Faces of Research - Meet Michael Chang
Nov 15, 2021 — Atlanta, GA
Meet Michael Chang, associate director of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS) at Georgia Tech.
BBISS is one of Georgia Tech's 10 interdisciplinary research institutes (IRIs) within the Georgia Tech Research enterprise.
What is your field of expertise and why did you choose it?
My first degree and first career were in aerospace engineering. In the late 1980s with a new diploma in hand from Georgia Tech, I moved to Long Beach, California to work for McDonnell Douglas. Living in the pollution of Los Angeles, however, I discovered that I was more interested in what was in the air than in the military transport plane I was helping to design to fly through it. A couple years later, I decided a career change was in order. I chose to come back to Georgia Tech for graduate school mostly based on location and proximity to family and friends. I got lucky when the Institute suddenly became THE center and place to be for air quality research.
What makes the way in which your IRI enables campus research unique?
Sustainability is an exceptionally broad topic. With its three legs of “people, planet, and profit,” nearly every subject is relevant and can be analyzed through the lens of sustainability and made better – water, air, transportation, manufacturing, materials, energy, buildings, computing, forests, agriculture, public health, and more. There is a sustainability angle to all these topics and more. We’re the one IRI that knits every topic together. We enable research on campus by enabling the people that are doing the knitting and connecting topics to the environment, to equity, and to the costs and benefits that society cares about.
What couldn’t have happened without your IRI?
Sustainability is a popular research topic at Georgia Tech. So, in the last few years, with BBISS assistance and with the BBISS Director, John Crittenden, providing an example, more investigators at Tech are now thinking big, taking more risks, and trying to go after the biggest opportunities.
What impact is your IRI research having on the world?
The decade long Southern Oxidants Study was a massive congressionally funded research project to figure out why the Southern U.S. air was different from everywhere else in which air quality had been studied previously (e.g., Los Angeles, London, Mexico City) and why what worked to improve air quality elsewhere did not work here. That study changed the way air quality is managed in Atlanta, across the South, in the U.S., and around the world. And I had a front row seat to not just watch it, but to play a role too. It was fun and it made a real difference in people’s lives. Among other projects, today I still participate in the daily forecasting of air quality (smog alerts) for the Atlanta, Columbus, and Macon metro areas, a project I was asked to start while still in graduate school in support of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not working on your research or teaching?
I like to be outdoors, but I’m not an outdoorsman. I don’t like to exercise, but I like to be active. I guess I like to play and do the things I’ve loved doing since I was a kid: biking, swimming, paddling, gardening, gazing at the moon/clouds/stars, making stuff for no reason, fixing things that aren’t broken, and doing things I probably shouldn’t be doing, anything that gets me outside and away from a screen.