DIY – Measuring Airborne Particulates

Have a look at this tool developed by German scientist to measure airborne particulates. DustWatch is able to manufacture these and supply them on request.

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Concerned about what they saw as deficiencies in official monitoring, German citizen scientists developed a tool for measuring airborne particulates that anyone can build.

Prathap Nair

June 29, 2017 — On a warm May evening in the southern German town of Stuttgart, citizen scientists gather in the basement of the city library with laptops on their desks and sparkling water by their sides. Known as “OK Lab Stuttgart,” this group meets regularly with an aim “to create useful applications for citizens using open data,” according to the website of the project’s umbrella organization Code for Germany.

This night’s discussion revolves around sensors that are helping citizens in Stuttgart and elsewhere around the world to measure air quality in their neighborhoods.

Homegrown Data

Two years ago, in one such meeting, Jan Lutz, a Stuttgart-based social entrepreneur, suggested pursuing a project that would allow citizens of his city to build easy-to-assemble sensors to measure air quality. Stuttgart has a reputation as the bad-air capital of Germany. Last year alone, particulate matter levels in the city crossed the official limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10 — particles 10 micrometers and smaller — for 63 days, well above the European-Union-permitted 35 days.

Exposure to PM10 particles can cause or exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular problems such as coughing, decreased lung function, asthma, chronic bronchitis and even lung cancer. The city government issues air-pollution alerts on days when the pollution is above the permissible limit, advising citizens to leave their cars at home and use public transportation.

According to a 2014 WHO report, outdoor air pollution was linked to 3.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012. The numbers are increasing each year as industrialization and vehicle emissions increase, threatening air quality in cities and rural areas alike.

Lutz’s project, called Luftdaten (German for “air data”), quickly took off because the citizen scientists thought government sensors were not sufficient for measuring air quality. The government-installed sensors in Stuttgart are placed at traffic intersections where there’s heavy traffic, and the air-quality data from these sensors represents at least the 200 square meters around the sensor. Lutz’s sensors are placed in many locations, from balconies of residential apartments to public parks, potentially providing more comprehensive data.

Inspired by the simplicity of building these sensors, the movement picked up momentum. There are now 251 of them active in and around Stuttgart.

DIY Sensors Around the World

Using do-it-yourself techniques explained in a user manual that’s also been translated into several languages, including English, by citizen scientists around the world, the air pollution sensors are connected to a wireless chip, a USB power supply source and a thermometer that measures humidity in the air, which is crucial for measuring particulate matter levels. These instruments are encased in standard PVC plumbing tubes and hung from balconies at homes and at various outdoor locations. After being connected to a home’s internet, the device transmits data to the Luftdaten website and to the Luftdaten Twitter handle, which posts alerts when the PM levels exceed 200 micrograms per cubic meter. The devices cost about €35 (US$39).”

DIY - Measuring Airborne Particulates


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