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Peter Brimblecombe(Emeritus Professor)


I was born in Australia, but went to university in Auckland, New Zealand where my PhD concerned atmospheric chemistry of sulphur dioxide.  I remain interested in atmospheric chemistry and currently work on the thermodynamics of aerosols, particularly water soluble organic substances.  My studies of long-term changes in urban air pollution and its effects on health and building damage are also an important activity: the historical aspects of subject resulted in my book, The Big Smoke. This encouraged an interest in the relationship between air pollution and architecture, literature and even cinema.  My research on material damage by air pollutants has not been restricted to outdoor environments.  I have worked on the museum atmosphere and have a continuing interest in the process of damage to cultural materials by air pollutants.  I have increasingly co-operated with conservators in the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces on management issues; focussing on accumulation of dust, but have become also become interested in the effect of climate change on heritage, with recent work focussing on the changing potential for insect damage.  My current interest in air pollution relates to human exposure in the urban environment and air pollution policy especially in China and Hong Kong. The practical context of my research work means that I am frequently an invited speaker at conferences, interviewed by the media and teach on advanced courses.  In 2005 I received a gold medal from the Italian Chemical Society for my contributions in environmental and heritage chemistry.  I am currently a Chair Professor in the School of Energy and Environment at City University of Hong Kong and a emeritus professor to the School of Environmental Sciences of the University of East Anglia.

Academic career

  • 1973-4 Lecturer in inorganic chemistry at the School of Natural Resources of the University of the South Pacific, FIJI
  • 1974-2013 Lecturer and then Professor in Atmospheric Chemistry at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, UK (Associate Dean 2008-2011).
  • 2013-2018  Chair Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the School of Energy and Environment, City University of Hong Kong

External Panels

I have served on European Commission working parties related to heritage within DG Environment and on proposal review panels within DG Research of the EU and more recently Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department. I advise on environmental science programs in Hong Kong, China, France and Saudi Arabia. 


In 2005 I was awarded the Società Chimica Italiana Gold Medal for my work in environmental and heritage chemistry. In 2009 our Noah's Ark project, which has mapped future climate impacts on heritage, won the Europa Nostra Grand Prize for research.

Education at University of Auckland, New Zealand

  • BSc Chemistry1967-70
  • MSc Chemistry, 1970-71
  • PhD Chemistry1971-73

Editorial Roles

I am on the boards of Science and Heritage, Journal of Cultural Heritage, Constructii. and Environmental Chemistry. I am environmental science subject chair of SCOPUS and have recently been acting as chair of its Contents Selection Advisory Board.

Research and Publishing Plans:

I continue to work on a new book, The Art of Air Pollution that will integrate air pollution science with its cultural history and should be as innovative as my earlier book The Big Smoke. My preferred publisher is once more Routledge, who published the earlier work and they seem good with books of such interdisciplinary nature. I hope some presentations on the topic this year will focus my effort.

My research directions continue to address three main areas where I believe there is an opportunity for new and innovative thinking that will additionally have relevance to Hong Kong and the region. Broadly I am interested in two key areas (i) air pollution exposure and (ii) air pollution in China (iii) heritage climatology

  1. Air pollution exposure – the regulation of air pollution has traditionally followed an emission and the later concentration driven approach. Historically there are good reasons for this, particularly in terms of simplicity. However, there are limits to how far and how rapidly air pollution concentrations can be reduced, especially in densely populated cities. It seems relevant to shift the paradigm to one driven by exposure, even though this is more difficult to determine and regulate. I have started some work on air pollution statistics and exposure in near-roadside environments, especially sitting out areas and parks where we are pushing for new approaches to park design.
  2. Air pollution in China- a wide range of regulatory challenges face China as it tries to improve the air pollution of its cities. I have become very interested in the interface between regulation and public perception. I have been working on perception of visibility, APEC Blue, firework use and the pollution during HK protests of 2014
  3. Heritage climatology – increasingly our understanding of the weathering on buildings is seen to demand a specialized climatology. However, as yet it is not clear quite what this might be, so I have been writing a number of research papers and simple models. Recently my focus has been on insect and fungal attack and humidity stress. In the last few months I have begun to rescale these problems to generate global risk maps. Heritage science has grown as an important discipline in the last few years, most particularly in Europe, but the tropics have yet to receive as much consideration. This means that there are excellent opportunities for innovative research in Hong Kong and there are currently two projects underway: (i) insects at the temples in Nikko and (ii) degradation of wood at the Yinxian Pagoda, Shanxi , with some collaborative on the terracotta warriors in Xi’an.

CityU Teaching:

My teaching at City University is concerned with environmental pollution and chemisry, but I also teach transferrable skills to PhD students. I am also involved in DEC related training most notably with the ongoing field trips run by Prof. Steve Ching to Yingxian Pagoda in Shanxi Province. I will be contribution to the day on air pollution at the  ASU-CityU Summer School in June.

External Teaching:

Externally, I have taught university courses on air pollution and environmental chemistry in New Zealand (Auckland and Christchurch), Taiwan (NSYSU) and Hong Kong (UST) as well as at my own university, both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I have also taught on specialized courses in France (Universite Joseph Fourier), United States (AAAR) and Italy (The European University Centre for Cultural Heritage, University of Malta, ICCROM and Getty Conservation Institute). As Associate Dean at University of East Anglia I was charged with creating a Science Postgraduate School to overseas the training of nearly 500 PhD students. This came as part of my long interest in transferable skills especially:

Scientific writing and drawing
Effective use of powerpoint
Critical thinking
Converting data to policy
Communicating with politicians and the public
I have conducted training on such topics in Malaysia, Taiwan, Mongolia, China, Hong Kong, Latvia, Italy, Greece and Switzerland.



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