Yes, you read that correctly. Researchers from the Netherlands are developing the iSPEX project which aims to allow citizens to monitor the particles in the air around them using their own smartphones.
In an post written by Elise Hendriks, one of the people working on the project, written on the International Year of Light‘s blog, it is described how a simple add-on to a regular smartphone can turn your device into a spectropolarimeter which can measure the aerosols in the atmosphere around you.
Building on technology originally designed for the observation of the atmospheres of other planets, an app on the phone instructs the user to scan the sky whilst photographs are taken through the add-on. The photos are able to record spectra and information on the polarisation of the sunlight scattered by particles in the atmosphere. The data collected gives the researchers information on the amount of aerosol, particle size, size distribution and chemical composition.
The technology is truly remarkable, and allows for thousands of data sets to be collected around the world, which will give more information on atmospheric pollution than has ever been accessible before. What is really exciting about the work, however, is that allows members of the public to not only learn more about atmospheric science but also to make a worthwhile contribution to the research themselves.
The research team are calling this citizen science. They have already carried out a successful experiment using thousands of citizens from the Netherlands, and are currently planning a Europe-wide experiment at major cities around the continent during September and October this year.
Elise and her team have managed to utilise really quite advanced technology and make it accessible to a member of the public, allowing them to have an impact on real, on-going scientific research without needing to be an expert in the area or on the technology being used. It’s an ideal way to engage the public with atmospheric chemistry and teach them about the way light can be used to measure the world around us.
What a perfect project to be going on during the International Year of Light!