air sensors

Making Connections for Citizen Science

By Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Sharing citizen science

Sharing citizen science

Standing on the dais in front of accomplished scientists and professionals, I faced a series of tough questions about my program, but I was accustomed to fielding probing questions from my 12- and 13-year-olds on a regular basis.

Two weeks ago, I presented my project—teaching sixth and seventh graders how to use low-cost environmental sensors—at the Citizen Science Association’s inaugural conference in San Jose, Calif. Citizen science is an emerging field that actively engages community members and formal scientists in data gathering and research. Several EPA colleagues also attended the conference, called CitSci2015.

Last fall, I worked with Citizen Schools (also see Chasing the “Wow” with Citizen Schools and EPA Science) on an after-school class for middle schoolers in northern Durham, N.C., teaching them how we can use low-cost sensors to quantify the environment around us.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Though I was nervous about presenting an education-based project instead of a scientific-based study, I soon realized I had found the right conference. My fellow presenters also shared their educational and student-based citizen science projects. I was able to learn about new ways to engage citizen scientists and foster continued project participation. At the same time, I got to share my experiences and lessons learned about citizen science (and dealing with middle schoolers).

Surprisingly, this was only a single, 75-minute session.

Throughout CitSci2015, attendees shared new and inventive ways to actively involve individuals in quality scientific research. Data quality is always in question with citizen science, and CitSci2015 presented several sessions on how to address this, including talks by fellow EPAers about their Air Sensor Toolbox and the Agency’s vision for citizen science.

Several other talks emphasized the importance of ensuring communities are involved not only in the data collection but in all the steps of the project—from the research question to sharing the results. Chris Filardi, the keynote speaker, underlined this point when kicking off the conference by saying the researcher “should be riding shotgun.”

CitSci2015 created connections and new partnerships between non-profits, academics, state, local and federal governments and private industry. These new connections will help move citizen science and science in general forward by utilizing all available resources, especially communities.

CitSci2015 emphasized that the roots of citizen science have been established through engagements in environmental science, highlighting a continued role for EPA in this growing movement.

About the author: Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky is an Association of School and Programs of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, hosted by EPA.

Note: For more insights from CitSci2015, check out the conversations on Twitter: #WhyICitSci, and #CitSci2015. The conference agenda and my presentation can be found on the Citizen Science Association website.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox

airsensorid

By Amanda Kaufman

There is a growing interest by citizens to learn more about what’s going on in their community: What’s in the air I breathe? What does it mean for my health and the health of my family? How can I learn more about these things and even be involved in the process? Is there a way for me to measure, learn, and share information about my local air quality?

Researchers at EPA have developed the virtual Air Sensors Citizen Science Toolbox to help citizens answer these types of questions and more. With the recent release of the Toolbox web page, citizens can now visit http://go.usa.gov/NnR4 and find many different resources at this one simple location. As a citizen scientist myself, I am very excited to learn that there are funding opportunities for individuals and communities to conduct their own air monitoring research projects. The Funding Sources for Citizen Science Database is just one of the many resources on the Toolbox webpage.

One of the resources available as part of the Toolbox is the Air Sensors Guidebook, which explores low-cost and portable air sensor technologies, provides general guidelines on what to look for in obtaining a sensor, and examines important data quality features.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

Compact air sensor that could be used by citizen scientists to monitor local air quality.

To understand the current state of the science, the Toolbox webpage also includes the Sensor Evaluation Report, which summarizes performance trials of low-cost air quality sensors that measure ozone and nitrogen dioxide. Future reports to be posted on the webpage will summarize findings on particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compound (VOC) sensor performance evaluations.

As they are developed, more tools will be posted on the webpage, including easy-to-understand operating procedures for select low-cost sensors; basic ideas for data analysis, interpretation, and communication; and other helpful information.

I believe the Toolbox is a great resource for citizens to learn more about air sensor technology at a practical level. It will provide guidance and instructions to citizens to allow them to effectively collect, analyze, interpret, and communicate air quality data. The ultimate goal is to give citizens like you and me the power to collect data about the air we breathe.

About the author: Amanda Kaufman is an Environmental Health Fellow from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). She is hosted by EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy national research program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Interested in air sensors? Tune in to our webinar!

By Dustin Renwick

Soccer goalie with outstretched hand

Goal? Sensors will help make the call.

Sensors are everywhere these days. Some determine whether the ball has crossed the goal line in the World Cup. Others help EPA, state and local agencies, and communities take a more in-depth look at air quality.

Commercial manufacturers continue to develop low-cost air sensors that are portable and can relay data in nearly real-time. EPA researchers have begun to develop sensors and test their potential applications. Join our webinar on July 8 at 1 p.m. ET to learn more.

EPA researcher Ron Williams presented a small set of findings at the 2014 Air Sensors workshop in June, the fourth in a series of workshops designed to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with next-generation air quality monitoring technologies and data. Check out the Twitter feed for a look at the discussions that happened last month.

The sensor team, including Williams, has tested these new technologies in the laboratory and in the field. The group assessed how the sensors performed under a range of environmental conditions and with several different kinds of air pollutants. The team also evaluated the technical side of the sensors, including features such as data transmission and battery life.

EPA's Village Green Project, a solar-topped bench with air sensors

EPA’s Village Green Project

Williams will share much more information on the webinar, including the progress of the Village Green Project air monitor prototype and newly published reports about the use of these low-cost technologies.

