September 29, 2011

Nathan Phillips is a meter-reader for the 21st century.

The College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of geography and environment recently piled into a Nissan Murano with collaborators Bob Ackley and Eric Crosson and rambled through the streets of greater Boston to hunt for natural gas leaks. With the help of a strange-looking vacuum device attached to the car just below the rear bumper, the three have found geysers of gas gushing invisibly from underground pipes corroded by age. The leaks, Phillips says, contribute to global warming, could create explosions in some extreme cases, have killed or damaged up to 10,000 trees in Massachusetts (a disputed matter under litigation), and shaft rate-paying gas customers who must pick up the tab for wasted gas.

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