First, what is particulate matter (PM)? Particulate matter is a mixture of solids and/or liquids suspended within the air. These solids and liquids are too small for the eye to see, however, if they're in a high enough concentration it will often look like a haze in the air. The particles that make it up can be anything from pollen and dust to even molecules of water. The number at the end (ex. the 10 in PM10) is the upper limit of the particles’ diameter. A size comparison produced by the US EPA can be seen below.
It is almost instinctive when you first get the PocketLab Air to breathe directly on it just to see what happens. As seen below, of the PocketLab Air's seven sensors, five of them detect changes from a direct human breath. These parameters are carbon dioxide, particulate matter, temperature, humidity, and pressure. The most interesting of these is the sharp rise in carbon dioxide which, as the most important greenhouse gas, brings about strong connections to the topic of climate change.
Forest fires are a common natural disaster within western North America and pose a serious risk to many communities both nearby due to direct danger of the fire, as well as far away in the form of air pollution. Currently, in many places, some form of government employee will be in charge of looking out for forest fires and once identified, satellites and computer programs can be used to track its progression and predict where the fire will spread and where the smoke cloud will go. This allows us to evacuate individuals who may be in danger and minimize loss of life.
Background Information about Ozone
Ozone (O3) in our atmosphere is both good and bad. There is a helpful saying to remember is, “Ozone: good up high, bad nearby.” The “good” ozone is ozone high in our atmosphere that is part of the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. “Bad” ozone is ozone that occurs at ground level, where it can be inhaled. Ground level ozone is a pollutant and creates smog.
Background Information on Particulate Matter
Particulate matter consists of small particles suspended in the atmosphere. Dust, pollen, sea salt, soil particles, mold, soot, smoke, and other fine substances create a mixture of particulate matter that we inhale with every breath. According to the EPA, particulate matter greater than 10 micrometers is generally filtered away in our nose and throat. Particulates less than 10 micrometers can often pass into the lungs.
Carbon dioxide circulates naturally in Earth’s atmosphere as part of the carbon cycle (the process in which carbon dioxide is exchanged between the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants, and animals). According to the EPA, since the industrial revolution, humans have altered the carbon cycle through activities like burning fossil fuels, which adds CO2 to the cycle, and deforestation which reduces natural ways in which CO2 is removed.
Free Air Quality Lesson Plans
Bring the science of air quality into your classroom through hands-on activities, inquiry-based lessons and real science tools. These high quality lessons plans are free to download and were developed by King's University in conjunction with Telus World of Science in Edmonton.
A common experiment for studying the reflectivity of different colored surfaces makes use of colored construction paper, aluminum foil, a light source, and a light sensor. Voyager’s light sensor and the little flashlight included with the Explorer Kit are perfect tools for performing this experiment. Empty graphs and data tables suitable for copying for student use are included with this lesson.