“We have a lot to learn about sensors, their use, and how they can be applied for a wide variety of air monitoring applications,” Williams said.

“This presentation will give viewers an opportunity to understand what we at EPA have been doing and where the future lies in better understanding sensors and their potential applications.”

If you have any interest in the how sensors are transforming clean air science, the webinar will be worth watching!

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Green Light for Learning

By Dustin Renwick

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Karoline Johnson shows off the air sensor.

Movies depict bad breath as a green haze, but anyone’s breath can change a new prototype air sensor, developed by EPA researchers, from blue to green to red.

Karoline Johnson, an EPA student services contractor, worked with Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, to design an interactive air sensor that provides an opportunity to share science and technology with the public.

Here’s how it works: When a person breathes into the box, the sensor measures the amount of infrared light absorbed by CO2. This measurement is converted into an electric signal that a computer board translates into light. The top of the sensor changes colors based on the presence of increasing amounts of CO2 we expel each time we breathe.

The sensor provides a visual starting point for broader science discussions by transforming abstract subjects into an interactive, physical display.

“We realized there are a lot of different applications for what you can teach the public,” Johnson said. She said the sensor deals directly with air quality and climate science, but it can also serve as a  tool for talking about topics such as human health, computer programming and optics.

Low-cost, portable sensors have the potential to change air quality monitoring by allowing anyone to measure air quality with calibrated devices that require little training and provide real-time data. Current sophisticated air monitors produce accurate results but scientists can’t easily move these large monitors and the costs are prohibitively high for the average person.

Plenty of challenges remain for the next-generation air sensors, including proper calibration, where the data will go, how the data can be used.

But the promise remains. A network of cheaper sensors could give students, community leaders, scientists and university researchers a more complete picture of air quality.

Johnson is currently working on a sensor curriculum and kits that teachers and students can build in their classrooms.

 

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Air Quality Awareness Week: Air Sensors 2013

Demonstrating a new technology at Air Sensors 2013.

Currently, the best way to know what the air quality is on any given day is to check the Air Now website (www.airnow.gov), sign up for “EnviroFlash” e-mail alerts (www.enviroflash.info/), and to check  your local media outlets, both print and broadcast, for announcements about “Air Action Days”—particularly on sultry summer days when they are most prevalent.

But a wave of next-generation air quality sensors is just over the horizon. These innovative technologies promise to make gathering and sharing air data faster and less expensive to gather, more relevant to local conditions (perhaps even down to the individual user), and easier to share. They have the potential to revolutionize air quality monitoring.

As we continue “Air Quality Awareness Week,” regular blogger Dustin Renwick has put together a look at the air sensor technologies that were showcased at last month’s Air Sensor 2013 Conference held at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Click play on the slide show below, or use the arrows to navigate through. The slideshow is best viewed in Google Chrome or Firefox.  If the slideshow does not work for you, you can view it here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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My Air, My Health, My Future

The best innovations rely on disruption, a catalyst for change in a world of status quo.

Disruptive innovation is the theory behind the My Air, My Health Challenge, sponsored by EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The challenge encouraged Americans to consider the future of air quality and human health by developing small, wearable air quality sensors that also detect how our bodies respond to the air we breathe.

Two major ideas drive the effort to combine air sensor technologies and health data. First, sensors mirror the rise of computers and smartphones – more power in less space at lower prices. Second, the air we breathe affects our health, but that data changes constantly as we move.

All four finalist teams in the challenge received $15,000, and the teams continue to transform their designs into portable sensor systems that measure air quality and corresponding physiological responses to that air quality.

Below, leaders of the four teams talk about how they’re pursuing the priorities of sensor portability, data accuracy, and low cost for the final design.

  • Aaron Hechmer and his team chose to focus their challenge efforts on the aspects of air sensor data and cost.  “This project, it really is sharing health information. To make [sensors] statistically robust, they’ve got to be in a lot of hands. To be in a lot of hands they’ve got to be cheap, particularly if you’re trying to serve communities. People don’t want to pay $5,000.”
  • Michael Heimbinder leads a team designing an air sensor that measures fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide. The team uses a chest strap sensor to look for connections between air pollutant exposure and heart rate variability, the interval between heart beats.  The team completed a first prototype air monitor and will build five more for volunteers to wear and collect data. Heimbinder says the next hurdle is visualizing the data by “displaying thousands and thousands of measurement points as dots on a map.”
  • Guy Shechter and his team view the long-term scientific prospects of the challenge. The team’s sensor will tease out links between ultrafine particulate pollution and obstructive respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma. “The exciting thing for us is this lack of science in this area and our belief that with the technology we have, with the scientific minds we have thinking about this, that we can actually do something interesting and new.”
  • David Kuller’s team has created T-shirts sewn with sensors. Owners can wash the shirts as long as they remove the battery and the air sensor, about the size of a matchbox, prior to washing.  To measure health indicators, the shirts use an elastic strip of silver yarn that was originally designed for monitoring newborn babies. “We knew about the existence of these stretch sensors but hadn’t put them to test in any laboratory way.”

Stay tuned for an update this summer. The challenge winner will receive an award of $100,000 to be announced in June 2013 at Health Datapalooza IV.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Sensors and Sensibility

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore were put under the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniature sensor technologies are more affordable and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratic and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bringing new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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