Neil Donahue is a professor in the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. He also directs the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research. He seeks to understand how Earth’s atmosphere works, and how humans affect the atmosphere. One of his objectives is to help all graduating Carnegie Mellon students understand the climate problem and to apply their outstanding problem solving skills to solutions of this enormous challenge. He is a member of numerous professional societies, a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and an editor with several academic journals.

Donahue’s research group focuses on the behavior of organic compounds in Earth’s atmosphere. They are world experts in studying what happens to compounds from both natural sources and human activity when they are emitted into the atmosphere. Recently his research has focused on the origin and transformations of very small organic particles, which play a critical role in climate change and human health. Particles scatter light, influence clouds, and kill roughly 50,000 people each year in the US, mostly of heart attacks.

Donahue’s father taught physics at Pitt, and Donahue received a B.S. in Physics from Brown University in 1985. He received a Ph.D. in meteorology from MIT in 1991, and spent nine years as a research scientist at Harvard before returning to Pittsburgh in 2000. He lives with his wife Maren Cooke and daughters Kielan and Innes in Squirrel Hill. They have three kW of photovoltaic solar panels on their roof. Donhaue is also an avid road cyclist; you may find him on one hill or another around town.

2116 Doherty Hall
Google Scholar
Neil Donahue

Clouds Are the Clue to Climate Predictions

Organics & Atmospheric Aerosols

Media mentions

Associated Press

Donahue quoted on toxic residue from Indiana plastics fire

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue was quoted by the Associated Press after asbestos was discovered in debris from a fire at a scrap plastics business in Indiana. Donahue explained that any significant disturbance, such as a structural failure, can release microscopic asbestos fibers, which can then be lifted and dispersed by a fire plume.


Donahue comments about chemicals transported by rail

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue spoke with WTAE for their Chronicle episode "Trouble on the Tracks." Donahue commented on some of the hazardous chemicals transported by train. He advocated for the government to hold the rail industry to higher safety standards and shared his concerns about the unintended formation of dioxins after derailments release chemicals.

USA Today

Donahue fact checks claim about vinyl chloride ban

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue was interviewed by USA Today about the claim circulating on social media that vinyl chloride was banned in 1974. The use of vinyl chloride in aerosols was banned in 1974. Donahue noted that vinyl chloride is still used in other ways, most commonly PVC piping.


Donahue quoted in article fact-checking toxic clouds after Ohio train derailment

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue was quoted by Snopes about the viral video allegedly showing toxic clouds after the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. He thinks the clouds in the video were there regardless of the accident, but the black smoke plume seen rising from the tanker fire could well be called a toxic cloud.

Associated Press

Donahue quoted on toxic gases from Ohio train derailment

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue spoke with the Associated Press about the toxic chemicals released and burned after a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Donahue explained that dioxins could have formed from the burning of vinyl chloride, a gas used to make hard plastic resin in products like PVC piping.


Donahue quoted on the potential to control lightning with lasers

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue spoke with Inverse about the mysteries in the physics of how lightning emerges. A new study details the first successful attempt to divert lightning with lasers, more than 270 years after Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod. Donahue believes the simple design of the lightning rod will be used for many more years.

Chemical Engineering

Donahue receives AAAR David Sinclair Award

Carnegie Mellon University’s Neil Donahue, the Thomas Lord Professor in Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Public Policy, and Chemistry Director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research, has been named the American Association for Aerosol Research’s (AAAR) 2022 David Sinclair Award recipient.

Chemical Engineering

Donahue to receive American Chemical Society Award

Neil Donahue will receive the American Chemical Society (ACS) Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science at the ACS Spring 2023 meeting in Indianapolis.

Public Source

Donahue quoted on Allegheny County’s bid to be a “clean hydrogen hub”

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue was quoted on the proposal to make Pennsylvania the host of one of four clean hydrogen hubs nationwide. “Hydrogen is another form of energy storage, like batteries,” Donahue says. “The question is where does the energy required to produce hydrogen come from?” Donahue suggests that we should instead be focusing on funneling resources to renewable energy.


Donahue quoted in article on adding butane to gasoline

ChemE’s Neil Donahue was interviewed for a WTAE article on the possible environmental impacts of the White House proposal to put butane in gasoline in an effort to reduce gas prices.

CMU Engineering

Discovery uncovers need for ammonia emission regulations

A new discovery sheds light on one way new particles are forming in the upper troposphere. Published in Nature, the study’s findings suggest that in addition to carbon dioxide, there are other compounds in need of immediate attention and regulation.

Carnegie Mellon University

Engineering faculty quoted on climate policy

ChemE/EPP’s Neil Donahue, EPP’s Valerie Karplus, CEE/EPP’s Destenie Nock, CEE/EPP’s Costa Samaras, MechE’s Ryan Sullivan, and the Scott Institute’s Anna Siefken were quoted on President Biden’s climate policy.