Smartphone users sought for EU air pollution data project

Smartphone users in London and Manchester are being sought to take part in a two-month EU citizen science project to measure aerosol air pollution in major cities across Europe.

Members of the iSpex team test out the add-on device on their phones

Members of the iSpex team test out the add-on device on their phones

After initially launching in the Netherlands in 2013, iSpex-EU project is now being expanded to a further nine major cities with funding from Light2015, which is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme of the European Commission.

Interested participants must download the iSpex app to their smartphone and also pick up an ‘add-on’ to clip onto their phone, which together turn the smartphone into a scientific tool to measure tiny particles in the atmosphere that contribute to air pollution.

According to iSpex, data collected through the project – which runs until October 15 2015 – will help form a network of thousands of participants across Europe to “provide information at locations and times that are not covered by current air pollution monitoring efforts”.

It is expected that the collected data will lead to scientific publications that will be made accessible to the general public. A live online map will also show qualitative results of the experiment.

Phone device

The clip-on device is described as a “passive spectropolarimetric add-on for smartphones that uses the phone’s camera, sensors, computing and communications capabilities” which will enable crowd-sourced measurements of aerosol particles in order to make “atmospheric science accessible to everyone”.

Once the app and add-on have been acquired, participants must use their phone to scan a cloud-free sky while the phone’s built-in camera takes pictures through the add-on. Each picture taken contains information on both the spectrum and the linear polarisation of the incident, scattered sunlight.

The iSpex website explains: “The measured degree of linear polarisation as a function of wavelength and, obtained by pointing the phone at different directions in the sky, as a function of scattering angle, yields unique information on fundamental aerosol properties, including the amount of aerosol, and also the particle size distribution and the chemical composition. This type of measurement is crucial in assessing the impacts of atmospheric aerosols on health, environment and air traffic.”

Clear skies

The project began last week (September 1) and according to iSpex hundreds of smartphone measurements have already been made by volunteers, aided by clear, sunny skies in the likes of Italy and Greece.

And, with sunnier, clearer weather also now forecast in northwestern Europe after rainy days last week, iSpex is expecting further measurements from participants in London and Manchester.

Interested participants from London can collect the add-on device from the Institute of Physics at 80 Portland Place in the capital, while several events are taking place at the Manchester Museum on September 12th, 16th and 25th when devices can be collected.

Alternatively interested participants can email either london@ispex-eu.org or manchester@ispex-eu.org to reserve an iSPEX device.