The elusive threat of air pollution and its effects on human health is a major issue of our time. Doctoral candidate Shahana Khurshid is determined to use science “to create a direct, positive impact on humans and human health.” Shahana is investigating the levels of particulate reactive oxygen species (ROS) in indoor and outdoor air—in residential, commercial, and institutional environments. ROS are oxygenated species that are formed from photochemical and ozone-initiated reactions with unsaturated organic compounds (such as hydroperoxides, organic peroxides, hypochlorite ions, and alkyl peroxyl radicals).
Shahana’s research encompasses the study of pollutant levels in the air and how these levels affect human health, as well as investigation into building factors and their impact on air quality and health. Additionally, she is working on a project with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), using an in vitro human lung cell model to assess human immune system response to products of ozone-initiated reactions in order to identify potential health risks posed by these pollutants.
Shahana was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. She moved to the United States in 2000 to pursue her B.S. in Environmental Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After earning her undergraduate degree, Shahana worked as an environmental consultant in the U.S. and Pakistan. It was during this time, while working in sustainable development, that Shahana discovered her desire to positively impact human health. This passion led her to Austin, where she earned her M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas. Shahana says, “After that I looked for a Ph.D. program where I would be able to combine my interests in the environment and human health. The Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at UT Austin has a unique interdisciplinary program in Indoor Environmental Science and Engineering, where I am able to do research in the environment-health nexus, assessing pollutant levels in the air and their potential health effects.”
About her experience at UT in the CAEE program, Shahana shares, “I love the openness of the department, students and faculty alike. The level of comfort enjoyed between students from different labs creates a very welcoming atmosphere. Little things, such as students from different labs sharing office spaces, or coffee and cookies served at the weekly seminar, have given the program a very comfortable feel.”
As well as enjoying her academic experience here, Shahana also appreciates the Austin environment. She says, “I love it that the winter season only lasts for a few months in Austin. While I like big cities, I feel that Austin is a thriving city—with many of the attractions of a large metropolis—without all the congestion.” In her free time, Shahana enjoys cooking, reading, and watching sitcoms and movies.
Shahana looks forward to continuing her research of environmental issues that affect our health, and she hopes to teach in the environmental-health field. After completing her doctorate, Shahana plans work at a university or a national lab.