By Ruthanna Gordon
When I came to work for EPA as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow, I hoped to connect my social science background with my passion for the environment. In my time on EPA’s Innovation Team, I’ve found such connections in places I never expected. I’ve grown particularly excited about our work on portable air quality sensors.
As a psychologist, I have learned that people care about a problem more, and come up with better solutions, when they see how it affects them personally. Air pollution is a great example—when people can measure particulates on their jogging route, it’s far more meaningful than just hearing about the issue on the news.
The My Air, My Health Challenge, announced today by EPA’s Science Advisor Dr. Glenn Paulson and Dr. Linda Birnbaum of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, aims to gather the best work in this area, and bring it to the next level.
The challenge calls on academics, industry researchers, and garage-lab do-it-yourselfers to connect wearable air and health sensors, allowing citizens and communities to collect highly localized data and create a meaningful picture of how the environment affects their well-being.
The data integration and analysis component of the challenge is particularly exciting.
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution workshop in Research Triangle Park, NC. There, I listened to cutting edge sensor developers talk about their work. They had some fascinating projects, ranging from cheap ozone monitors carried by students to a community initiative measuring black carbon in the homes of elders. Our challenge took its final shape from these experts’ input.
Portable sensor development is flourishing, but everyone agreed that integrating data from different types of sensors was a tough problem that needed an extra push to move forward. My Air, My Health is intended to be that push. It spotlights the problem—and gives researchers an extra incentive for focusing on it. The four top ideas will receive $15,000 apiece, and be invited to carry out a proof-of-concept project in the 2nd phase. The best of these projects will receive a grand prize of $100,000.
If you’d like to hear more about the My Air, My Health challenge, or if you know an innovative thinker who might be interested in participating, we’re holding a webinar on June 19th at 4 PM. We’re looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!
About the Author: Ruthanna Gordon is a behavioral scientist, and a AAAS science and technology fellow working with the EPA Innovation Team.