(370f) Building Block Air Quality Sensors

Authors: 
Butterfield, A., University of Utah
Kelly, K., University of Utah
Le, K., University of Utah
Stevens, P., AMES High School
Communicating chemical engineering research to the general public can be difficult, but hands-on activities can help to both engage the layperson and bridge the gaps in understanding. We have developed an effective teaching module to introduce students to the science of air quality and the ways in which we, as engineers, may quantify it.

This module has students design build and test light scattering air quality sensors, using an arduino board and several low-cost electronic components. The sensor housings are assembled out of Legos or Lego-like building blocks, allowing students to attempt many design types. Once assembled the sensors are tested with mist or smoke, and assessed for their ability to detect changes in air quality and their susceptibility to noise. They may also be tested for other design considerations, such as material cost. The module needs approximately a one-hour class period to execute and can be used as a hands-on project for teams of up to 4 students. The difficulty of the module can be easily scaled from the middle school to the undergraduate level, and this activity could be appropriate for an introductory undergraduate lab.

This work is part of a NSF project (#1648756) to place air quality sensors in K-12 schools and create a real-time air quality map. K-12 students in this project are trained to become citizen scientists, and this module has been used to introduce them to the relevant sensor concepts; the commodity sensors integrated into a custom printed circuit board, which these classrooms will be hosting use the same sensing concepts as the student-built Lego sensors. We have performed this module for over 100 students and have received very encouraging feedback and significant attention from local and national press, leading to increased interest in participation in this research.