Share Tweet Share Email

What’s really being coughed up by our cars?

January 7, 2016

Car-ExhaustLast fall, the automobile industry and eco-minded consumers were rocked by the revelation that Volkswagen had intentionally manipulated sensors in its cars – 11 million in all – to beat emissions tests, letting their diesel engines spew illegally high amounts of harmful nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere.

At the next STEM Café, two NIU professors will explore how such deceptions occur and how they affect human health. The free talk, “What’s Really Being Coughed Up by Our Cars,” will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, at Fatty’s Pub and Grille, 1312 W. Lincoln Hwy. in DeKalb.

Michael Haji-Sheikh, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, will explain exactly how and why Volkswagen manipulated the emissions regulations system. He will also share how a college professor and his students uncovered the deception.

Prior to joining the NIU faculty in 2002, Haji-Sheikh worked for ten years at Honeywell’s division of sensing and controls, focusing primarily on car sensors.

I think people will be surprised to learn how easy it was to beat the system,” Haji-Sheikh says. “There are more sensors in automobiles than ever before, but they don’t necessarily prevent cheating. The way the systems are interconnected lets them work together to protect the environment – or to fool regulators.”

Michael Haji-Sheikh and Theodore Hogan

Michael Haji-Sheikh and Theodore Hogan

Theodore Hogan, an assistant professor of technology in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, will focus on how chemicals such as nitrogen oxide harm human health.

Like Haji-Sheikh, he will draw on years of experience in the field. As a member of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, he helps develop workplace chemical exposure guidelines that are relied on worldwide.

Hogan will talk about how the human health risks of different chemicals are evaluated and explain why the Volkswagen scandal is such a big deal.

“There is a link between the magnitude of air pollution and the number of heart attacks,” he says. “That’s why regulation – and enforcement – are so important.”

“This is a perfect chance for anyone who wants to learn more about a complex global scandal from local experts,” says STEM Outreach associate Judith Dymond. “It will be a stimulating evening for people interested in how cars work today, but also for anyone who cares about human health in the world of modern technology.”

This event is part of STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, all of which are free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from Fatty’s. In addition to the STEM Café series, NIU STEM Outreach hosts other engaging events throughout the year to increase public awareness of the critical roles the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – play in everyday lives.

For more information call (815) 753-4751 or email [email protected].