Despite the large variability of air quality throughout a city, most cities can only collect air quality data from a couple of sites, leading to a misrepresentation of air quality. A team of undergraduates led by Yale professor Drew Gentner is attempting to remedy this by creating stationary and portable air quality sensors through Yale’s new Solutions for Energy, Air, Climate, and Health (SEARCH) Center. SEARCH is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and focuses on the relationship between air quality, climate change, energy policy, and public health.
Dr. Gentner’s team is designing the air pollutant monitors to be used in the case study city of Baltimore, Maryland, measuring the concentration of pollutants such as ozone, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, and particulate matter less than 2.5 µm in diameter. Next year, the stationary sensors, about the size of a shoebox, will be strategically placed around Baltimore to collect data for several years, while the portable sensors, about the size of a smartphone, will be worn by people for a few days.
The data from the new sensors will map the city’s air quality in space and time, while data from the portable sensors will provide insight into what pollutants people most commonly come in contact with. This higher resolution mapping of air pollutants will help identify pollutant hot spots, allowing urban planners to design cities to minimize health risks for the population, and public health officials to better assess the health risks present in different areas of the city.