Wayne State University

Wayne State research team receives Azure Award from Microsoft to use artificial intelligence to address environmental issues

DETROIT – A team of Wayne State researchers have received an Azure Award – the “AI for Earth” award – from Microsoft. The awards are intended to drive exploration and discovery by providing innovative data science, spatial analysis and visualization tools to organizations focused on finding solutions to climate change, loss of biodiversity, agricultural cost and yield, and increased water scarcity.

Wayne State’s project, “AI for Earth: A Cloud-based Analytics for Real-time Monitoring of Landfills/Superfund Sites and the Adjacent Watershed,” aims to address the issue of water contamination in Michigan caused from leakage of toxic and superfund sites, which poses significant challenges to environmental and human health.

According to the research team led by Yongli Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Weisong Shi, Ph.D., professor of computer science, the various pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) from toxic and superfund sites are major concerns due to their multiple pathways for human consumption and exposure – breathing, drinking water, contaminated foods (i.e. fish) and absorption through skin. It is currently difficult to measure and analyze data from sampling methods due to high costs and complexity of current analytical methods.

“Our project will develop an in-situ and real-time, high-resolution and cost-efficient Internet of Things (IoT) sensing network for detecting and monitoring VOCs and SVOCs,” said Zhang. “We will incorporate IoT sensing networks, machine learning, cloud computing and ESRI’s ArcMap tools to develop an open-source, real-time and cloud-based simulation tool with user-friendly maps, visuals and educational media that will create a comprehensive network for real-time detection and monitoring of water contamination, and improve public awareness of these issues in a timely manner.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has estimated that there are approximately 4,000 toxic sites in Michigan that are contaminated due to VOCs and SVOCs, with 65 of them being listed as National Priorities List (NPL) sites. In addition, the metro Detroit area is surrounded by a number of toxic and superfund sites due to heavy contamination caused by hazardous waste that poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.

“To address these critical concerns, we will develop a distributed monitoring network that contains sensors at one superfund site and selected locations of the adjacent watershed as a pilot project to monitor and analyze VOCs and SVOCs in real time by levering our edge computing technique and the AI services provided by Microsoft Cloud,” said Shi. “In addition, we will be able to monitor other environmental and water conditions such as temperature, pH, conductivity and more.”

The results that the Wayne State team collects will help improve water quality and the health of communities around the superfund site. Eventually, the simulation tool will be available to others for monitoring purposes.

In addition to Shi and Zhang, Javad Roostaei, Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering and master student in computer science at Wayne State, will collaborate on the project.

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About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.