Dr. Ahmed M. Soliman, a visiting professor for Denison’s Environmental Studies Department, started his academic career studying physics in Egypt. In 1996, Soliman moved to the United States to complete a master's program in Physics at the University of Denver, where he worked on studying the molecular dynamics of laser sputtering.
Eventually, Soliman had a desire to make a more immediate impact by working more directly with environmental solutions. “My background is in physics, but eventually I wanted to go outside the lab, to go into the real world and work on environmental issues,” Soliman said.
So, he went on to study environmental engineering at Purdue University, earning a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, while focusing on transportation-related environmental problems. In 2008 he co-authored a paper titled “A Quantitative Approach to the Traffic Air Quality Problem: The Traffic Air Quality Index” published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association.
Soliman’s research specifically focused on I-94, a major east-to-west highway route for trucks in the United States.
“Transportation has a major impact on air quality, which is especially dependent upon how far away from major roadways you live,” Soliman said. “So it has a major impact within about a mile on both sides of the road. People in that radius may be suffering as much as people living next to stationary sources of pollution, like coal-fired power plants.
“Of course, one of the biggest findings and I think that this is intuitive to everyone is that the more traffic jams you have the worse air quality will be.”
Soliman first became interested in air pollution in his home country of Egypt. “I’ve always been interested in air quality because it was one of the major problems we used to have—and still have—back in Egypt. Black clouds and air pollution episodes that happen every year. It hurts people, and it’s not even a local problem because it happens on major scale. It can actually impact a lot of cities, and a lot of people.”
Since becoming a professor at Denison, Soliman has shifted the focus of his research from transportation-caused air pollution to issues of domestic energy efficiency. Using his physics background, Soliman is currently independently studying computational fluid dynamics, or CFD analysis, to better understand how businesses and homeowners might be able to maximize their energy efficiency by utilizing passive systems, like using large, well insulated windows to gather energy from the sun and reduce the use of fossil fuels for heating purposes.
As a Denison professor, Dr. Soliman is most interested in teaching students how to quantify scientific environmental solutions, by digging into the details about how solutions like renewable energy systems function at their core.
“People tend to use catch phrases like ‘renewable energy is good’ or ‘fossil fuel is bad’ without really quantifying those solutions,” Soliman said.
Dr. Soliman has plans to introduce higher-level courses on renewable energy systems. In one of these future courses, Soliman hopes to provide students with the opportunity to focus on a specific energy system, like wind or solar photovoltaic, and actually build those systems and then study and analyze how they work.
“When you say renewable energy is good, what does that really mean? What is the level of ‘goodness?” Soliman asks.
“This is what I've tried to introduce: to quantify these systems to see if they actually work properly or not, because in some cases, some renewable energy systems can actually be catastrophic to the environment.”