmospheric moisture over time; the expression of specific yeast genes to enable the industrial-scale production of a key biofuel; and the development of a supply-and-demand model for the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) commodities market.

In its 13th year, the Walbridge Award program provides up to $10,000 in research funding to Princeton Ph.D. candidates pursuing innovative research on climate science, energy solutions, environmental policy or, more broadly, on other environmental topics. With the latest awards, nearly 60 Princeton graduate students have received research support from the program.