Using mobile air quality sensors to Detect Differences in Philadelphia Air Quality

Philadelphia skyline




Associate Professor of Informatics

Project Summary

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Philadelphia is the fourth most challenging city to live in with asthma in America. This summer, through the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship program (PURM), I had the privilege of working with Dr. Blanca Himes, a Professor of Informatics in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine. The Himes Lab focuses its research efforts on asthma, though projects designed to examine social and biological determinants of asthma as well as sources of pollution in Philadelphia.

This summer, my project, “Using mobile air quality sensors to Detect Differences in Philadelphia Air Quality”, was focused around testing the usefulness and reliability of the AirBeam, a low-cost, portable air quality monitor. I walked with the sensors along set routes in Philadelphia, specifically around Penn’s campus, and collected particulate matter data. I then mapped the sensor output using the program R, and was able to visually see that certain locations around Philadelphia had higher levels of particulate matter (PM2.5), the agent largely responsible for asthma exacerbations. The majority of these areas turned out to consistently be large intersections and construction sites.

Through my summer research experience, I learned how to map using the program R, which gave me a great base for future coding projects. I also learned a lot about troubleshooting using the first generation AirBeam as well as when it is generally appropriate to continue to power though issues and when those efforts are going to turn out to be futile. The research process is difficult to fully grasp until you have spent a significant amount of time on one project, and I am grateful to Dr. Himes and PURM for giving me the opportunity to apply concepts learned in a classroom into a concrete project.