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ENVIRONMENTAL (TEAM): Dan Carder and Arvind Thiruvengadam, , West Virginia University
Carder is the Director, Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions, West Virginia University

Thiruvengadam is a Research assistant professor, West Virginia University

Were it not for Dan Carder, 45, and Arvind Thiruvengadam, 32, U.S. air-quality regulators might never have sniffed out Volkswagen’s dirty diesel secret.

With a $50,000 study conducted in late 2012 and early 2013, the two researchers showed that Volkswagen’s diesel engines were producing far more nitrogen oxides, or NOx, in real-world driving than on a testing dynamometer.

The researchers’ conclusion “opened the can of worms,” as Carder told Reuters. Soon, the EPA and the California Air Resources Board found that Volks-wagen’s cars used software that would detect when the cars were undergoing testing and turn on their full emissions controls.

NOx helps to form soot and smog, causing asthma attacks and premature death. It also contributes to the haze in Los Angeles, Paris and Beijing. Volkswagen’s diesel deceit likely will force automakers to take these emissions more seriously, and if it does, Carder and Thiruvengadam will deserve a big share of the credit.