York Atmospheric Chemist gives British Science Festival presidential address

Posted on 12 September 2018

As newly named president of the British Science Association’s Chemistry Section, Dr Jacqui Hamilton will speak on the UK’s dangerously high diesel fuel pollution levels, and the hidden emissions we aren’t yet detecting.


Figure 1: Estimate of the underestimation factor of diesel emissions in the UK’s Emissions Inventory compared to ambient measurements taken in London during winter.

In the address, which marks the start of her year-long presidency, Dr Hamilton will focus on research carried out at the Department of Chemistry’s Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories into the impact of diesel emissions on air quality, including the “missing emissions”, and will explore what this means for our health and the planet.

Heart disease and stroke are the two most common causes of premature deaths due to air pollution, with other impacts including increases in respiratory and cardiovascular disease and cancer. By far the most damaging air pollutant to health is particulate matter (PM). The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe estimated that in 2010, the total damage costs of the health impacts and mortality of air pollution to the EU was US$1.6 trillion (WHO, 2015). Ever since the United States Environment Protection Agency issued a Violation Notice of the Clean Air Act to the car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) in 2015, the emission of harmful pollutants from diesel engines has received considerable public attention. The installation of a defeat device in VW vehicles led the cars to emit levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic pollutant, exceeding current emission regulations. In the UK, the fraction of newly registered vehicles using diesel fuel has risen from less than 10 per cent in 1991 to almost 50 per cent in 2015, but sales dropped by 17 per cent last year as a result of the ongoing fallout from this scandal. There is mounting evidence to suggest that diesel vehicle emissions of NOx are too high under normal driving conditions. Dr Hamilton’s presentation will investigate the role of other “missing” pollutants from diesel vehicles, in particular long chain hydrocarbons, and discuss their impact on air quality.

Dr Hamilton, nominated for presidency of the chemistry section as an individual who has made a significant contribution to their scientific field, said:

“I'm delighted to be presenting this important research to the public at the British Science Festival and hope to stimulate some interesting discussion.”

The address, entitled “Missing Emissions” will take place at the Brynmor Jones Library, University of Hull at 2pm on Friday 14 September.

The British Science Festival is Europe’s longest standing science festival and the largest public showcase for science in the UK. It brings a programme of free events to the public over four or five days, in a different part of the country every year, aiming to connect people with scientists, engineers, technologists and social scientists. It is organised by the British Science Association (BSA), founded in 1831 and incorporated by Royal Charter. The BSA’s first meeting was at the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in York. Its mission is to “transform the diversity and inclusivity of science; to reach under-served audiences, and increase the number of people who are actively engaged and involved in science”.