Allen Robinson-Mechanical Engineering - Carnegie Mellon University

Allen Robinson

Department Head and Raymond J Lane Distinguished Professor, Mechanical Engineering

5000 Forbes Avenue
Scaife Hall 401
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: 412-268-3657
Fax: 412-268-3348
Assistant: Kate Tucker (


Prior to becoming department head, Professor Allen Robinson held a joint appointment in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University for 14 years.  His research examines the technical and policy issues related to energy and the environment.  He teaches courses on graduate and undergraduate courses on thermodynamics, atmospheric chemistry, air pollution control, climate change mitigation, combustion, and air quality engineering.    

Professor Robinson first joined Carnegie Mellon in 1998 after working for two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia National Laboratories.  In 2009-2010, Professor Robinson was a Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.  In 2012 he was a Professor at Colorado State University in the Departments of Atmospheric Science and Mechanical Engineering, before returning to Carnegie Mellon as Department Head.

Professor Robinson 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 George Tallman Ladd Outstanding Young Faculty Award from Carnegie Mellon University in 2000, the Ahrens Career Development Chair in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005, and was awarded the Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professorship in 2013.  He has received substantial research support from EPA, DOE, NSF, DoD, and the Allegheny County Health Department.

Related News:

Carnegie Mellon awarded $10M for Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions to improve health outcomes

Cookstove smoke clouds skies

Robinson receives Ascent Award

Collaborative study measures methane emissions at natural gas transmission and storage sites

Robinson's team sheds light on "brown" carbon's role in warming the planet


B.S. (Civil Engineering) 1990 Stanford University

M.S. (Mechanical Engineering) 1993 and Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering) 1996, University of California at Berkeley


Professor Robinson’s research examines the impact of emissions from energy systems on air quality and climate.  His activities include process-oriented field and laboratory experiments, development of mathematical models to describe atmospheric processes, model evaluation with field measurements, and the application of models for policy analysis and decision making.

Particulate Matter, Public Health, and Climate:

Professor Robinson’s primary research area has been on organic particulate matter and the physicochemical transformations of fine particle emissions from combustion systems.  Organic particulate matter is comprised of a complex mixture of thousands of individual compounds that can contribute up to 90% of atmospheric fine particle mass. These particles represent a major public health burden, causing more than 30,000 premature deaths per year in the U.S. and more than 800,000 globally.  Seventy million Americans live in areas that violate the federal standard for fine particle pollution.  The sources of organic particulate matter are not well understood, with atmospheric chemistry models underpredicting ambient concentrations by as much as a factor of ten.  This uncertainty has made control of organic particulate matter difficult and is currently a major obstacle for air quality policy in both the US and Europe.  The influence of organic particulate matter on the energy balance of our planet is also a significant question in climate change.

To better understand the sources and effects of atmospheric particles, Professor Robinson’s group characterizes the emissions from major sources such as diesel engines, gasoline engines, biomass combustion, airplanes, cookstoves and other energy systems using techniques such as dilution samplers, thermodenuders, gas chromatography, and mass spectrometry.  His group also investigates the physical and chemical aging of emissions in the atmosphere using smog chambers and flow reactors.  The new emissions and chemistry data are being parameterized for use in the next generation of regional and global chemical transport models.  Given the enormous complexity of organic aerosols, a key challenge is to identify a core set of bulk properties that capture the behavior of atmospheric particulate matter.

Air Pollution in Urban Environments: 

Professor Robinson’s group also works on quantifying the spatial variation of air pollution in urban environments.  His group has developed mobile monitoring techniques to construct highly spatially resolved maps of pollutant concentrations in order to better understand the contribution of local sources and topography to human exposures.  He is also interested in the connection between air quality and health, specifically the role of atmospheric transformations on human health effects of aerosols.

Energy and Environment: 

Professor Robinson works on assessments of the environmental impacts of our evolving energy infrastructure and the coupling of climate and air quality.  Although air quality deterioration and climate change are closely related and often coupled problems, they have traditionally been treated independently by policy makers.  This can result in decisions that help to solve one problem but make the other worse or missed opportunities to both improve air quality and limit climate change.  His current work in this area is focused on methane leakage from the US natural gas sector and air quality and climate benefits of advanced cookstoves.

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.

Research Sponsors:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
National Science Foundation (NSF)
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
California Air Resources Board (CARB)
Coordinating Research Council (CRC)
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)
Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP)
Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP)
COLCOM Foundation
Heinz Endowments
Allegheny County Health Department
Environmental Defense Fund

