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UCL EEE/IoE Schools Air Pollution Monitoring Project

A great success

An innovative joint project encompassing STEM education, citizen science and public engagement funded by EPSRC Training Funds between UCL EEE and UCL Institute of Education (IoE) is featured in a new video. The project ran from March – September 2018 and focused on PhD students teaching year 8 secondary school children how to build a wireless sensor network for measuring air pollution in their schools in both London and Kent and culminated in a celebration event at UCL that included the Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell from the London Mayor’s Office. The sensor network development served as a great case study example for teaching schoolchildren about the Government's industrial strategy related technology themes.

The 10 PhD students developed teaching materials to engage secondary school Year 8 students about the problem of air pollution. They explained most of the technology areas of the Industrial Strategy and why they are important for the UK’s future. For example:

• Smart, flexible and clean energy technologies (such as storage, including batteries, and demand response) – the wireless sensors provide data which allow energy demand to be monitored

• Satellites and space technologies – the sensors use GPS

• Leading-edge healthcare and medicine – respirational disease linked to air pollution

• Transformative digital technologies including supercomputing, advanced modelling, & 5G mobile network technology – the connectivity of the sensor is based on 5G technology

• Creative industries – how wearable sensors will transform society

During the project, the PhD students also had the opportunity to test and learn from different approaches to STEM education with secondary school students. The IoE researched the educational inference from this project for STEM education and the team members in IoE are preparing a journal paper of the findings to be circulated to practioners. During the project, the PhD students discussed air pollution, what engineers can do and how to design a long range air quality sensor network with a group of 6-10 Year 8 students, including both boys and girls. In mid-July 2018, they co-built a long range air quality monitor and started to collect and upload data to the IBM cloud server over the summer. UCL hosted an end of project celebration event on 14th September. There were about 50 people, including the teachers and students from the schools, the UCL PhD students and academics, staff from educational charities, the Government Office of Science and representatives from the London Mayors Office in attendance.

Mr Theo Blackwell, the Chief Digital Officer for the GLA gave a talk about the London’s smart city plan and Mr Elie Kfoury, CEO of Intellicasa discussed smart home automation, with examples. The air quality data collected at the schools during the summer and the learning outcomes of the students in the celebration event was presented. Finally, the event concluded with a panel discussion about how government, companies, school and university can work together in future to improve the air quality in the capital.

The project was a great success as it helped enhance the understanding of schoolchildren about the role of an engineer, formed a stronger network between schools, UCL, charities, government and companies to address air pollution in London. Evidence collected from the project suggested an improvement in schoolchildren’s perception of engineering and understanding of the industrial strategy technology areas. PhD students also improved their communication and STEM engagement skills. The project also involved schools that were in areas of high deprivation and high priority for UCL’s widening participation.

For more information, contact Dr Kenneth Tong or Dr Mark Hardman from UCL.