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Undergraduate researcher merges her two loves: The environment and automobiles

As car manufacturers work to meet environmental standards, they require the newest and best research. Bailey Burdue, a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Engineering, is doing her part to learn the techniques required for effective research.

Burdue chose to study environmental engineering when she was in high school, and it has since seemed like a perfect fit for her. “I wanted to combine engineering and nature,” she said. “I have always enjoyed math as well as understanding natural processes and what I can do to alter our footprint on the world.”

Under the training of Andrew May, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering, Burdue performs research at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). Their project, titled “Quantification of Tailpipe Emissions during Engine Restarts from Vehicles with Idle-Reduction Technologies,” aims to measure the environmental effects of engine emissions from vehicles with idle-reduction technologies, such as engines that turn off when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. She joined the team in May 2016 and has contributed to data collection and analysis, as well as learning how to use computer programming and new tools to better understand the emissions data.

“I started research with Dr. May prior to having any organic chemistry knowledge so it was necessary for me to pay attention and ask questions about components I didn't know,” she said. “Overall, I felt as though it was a valuable experience in understanding more about how emissions testing works, what software goes into this, as well as the computations necessary to receive the data we wanted.”

She most enjoyed her time spent in the garage and gathering data. Reading measurements from the tools greatly interested her, and she especially enjoyed working with the multi-gas Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer, which was donated by General Motors (GM). Burdue’s enthusiasm for learning how the FTIR spectrometer worked helped her fully understand the resulting analysis of the emissions being tested.

When asked about how she became interested in automotive research, Burdue Burdue preparing to go into the painting building during her internship at General Motors.Burdue preparing to go into the painting building during her internship at General Motors.replied, “Both my dad and my grandpa worked at GM. Ever since I was young, a positive mindset toward the auto industry has been present in my life.” Burdue chose automotive research in order to combine her interest in the automotive industry and her love of the environment. She witnessed the applicability of environmental research in the automotive industry after touring GM in high school; she realized that she was more curious about how the facility handled its waste than the mechanical components, which is the focus of her dad’s work.

Burdue had the opportunity to intern at GM over the summer. There, she worked on storm water compliance, which, while not quite overlapping with her research in air emissions, was nonetheless important to understanding the relationship between the automotive industry and the environment.  After graduation, Burdue plans to pursue a career in environmental engineering or environmental science. She would like to use her skills in obtaining and interpreting data to analyze problems and form solutions that might ultimately benefit the environment.