Loughborough researcher to highlight threat of an ‘invisible killer’ as part of pioneering study on two wheels

A researcher at Loughborough University will become the first person on a motorcycle to measure pollution levels using mobile air sensors. 

Dr Christopher Crosby, Research Associate in the University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering, will ride 2,000km across Thailand from 28 May for two weeks as part of a pioneering project to map pollution levels and hotspots in real time using GPS and GoPro technology. He will visit a number of cities, industrial centres, rural areas, and tourist attractions along the route, including Bangkok, where there are high levels of air pollution. 

A number of different air sensors will be attached to both Dr Crosby and the motorcycle to determine concentrations of airborne particulate matter (PM) which pass through an engine’s air filter system or into people’s lungs on a daily basis. As Dr Crosby and the motorcycle pass through dirty air, the sophisticated laser analysers will detect these particles and record their mass per metre cubed. 

PM is an invisible killer causing up to three million deaths globally each year. PM, particularly from diesel combustion, can penetrate deep into the lungs causing cancer and other respiratory illnesses and conditions including asthma – with the UK currently among a number of cities worldwide which are unable to comply with EU legislation and are exceeding PM recommended levels. 

The expedition has been organised as part of Dr Crosby’s Every Breath Counts project, through which he aims to develop a novel monitoring and risk assessment toolkit. The aim of the project is to enable public and environmental health officials worldwide to better understand the risk and severity of exposure to PM, through monitoring regimes and risk profiles, improving people’s health in the process. 

Dr Crosby said: “Current methods of pollution data collection are static, costly and restricted to monitoring specific locations, leaving vast areas untouched. By taking to two wheels armed with a variety of air sensors, I will be collecting data on pollution levels across Thailand at different times of the day. I will then be able to pinpoint certain pollution hotspots and calculate the long-term risk associated with specific modes of transport on certain journey routes.” 

He added that work was also underway on a new pollution sensor for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. 

The Particulate Matter Smart Sensor (PMSS) will alert users to poor air quality and suggest appropriate action including appropriate route diversions. Live data will be transferred from the device to smartphones via Bluetooth or an app, and also to cars via GPS, displaying itself in the form of air quality forecast maps and bulletins. The sophisticated sensor can also be used to monitor inside buildings. 

Dr Crosby said the wearable device could help transform the lives of millions of people suffering from asthma, allergies and breathing difficulties. 

“A personal air pollution monitor has the potential to indicate when medication or other preventative measures are needed, and allows people to know exactly what the air quality is like that they are breathing every day,” he said. 

“Air pollution is an invisible killer that affects so many people’s health, which is why I’m trying to raise its profile and make the invisible ‘visible’, and ultimately improve people’s quality of life around the world.” 

The Thailand trip is part of an intended Fellowship proposal funded by the University and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It has been supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Higher Education Innovation Fund and will see Dr Crosby work with the Asian Institute of Technology and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. 

Follow Dr Crosby’s Thailand adventure and keep up-to-date with his video diaries here.

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