AHS Collab with PurpleAir

This semester, Ms. Piper’s AP Environmental Science students completed a lab using an RTI International PurpleAir device to study air pollution. PurpleAir is an organization that makes sensors meant to “empower community scientists who collect hyper-local air quality data to share it with the public.” PurpleAir sensors measure particle pollution (PM2.5), and can be installed by the general public. Each of the sensors collect real-time data that is sent straight to the PurpleAir website for further evaluation. PurpleAir aims to educate the general public on the harmful effects of air pollution and enable them to study it within their local and global community, in hopes that citizens make change with what they learn. 

Ms. Piper became involved with the RTI International air pollution study funded by NASA after attending a session from the Environmental Educators of North Carolina Conference in September 2021, afterward installing Apex High School’s own on-campus sensor. With this new addition to the Apex High School Science Department, APES students used the PurpleAir platform to study air pollution in a hands-on way, and drew conclusions based on what they found.

APES students Peyton Livesay, Gania Tyagi, Laila Le, and Julia Coley, analyzed the difference in air quality between developed and developing countries by measuring the PM (Particulate matter) levels of three developed countries, as well as three developing countries. They found that generally developing countries have higher amounts of air pollution. They made a graph to represent their results:

My lab group, consisting of Hunter Dennan, Ava Cobb, Amber Wilson and I, analyzed the correlation between population and air quality, finding that US cities with higher populations consistently have higher rates of air pollution. We measured the AQI (Air Quality Index) at the same time and location for three days in each of our cities, and documented our results:

A lab group consisting of Zoya Asgari, Indira Tirumanadham, Dylan Truong, and Vincent Vetra compared the air qualities of Apex and Chicago by measuring the PM of both cities over the course of a week. They found that on average, Apex has a lower PM than Chicago, with the average PM near Apex Town Hall around 33.5 μm/m^3 and the average PM in Chicago around 47.8 μm/m^3.

A group consisting of Shravi Gokaraju, Asacia Jeffries, Zachary Lowe, and Mason Smith did the same process, measuring the amount of PM in different countries over the course of a week. They hypothesized that the average amount of PM would be greater in developing countries than developed countries, and their results supported their claim. The “average PM 2.5 over the week for developed countries like France, United States and Australia was 48.5 mg/m^3, whereas the average PM for developing countries like Nepal, Ukraine, And Ethiopia was 151.67 mg/m^3, which was approximately 3 times greater.” Below is the graph they used to depict their findings:

A group consisting of Owen Chitester, Rachel Broza, Janelle Rasp, and Ameerah Abazid analyzed the relationship between the amount of PM and the time of day, relative to human activity and temperature. They also evaluated the effects of urbanization on air pollution. They picked four different places, ensuring that they were in the same time zone so as to not skew the results. They picked both rural and urban locations as well, noting industrialization and population. They first measured the PM of all the locations at 10 am, and then repeated the process again for two different times of day. They observed a pattern in their data that as the day went on, particulate matter decreased, likely because during those times more people are driving. They also noticed that New York City, being the most urban, had the highest particulate matter, and Plymouth, being the most rural, had the least particulate matter. Because it is generally assumed that temperature increases throughout the day, they concluded that particulate matter and temperature are inversely related. “Plymouth (population size of 619) had an average PM2.5 of 2.3 μg and PM10 of 4 μg. On the contrary, New York City (population size of 8.49 million) had an average PM2.5 of 9 μg and PM10 of 13.3 μg. Both of these amounts from New York City are more than three times the amount from those in Plymouth.” They concluded that with a higher population, New York City naturally uses more fossil fuels and therefore produces more air pollution.

Check out PurpleAir.com to study Air pollution on your own!

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