Allen L. Robinson-Engineering and Public Policy - Carnegie Mellon University

Allen L. Robinson

Department Head and Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professor, Mechanical Engineering

Professor, Engineering and Public Policy

Department of Mechanical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Office: Scaiffe Hall 401
Phone: (412) 268-3657
Assistant:: Patricia Eicholtz - (412) 268-3860
Research Interests: Research in air pollution, renewable energy, combustion, and indoor air quality.


  • Carnegie Mellon 1998-

Professor Robinson joined Carnegie Mellon in 1998 after working for two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia National Laboratories. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Mechanical Engineering in 1996 and his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Stanford University in 1990. Dr. Robinson received the Ahrens Career Development Chair in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005 and the George Tallman Ladd Outstanding Young Faculty Award from Carnegie Mellon University in 2000. He has received substantial research support from EPA, DOE, NSF, DoD, and the Allegheny County Health Department.



  • B.S. (Civil Engineering) Stanford University, 1990
  • M.S. (Mechanical Engineering), University of California at Berkeley, 1993
  • Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering), University of California at Berkeley, 1996.


Professor Allen Robinson's research examines the technical and policy issues related to energy and the environment. A current focus is fine particulate matter – 50,000 Americans are estimated to die prematurely each year from fine particle pollutant and almost 70 million people in the United States live in areas that violate the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particle mass. Atmospheric particles also have a controlling influence on Earth’s climate and degrade visibility.

Air Quality and Particulate Matter

A major thrust of Prof. Robinson’s research is characterizing fine particle emissions from combustion systems such as diesel engines. Laboratory experiments using dilution samplers and a smog chamber have revealed a dynamic new picture for primary organic aerosol emissions, in which these emissions evaporate, oxidize, and recondense over time. These findings require updated approaches to measure and simulate emissions from combustion systems. His group is working to implement this revised framework into chemical transport models to investigate its implications on our understanding of urban, regional and global air quality. This modeling has revealed a potentially important new source of regional oxidized and presumably hydrophilic organic aerosol. Work is ongoing to better understand the health consequences and climate effects of these pollutants.

Prof. Robinson also works on quantifying the sources of ambient air pollution, a critical step to developing effective regulations. This research integrates field measurements with receptor- and emission-based modeling to better understand sources of organic aerosol. An emerging effort utilizes highly time resolved measurements of volatile and semivolatile organic compounds in source apportionment models. His group is also conducting smog chamber studies to investigate the photochemical stability of molecular markers commonly used for source apportionment. The ultimate goal is to develop more cost-effective regulatory strategies.

Biomass Energy & Global Climate

Prof. Robinson is also interested in biomass energy. Biomass (wood, agricultural residues, and fast-growing "energy" crops) is a renewable energy resource that is CO2-neutral, if utilized in a sustainable manner. He has worked extensively on cofiring biomass and coal in existing coal-fired utility boilers. Cofiring represents a near-term pathway for dramatically increasing our utilization of biomass energy. He is also working on a project to characterize air pollutant emissions from engines operating on ethanol-gasoline blends and biodiesel. The laboratory data will be implemented in air quality models to assess the impacts of widespread adoption of alternative fuels on urban and regional air quality to help inform future policy decisions.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Much of Prof. Robinson’s research is conducted as part of the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies (CAPS) at Carnegie Mellon University. Strengths of the Center include the close coupling between science and policy, and extensive interplay between experiment and modeling. This interdisciplinary Center involves five core faculty members and more than 25 graduate and post-doctoral fellows in four engineering departments and the chemistry department. The Center is tightly integrated, with a large shared laboratory, weekly group seminars, and many students being co-advised by multiple faculty members.


  1. A.L. Robinson, N.M. Donahue, M.K. Shrivastava, E.A. Weitkamp, A.M. Sage, A.P. Grieshop, T.E. Lane, J. R. Pierce, S.N. Pandis, “Rethinking Organic Aerosols: Semivolatile Emissions and Photochemical Aging,” Science, 315, 1259-1262, 2007.
  2. A. P. Grieshop, N. M. Donahue, A. L. Robinson, “Is the Gas-Particle Partitioning in alpha-Pinene Secondary Organic Aerosol Reversible?” Geophysical Research Letters, , 34, L14810, doi:10.1029/2007GL029987, 2007.
  3. K.E. Huff Hartz, E.A Weitkamp, A.M. Sage, N.M. Donahue, and A.L. Robinson, “Laboratory Measurements of the Oxidation Kinetics of Organic Aerosol Mixtures Using a Relative Rate Constants Approach,” Journal of Geophysical Research, 112, D04204, doi:10.1029/2006JD007526, 2007.
  4. A.L. Robinson, R. Subramanian, N.M. Donahue, A. Bernardo-Bricker, and W.F. Rogge, “Source Apportionment of Molecular Markers and Organic Aerosol – 1. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Methodology for Data Visualization,” Environmental Science & Technology, 40(24):7803–7810, 2006.
  5. A.L. Robinson, R. Subramanian, N.M. Donahue, A. Bernardo-Bricker, and W.F. Rogge, “Source Apportionment of Molecular Markers and Organic Aerosol – 2. Biomass Smoke,” Environmental Science & Technology, 40(24):7811–7819, 2006.
  6. A.L. Robinson, R. Subramanian, N.M. Donahue, A. Bernardo-Bricker, and W.F. Rogge, “Source Apportionment of Molecular Markers and Organic Aerosol – 3. Food Cooking Emissions,” Environmental Science & Technology, 40(24):7820–7827, 2006.
  7. R. Subramanian, N.M. Donahue, A. Bernardo-Bricker, W.F. Rogge, and A.L. Robinson, “Contribution of Motor Vehicle Emissions to Organic Carbon and Fine Particle Mass in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Effects of Varying Source Profiles and Seasonal Trends in Ambient Marker Concentrations,” Atmospheric Environment, 40(40):8002–8019, 2006.
  8. A.P. Grieshop, E.M. Lipsky, N.J. Pekney, S. Takahama, and A.L. Robinson, “Fine Particle Emission Factors from Vehicles in a Highway Tunnel: Effects of Fleet Composition and Season,” Atmospheric Environment, 40(S2):287–298, 2006.
  9. N.M. Donahue, A.L. Robinson, C.O. Stanier, and S.N. Pandis, “The Coupled Partitioning, Dilution, and Chemical Aging of Semivolatile Organics,”Environmental Science & Technology, 40(8):2635–2643, 2006.
  10. M.K. Shrivastava, E.M. Lipsky, C.O. Stanier, and A.L. Robinson, “Modeling Semivolatile Organic Aerosol Mass Emissions from Combustion Systems,” Environmental Science & Technology, 40(8): 2671–2677, 2006.
  11. A.L. Robinson, N.M. Donahue, and W.F. Rogge, “Photochemical Oxidation and Changes in Molecular Composition of Organic Aerosol in the Regional Context,” Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, D03302, doi:10.1029/2005JD006265, 2006.
  12. E.M. Lipsky and A.L. Robinson, “Effects of Dilution on Fine Particle Mass and Partitioning of Semi-volatile Organics in Diesel Exhaust and Wood Smoke,” Environmental Science & Technology, 40(1):155–162, 2006.