Selected Publications

  • “Gas-particle partitioning of primary organic aerosol emissions: (1) diesel vehicles”  (A. A. May, A. A. Presto, C. J. Hennigan, N. T. Nguyen, T. D. Gordon, A. L. Robinson) Environmental Science & Technology,, in press.
  • “Gas-particle partitioning of primary organic aerosol emissions: (1) gasoline vehicle exhaust” (A. A. May, A. A. Presto, C. J. Hennigan, N. T. Nguyen, T. D. Gordon, A. L. Robinson) Atmospheric Environment, 77, 128-139, 2013.
  • “Time scales for phase equilibration of secondary organic aerosol formed from alpha-pinene ozonolysis” (R. Saleh, N. M. Donahue, A. L. Robinson) Environmental Science & Technology, 47(11), 5588–5594, 2013.
  • "Analyses of turbulent flow fields and aerosol dynamics of diesel engine exhaust inside two dilution sampling tunnels using the CTAG model" (Y. Wang, B. Yang, E. M. Lipsky, A. L. Robinson, M. Zhang) Environmental Science & Technology, 47(2), 889–898, 2013.
  • “Volatility of organic molecular markers used for source apportionment analysis: measurements and implications for atmospheric lifetime,” (A. A. May, R. Saleh, C. J. Hennigan, N. M. Donahue, and A. L. Robinson) Environmental Science & Technology, 46(22), 12435–12444, 2012.
  • “Modeling the formation and properties of traditional and non-traditional secondary organic aerosol: problem formulation and application to aircraft exhaust,” (S. H. Jathar, M.A. Miracolo, A.A. Presto, N.M. Donahue, P.J. Adams, and A.L. Robinson) Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, 12, 9025-9040, 2012.
  • “Cloud condensation nuclei activity of fresh primary and aged biomass burning aerosol,” (G. J. Engelhart, C. J. Hennigan, M. A. Miracolo, A. L. Robinson, and S. N. Pandis) Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 12, 7285-7293, 2012.
  • “Secondary organic aerosol formation from intermediate-volatility organic compounds: cyclic, linear, and branched alkanes” (D. S. Tkacik, A. A. Presto, N. M. Donahue, and A. L. Robinson) Environmental Science & Technology, 46(16), 8773–8781, 2012.
  • “Particulate matter and organic vapor emissions from a helicopter engine operating on petroleum and Fischer-Tropsch fuels” (G. T. Drozd, M. A. Miracolo, A. A. Presto, E. M. Lipsky, D. D. Riemer, E. Corporan, A. L. Robinson) Energy and Fuels, 26(8), 4756–4766, 2012.
  • “Volatility and Aging of Atmospheric Organic Aerosols” (N. M. Donahue, A. L. Robinson, E. R. Trump, I. Riipinen, J. H. Kroll) Topics in Current Chemistry,1-47, DOI: 10.1007/128_2012_355, 2012.
  • “Fuel composition and secondary organic aerosol formation: gas-turbine exhaust and alternative aviation fuels” (M. A. Miracolo, G. T. Drozd, S. H. Jathar, A. A. Presto, E. M. Lipsky, E. Corporan, A. L. Robinson) Environmental Science & Technology, 46(15), 8493–8501, 2012.
  • “Determination of volatility distributions of primary organic aerosol emissions from internal combustion engines using thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry,” (A. A. Presto, C. J. Hennigan, N. T. Nguyen, and A. L. Robinson ) Aerosol Science & Technology, 46(10), 1129-1139, 2012.
  • “New particle formation and growth in biomass burning plumes: An important source of cloud condensation nuclei,” (C. J. Hennigan, D. M. Westervelt, I. Riipinen, G. J. Engelhart, T. Lee, J. L. Collett Jr., S. N. Pandis, P. J. Adams, and A. L. Robinson), Geophysical Research Letters, 39, L09805, doi:10.1029/2012GL050930, 2012.
  • “A volatility basis set model for summertime secondary organic aerosols over the eastern U.S. in 2006,” (R. Ahmadov, S.A. McKeen, A.L. Robinson, R. Bahreini, A. Middlebrook, J. de Gouw, J. Meagher, E.-Y. Hsie, E. Edgerton, S. Shaw, M. Trainer) Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, 117, D06301, doi:10.1029/2011JD016831, 2012.
  • “A two-dimensional volatility basis set – Part 2: Diagnostics of organic-aerosol evolution,” (N.M. Donahue, J.H. Kroll, S.N. Pandis, A.L. Robinson) Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12(2), 615-634, doi:10.5194/acp-12-615-2012, 2012.

Full List of Publications


  • Thermodynamics (24-221; 24-721)
  • Air Quality Engineering (12-751; 12-651; 19-751; 24-626)
  • Combustion and Air Pollution Control (19-540, 19-740, 24-382)
  • Climate Change Mitigation (24-640; 19-653)
  • EPP Project (19-451, 88-222, 90-720)

Selected Service

  • Health Effects Institute, Research Committee (2012 – present)
  • Aerosol Science and Technology, Editorial Advisory Board (2011-present)
  • Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, Editorial Board (2011-present)
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Air Monitoring and Methods Subcommittee (AMMS) (2011 - present)
  • American Association for Aerosol Research: Development committee (2010-present); Endowment committee (2010-present); Treasurer (2008-2010)

Selected Awards

  • 2013 Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
  • 2010 Carnegie Institute of Technology Outstanding Research Award
  • 2009 Visiting Faculty Fellowship, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, University of Colorado and NOAA
  • 2005 Ahrens Career Development Chair in Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
  • 2000 George Tallman Ladd Outstanding Young Faculty Award, Carnegie Mellon University

Professional Associations

American Association of Aerosol Research, American Geophysical Union, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Association for Advancement of Science