Project enlisted help from the University of the West of England and monitoring equipment from Ashtead Technology
A group of schoolchildren in Bristol have been using personal air monitoring equipment to measure air pollution levels along their daily commute to school as part of a BBC project to develop journalistic skills in young people.
Utilising air quality monitors supplied by equipment firm Ashtead Technology, students from Oasis Academy Brightstowe in the city attempted to measure pollution levels from traffic – especially cars – and factories in nearby Avonmouth.
The project is part of the BBC News School Report which provides 11-16 year-olds across the UK with support from BBC staff, partners and teachers, to help pupils develop journalistic skills to become School Reporters.
Oasis Academy Brightstowe decided to focus on air quality for the project and enlisted the help of local air quality expert Dr Jo Barnes, from the University of the West of England’s Air Quality Management Resource Centre.
Six children participated in the trial over a period of three days, and although the results were inconclusive, with no correlation found between pollution levels and mode of transport.
Nevertheless, Dr Barnes said: “This was a very small trial so it was never going to produce statistically significant results. However, scientific experimentation rarely delivers simple incontrovertible conclusions, so for the children; it was a good exercise in understanding the importance of experimental procedure and learning how to interpret results. It also gave them an opportunity to speculate on how a future trial could deliver more meaningful data.â€?
One of the school’s English teachers, Theo Berry, said he hoped to extend and expand the research project with the University of the West of England in order “to gain more conclusive results about which means of transport offers most protection from poor air quality – but for this we’ll need more air quality monitorsâ€?.
Mr Barry said: “Rather than being confined to a laboratory, with the air quality monitors they were able to take scientific methods out into the world, following normal routes home and discovering how their everyday lives are affected. Using the air quality monitors was also a fantastic opportunity for cross-curricular work – it’s not every day that science and media classes can combine.â€?
Dr Barnes advised on the selection, configuration and demonstration of monitoring equipment from Ashtead Technology’s fleet of rental instruments, choosing TSI Sidepaks for this project, she said, because “they are lightweight, battery powered and able to continuously log air qualityâ€?.
The TSI Sidepaks are supplied with inlet conditioners (impactors) that allow 10, 2.5, or 1.0 microns, which means that users can select the range of particle size that is of most interest. With a built-in pump, the units draw air in from the environment and a laser diode is directed at the aerosol stream. Scattered light is then measured by a photodetector at 90° to the light beam, and the intensity of this light is a function of the particle mass concentration. Real-time data is displayed, in addition to an eight-hour time-weighted average.
Dr Barnes explained: “As a short-term project, the facility to rent the equipment from Ashtead Technology was ideal because the purchase cost would have been preclusive. The instruments were relatively simply to set up and operate and the children quickly became competent at running them.â€?
Ashtead Technology has since offered to supply further monitors for a longer period and it is hoped that the follow-up project will commence soon.
The firm’s regional sales manager Josh Thomas said: “We are always happy to work with clients to solve their instrumentation needs, but this was a particularly interesting project because, as an instrument rental company, we do not always get to see the results of monitoring work. So, it was very gratifying to see the school’s video, and great to see young people learning about air quality.â€?
Ashtead Technology will be appearing on its own stand (number 13) at the AQE 2015 exhibition and conference, which takes place in Telford, Shropshire on April 22-23.