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Jiachen Zhang

Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering


  • 2019, Doctoral Degree, Environmental Engineering, University of Southern California
  • 2014, Bachelor's Degree, Atmospheric Sciences, Peking University


Dr. Jiachen Zhang is a a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). Her research group investigates the interactions of air quality, climate, and society, quantifying the health and equity impacts of strategies aimed at mitigating climate change and air pollution.
Dr. Zhang holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from USC and a B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences from Peking University. During her doctoral and postdoctoral studies, she utilized and enhanced various climate and air quality models to assess the environmental impacts of adopting solar reflective cool surfaces and promoting the adoption of renewable energy. Prior to returning to USC, Dr. Zhang was the manager of the Mobile Source Technology Assessment and Modeling Section at the California Air Resources Board, where she led a team of scientists and engineers to conduct original research projects, develop emissions inventory, and inform first-of-their-kind policies aimed at promoting electric vehicles and reducing air pollution emissions. Additionally, she chairs the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Committee of the Chinese-American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California and serves as the secretary of the Air & Waste Management Association West Coast Section.
Please follow the steps listed on if you are interested in joining her research group as a research assistant, PhD student, or postdoctoral scholar.

Research Summary

Our overarching research objective is to better understand the interactions between climate, air pollution, and society, as well as to pursue engineering methods and policy measures to tackle climate change. We aim to advance a systems approach to assess the effectiveness of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as their air quality co-benefits and risks.

The topics that we are particularly interested are listed below:

1. Investigate the effects of urban land use and property modifications as a means to mitigate urban heat and lower temperatures

Adopting highly reflective “cool” coatings on buildings can help cities mitigate heat and adapt to climate change. Using a regional meteorology model (WRF) and an air quality model (WRF-Chem), I led the first study that systematically compared the regional climate and air quality impacts of adopting solar reflective “cool roofs” and “cool walls.” I also developed a statistical approach to analyze an earth system model’s (CESM) output and resolved the discrepancies among past studies on the global climate impact of “cool roofs.” Leveraging my WRF-Chem modeling expertise, I will mentor PhD students to study the effectiveness and impacts of other heat mitigation strategies (e.g., planting trees and changing building orientation) and develop a framework to evaluate which strategies would work best for different cities and communities. In the long-term, we will expand our research into the field of geoengineering and use CESM to assess the cost-effectiveness of different methods to reduce global temperatures.

2. Assess the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the energy and transportation sectors and associated effects on air quality, health, and equity

The energy and transportation sectors are two of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions causing global climate change. I believe an interdisciplinary approach is essential to developing innovative solutions to reduce their emissions. During my postdoc, I developed emissions inventories for multiple future energy supply and consumption scenarios, based on the outputs of energy demand and capacity models from collaborators at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). My findings ultimately helped the City of Los Angeles set its 100% renewable energy goals. At CARB, I led multiple projects related to the transportation sector, including analyzing big data from ride-hauling companies (e.g., Uber), projecting zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) market share using the California Energy Commission’s consumer choice models, and developing California’s official emissions model for vehicles (EMFAC). Using my various models, my group will develop an integrated model system coupling emissions, air quality, and travel demand models to study the effectiveness of different strategies in achieving air quality, climate, and equity goals.

3. Improving the simulation for long-range transport of black carbon aerosols, ozone, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in atmospheric models

Light-absorbing Black Carbon (BC) aerosols in the atmosphere absorbs solar radiation, leading to global warming. Additionally, BC is a component of PM2.5 air pollution, leading to adverse health impacts. Therefore, reducing BC aerosols helps mitigate climate change while improving air quality and public health. I have led and advised students on multiple research projects studying the transport, transformation, and climate impacts of black carbon in the atmosphere, using CESM and a global chemistry transport model (MOZART). To further improve the representation of black carbon in models, my group will calibrate atmospheric models against satellite and ground-based observations and explore the use of machine learning techniques to complement physically based atmospheric modeling. I am interested in the fate of other air pollutants in the atmosphere. Specifically, I have studied the impact of wildfires on ozone production and mentored students to study the influence of sea temperature on ozone concentrations. Currently, I am working with other faculty members to investigate the fate of PFAS in the environment and refine relevant physical and chemical processes in an atmospheric model CMAQ.

  • Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • KAP 224C
  • Kaprielian Hall
  • 3620 South Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089
Contact Information
  • (213) 821-8025
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