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Air Quality Matters!

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Submitted by Danny on Wed, 05/29/2019 - 16:52

Globally, seven million premature deaths each year result from air pollution (WHO, 2012). Recent air quality events such as the forest fires in Western North America and the extreme smog conditions in China emphasizes that air pollution is an important current issue for individuals globally. Your neighbour to the north, Canada, has recently had widespread forest fires throughout the west coast as well as serious air pollution events due to industry. To increase awareness of the risks these pose the Alberta Government has supported the development of additional curriculum on air pollution.

(a) An extremely polluted December day in Shengfang, in the northern Chinese province of Hebei (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)
(a) An extremely polluted December day in Shengfang, in the northern Chinese province of Hebei (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

 

(b) Smoke from a forest fire British Columbia in summer 2018 seen from near Jasper, Alberta
(b) Smoke from a forest fire British Columbia in summer 2018 seen from near Jasper, Alberta

 

Origin of the Project

In Alberta, Canada, a corporation exceeded emission regulations causing a poor air quality event to be declared.  The company was fined, but rather than the money going to the government it was turned into a fund for air quality education in rural Albertan contexts through the Creative Sentencing process. This fund was awarded to the TELUS World of Science Edmonton (TWOSE) to produce air quality curriculum which could be used within Alberta’s current provincial curriculum. In order to ensure high scientific quality and to assist with the incorporation of an air quality sensor, the King’s Centre for Visualization in Science (KCVS) at The King's University was selected to partner in the project. In the past, KCVS worked with The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to produce an inexpensive air quality sensor and a website detailing its construction and use in the hopes of it being used within developing countries as a citizen science tool.

The Arduino based PM sensor designed by KCVS for OPCW
The Arduino based PM sensor designed by KCVS for OPCW

Choosing the PocketLab Air

KCVS, after a thorough investigation of air quality sensors, deemed the PocketLab Air to be (by far) the best air quality sensor on the market; even though it was still in development at the time. This was largely due to the other sensors only measuring particulate matter and ignoring chemical parameters all together; while still charging the same and often higher price. Of special interest was the inclusion of a carbon dioxide sensor which allows for the investigation of climate change. Once chosen PocketLab worked closely with KCVS and even provided one of the first PocketLab prototypes for testing by KCVS.

Prototype PocketLab Air in use around The King’s University
Prototype PocketLab Air in use around The King’s University

Outcomes of the Project

This partnership of PocketLab, KCVS, and TWOSE led to classroom-ready lesson plans for Alberta’s grade 4, grade 7, grade 9, and grade 12’s Science 30 (A general science course) that can be found for free on KCVS' Website.

Front covers of the four lesson plans
Front covers of the four TWOSE lesson plans

An accompanying website was also produced that hosts these lesson plans as well as guides for the PocketLab Air, data analysis, and Alberta’s Air Quality Health Index Mapping tool (a system that provides up to date air quality data to citizens within Alberta).

Air Quality Matters website landing page
Air Quality Matters website landing page

Getting the Resources to Educators

These materials are being brought to the classroom through professional development sessions after which teachers get to take home their own PocketLab Airs all for free through the funding provided from the initial air pollution violation. These sessions are based on the 5 E’s model and much of the session is spent having teachers test different environments with the PocketLab Air including a Tesla coil, dry ice, in doorways, outside, being breathed on, and smoke from a candle. To date, ~120 teachers have attended such sessions and current plans are to reach ~250 teachers across Alberta by summer 2020.

Teachers from Edmonton using the PocketLab Air at a PD Session at Queen Elizabeth High School
Teachers from Edmonton using the PocketLab Air at a PD Session at Queen Elizabeth High School
PocketLab Air measuring changes in the environment near a carbon dioxide cloud produced by dry ice
PocketLab Air measuring changes in the environment near a carbon dioxide cloud produced by dry ice

This work is being considered a pilot of lesson plans using the PocketLab Air and is being drawn upon in the development of our new PocketLab Air Experiments and Lesson Plans.

Front covers of the four TWOSE lesson plans