Deakin University and Dyson have announced a pioneering citizen science study measuring children’s exposure to air pollution on their school commute in Melbourne’s inner west. Students will wear Dyson’s air quality backpack to collect air quality data on the move.
The study, titled ‘Breathe Melbourne’ is led by Deakin University in collaboration with Dyson. It aims to equip, empower and educate children as air quality scientists, raise community awareness and collect valuable data to help tackle inner-city air pollution.
Over 300 primary school students and 12 teachers across six schools will be given the air sensing backpack technology to carry to and from school for a period of four days. The data will be analysed by Deakin University researchers, who will work with participating students on behavioural solutions to improve the quality of air they breathe.
Students will also complete a survey to identify how the study has impacted their understanding of air pollution and engagement in science and technology. Participating schools will have access to an optional air quality educational resource provided by the James Dyson Foundation (JDF). This resource encourages students to work like real engineers to investigate air pollution and evaluate existing solutions.
Ms Kate Lycett, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Psychology at Deakin University and Lead Researcher for Breathe Melbourne commented: “Breathe Melbourne is a research project that aims to empower children as air quality scientists. As our future leaders, they will be faced with many complex problems including air pollution and its effects. We hope the project will nurture children’s scientific curiosity, improve our understanding of air pollution, and ultimately lead to behaviour and government policy changes to reduce exposure to air pollution in Melbourne’s inner west.”
Making the Invisible Visible
Re-working existing sensing technology used in Dyson air purifiers, Dyson’s air quality backpack is a portable air sensing device. With on-board sensors measuring PM2.5, PM10, NO2, VOCs and CO2, a battery pack and GPS, it collects air pollution data on the move. The backpack was initially developed by Dyson engineers for the Breathe London Wearables Study – a similar project in the UK in collaboration with King’s College London and the Greater London Authority. As a result of the study, over 31 per cent of the children said they would change the way they commute to and from school to reduce their exposure to air pollution.
There are three main sensors which use unique algorithms to process the data. On one carefully engineered satellite board sits a sensor that measures temperature and humidity, and another which is a gas sensor which can detect nitrogen dioxides (NO2), carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The third sensor is larger than the other two and sits in a separate module and uses lasers to detect PM2.5 and PM10.
Dyson air sensing technology has also been used across the world in educational and research projects. In 2020, Dyson explored the impact of lockdown on indoor and outdoor air quality in 14 major cities across the world, including London, Paris, Seoul, New York, Manila and Bangkok. The project, using Dyson air quality backpacks and Dyson connected purifiers found that whilst NO2 decreased outdoors, PM2.5 indoors was significantly higher in 10 out of 14 cities. The air quality backpacks are also being used in sub-Saharan Africa as part of the CAPPA project, led by Queen Mary University London (QMUL) and Imperial College London, aiming to describe burden of personal air pollution exposure in urban children with asthma symptoms.
Mr Matt Jennings, Category Director of Environmental Care at Dyson, said: “Our engineers have used knowledge derived from years of experience and research in air cleaning technology to develop intelligent sensors, compact enough to fit in children’s backpacks. Following the success of the 2019 Breathe London Wearables study in the UK, we continue to see the benefit of using our air monitoring technology to make the invisible visible – highlighting air pollution exposure indoors, outdoors and on the move. We hope that Breathe Melbourne increases awareness about the problem of air pollution and educates individuals on how they can reduce their own daily exposure, while providing robust scientific evidence of the outdoor and indoor pollution we are exposed to every day.”
Air Pollution in Melbourne’s Inner West
Due to its industrial history, proximity to the Port of Melbourne, and the high volume of diesel-fueled vehicles in the area, Melbourne’s inner west has higher air pollution levels than other areas in Melbourne.2 It also has higher rates of emergency department presentations for childhood asthma compared to other areas.
Professor Lou Irving, Director of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine and Director of Clinical Training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital explained: “Air pollution is predicted by the World Health Organisation to be one of the greatest environmental risks to health. That’s because of the amount of poor air quality throughout the world, but also the diverse adverse health effects it can have. Melbourne’s inner west is a hotspot for active asthma in children, with a higher prevalence of asthma admissions and presentation than most other areas of Australia. The Breathe Melbourne Study is very important because it focuses on a group of children who we know are already at risk because of poor air quality, and it’s aimed at helping to reduce the risk, as well as aiding the management of asthma symptoms.”
