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Meet Vic Etyemezian, Ph.D.

  • Published in Featured Researchers

Vic Etyemezian, Ph.D., is a research professor in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, NV. He specializes in the study of dust emissions, including dust that occurs along roadways, volcanic ash, and landscape dust. Vic holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, a Master’s degree in environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University, and Bachelor’s degrees from California Institute of Technology and Occidental College. He has been a member of the DRI community since 1999, when he came to Las Vegas for a post-doctoral position. In his free time, Vic enjoys cycling, running, traveling, and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

DRI: What do you do here at DRI?

VE: I’m a research professor in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences. I work in the field of air quality, and I specifically focus on issues related to dust in the air. I also develop instrumentation for studying and measuring dust, such as a portable device called the PI-SWERL, which we use to test and measure the potential for wind erosion and dust emissions from land surfaces.

DRI: We understand that much of your work involves fugitive dust. What is fugitive dust?

VE: A lot of air pollutants come out of tubes or pipes or some kind of effluent stream -- something like a factory smokestack or a tailpipe from a car. Fugitive emissions are pollutants that don’t come out of a stack; they’re derived from across a broad area. Dust falls into that category because it’s pretty much everywhere, especially in arid regions. It doesn’t come out of a stack, so that’s why it’s called a fugitive.

vic etyemezian 8Dr. Antje Lauer from California State University (right) instructs a student (Center) on how to collect surface samples for analysis for Valley Fever spores, while George Nikolich of DRI’s Particulate Emissions Measurement Lab prepares the DRI-developed PI-SWERL for a suspended sample collection test. Credit: Vic Etyemezian.

DRI: What kinds of new tools and technology are you developing to measure fugitive dust? 

VE: One of the things that we’re working on right now is to develop a sensor that can be used in arid regions. It can essentially take measurements of wind and the movement of sand that results from that wind, and also the movement of dust that is suspended resulting from that wind. What you can do with these sensors, if they’re inexpensive enough, is to deploy them by the hundreds or the thousands in places that might be too remote to have humans visit regularly or that may pose other difficulties for installation of standard instrumentation.

DRI: Can you give us an example of how you hope to use these sensors?

We think these sensors will be useful if you’re trying to identify hotspots for blowing dust near highways, for example. There are a lot of places in New Mexico and Arizona and parts of Nevada where strong winds lead to brownout conditions that sometimes cause drastic accidents on highways and even fatalities. So, we’d like to use these instruments to help identify where a lot of the dust comes from.

vic etyemezian 10George Nikolich (left) and Vic Etyemezian (right) work on air quality monitoring equipment at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas. Credit: Dave Becker/Nevada Momentum.

The second thing we’d like to do, if at all possible, is to give is an early warning of a dust event that’s about to happen. As soon as the sand starts to move at the ground surface at the source area, we’d like to send out an early warning – either to motorists or to the people operating the roadway to figure out if they want to shut it down in time.

That’s one example of how you could use this technology. We actually have a pilot site right now at the Lordsburg Playa near Las Cruces, NM, where we have six of these prototype devices deployed. They are transmitting data in real time back to us. We aren’t using the data for anything specific at the moment, we’re essentially just testing the system to see if it works.

DRI: What do you hope to accomplish in your career?

VE: I want to help supply the research community with better tools to make better decisions and help increase the amount of useful information that is out there. As a scientist, what you’d like to do is of course discover new things, but as an environmental scientist, what you’d like to do is make contributions that help improve our understanding of the environment and ultimately improve the quality of life. Better air quality, better water quality. So, if I can bring my skills to help in that pursuit, then that’d be great.

vic etyemezian 9George Nikolich (left) watches while Jack Gillies (right) and Egli Air pilot, Matt Rowley (middle) complete preflight planning prior to a flight into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in Alaska to collect volcanic ash samples. Credit: Vic Etyemezian.

vic etyemezian 11 View of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in Alaska from a helicopter on the route to collecting volcanic ash samples. The pumice plain in the foreground has been undergone significant incision by water streams since it was deposited in 1912 during the eruption of the Novarupta. In the distance on the left is Mt Katmai. Credit: Vic Etyemezian.

For more information about Vic and his research, please visit:

For more information about the instruments Vic has developed, visit:


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