The 2020 Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group Report, commissioned by the Victorian Government, provided recommendations for reducing community exposure to air pollution in the inner west. Breathe Melbourne supports these recommendations by empowering children and their communities to learn about air pollution and act on it. Additionally, the data collected through the project will help to inform government policy by providing insight on pollution exposure in the area.
Professor Mark Patrick Taylor, Chief Environmental Scientist for Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) commented: “EPA works to protect the health of our environment and the health of Victorians. We know any level of air pollution can negatively affect human health and our environment – this project will add to our existing air quality monitoring to drive evidence-based insights, health advice and decision making.”
Common Pollutants Found in Cities
● PM2.5 – Fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns, including smoke, bacteria and allergens.
● PM10 – Particulate matter smaller than 10 microns, includes pollen, dust, pet dander and allergens from
plants and flowers.
● Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) – Harmful gas released by combustion including vehicle exhausts, cigarette smoke,
candles and gas stoves.
● Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) – Gas produced by heavy industry and vehicle exhausts.
● Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – Gases released from a wide range of sources such as paints,
varnishes, aerosol sprays and air fresheners. They include formaldehyde and benzene, household fumes
● Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – A greenhouse gas caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
Found in high concentrations near roadways and industrial areas.
Idle Off pilot project
In addition to the Breathe Melbourne study, two of the participating primary schools will be involved in the ‘Idle Off’ Pilot project which seeks to educate individuals on the risks of idling vehicles and encourage parents to turn off their engines when not using them, to help reduce air quality and improve student health.
Ms Jackie Green, Principal at Spotswood Primary School, one of the participating schools commented: “Spotswood Primary is excited to be a part of the Breathe Melbourne project! Living and learning close to some of Melbourne’s busiest roads, it is important for us to understand more about the quality of the air in our local area. We are passionate to find out about choices we can make to have a positive impact on the air quality in our community and look after our health.”
The primary schools will commence data collection in the coming months, with the findings due to be published later this year.
Dyson is a global research and technology company with engineering, research, development, manufacturing and testing operations in Singapore, the UK, Malaysia, Mexico, China and the Philippines. Having started in a coach house in the UK, Dyson has consistently grown since it was established in 1993. Today, it has a global headquarters in Singapore and two technology campuses in the UK spanning over 800 acres in Malmesbury and Hullavington. Since 1993, Dyson has invested more than £1bn in its Wiltshire offices and laboratories that house the early-stage research, design and development of future Dyson technology. Dyson remains family-owned and employs 14,000 people globally including a 6,000 strong engineering team. It sells products in 84 markets in over 350 Dyson Demo stores, 50 of which opened around the world in 2021 including a new Dyson Virtual Reality Demo Store.
In 2020, Dyson committed an additional £2.75bn in the business to conceive revolutionary products and technologies, and has global teams of engineers, scientists and software developers focused on the development of solid-state battery cells, high-speed electric digital motors, sensing and vision systems, robotics, machine learning technologies and A.I. investment. Since inventing the first cyclonic bagless vacuum cleaner – DC01- in 1993, Dyson has created problem solving technologies for haircare, air purification, robotics, lighting and hand drying.
In 2019, Dyson launched a national air quality education initiative in partnership with Little Scientists Australia, a not-for-profit program for early childhood educators and teachers. As part of the project, Dyson donated 100 purifying fans to early learning centres across Australia which educators used to provide air science education through hands-on practical demonstrations, while cleaning the air that they and the children breathed.
During Australia’s bushfires in 2020, Dyson donated $600,000 worth of products including purifiers and vacuums to bushfire-impacted Australian communities to support relief efforts. This included 400 Dyson Pure Cool purifying fans being sent to Government schools impacted by bushfire smoke pollution in the ACT.
The James Dyson Foundation, Dyson’s charitable arm, introduces young people to the exciting world of engineering, encouraging them to think differently, make mistakes and realise their engineering potential. To better educate children on the impacts of pollution and encourage them to think of solutions, the James Dyson Foundation developed a free reaching resource for classrooms around the world – ‘Engineering Solutions: Air Pollution.’ Designed using Dyson engineers’ expertise in air science, it supports teachers to bring to life one of the most pressing problems facing the world.