Harnessing citizen science to tackle air pollution: the APoCS Project

10/16/2023 | by Carlo Luiu and Francis Pope | Environment Participation Sustainability

A collaborative effort within the EUniWell network brought together academics, citizen scientists, digital artists and the wider public to create new tools to engage communities in tackling air pollution.

Blurry night-time scene of a city street, illuminated by streaks of white lights, with bicycles parked on the side and a glimpse of buildings and street lamps in the background.
A vast array of bicycles parked systematically on multi-tiered racks at dusk, with a modern cityscape, featuring glowing buildings and floating lights, in the background.
An elegant brick building with large windows illuminated at dusk, adorned with blue lights, stands beside a busy street where the motion blur of passing vehicles creates streaks of red and white lights. A traffic light displaying red is in the foreground, and a cycling sign adds to the urban setting.
A tall, unique structure stands against a twilight sky, surrounded by trees and an illuminated wall dotted with small lights, giving an impression of stars.
A rustic wooden shed with weathered planks stands surrounded by greenery. A sign reading 'HET ZONNEVELD' is affixed to the shed, alongside a window displaying various items. Nearby, an informational panel and a brown bin labelled 'Vilko' are placed. Beneath the window is a metal table sheltering a couple of storage bins.
A photograph of a wooden structure illuminated by multiple streaks of light. The signage 'HET ZONNEVELD' is prominently displayed on the structure. In the foreground, a bin labelled 'Vibro' can be seen, and in the background, trees under a twilight sky complete the serene scene.
A nocturnal view of a garden with dotted light streaks dancing across the frame. The garden features a variety of plants and a greenhouse structure on the left side. Adjacently, there's a brick house with a window adorned with curtains. The sky is dark with the silhouette of trees and an antenna on the horizon.
A picture of a dark garden, illuminated by bright specs of white light.

Citizen science can play a crucial role in generating support, advocacy, and most importantly, action against air pollution. With this in mind, the Air Pollution Citizen Science (APoCS) project was established. Within the framework of this initiative, Professor Francis Pope, Dr Carlo Luiu (School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences - University of Birmingham) alongside international audio-visual artist Dr Robin Price, Margaret Gold and Marin Visscher (Citizen Science Lab - Leiden University), provided training for citizen scientists, equipping them to adapt and expand a photographic light painting technique developed by Robin Price to generate dialogue around air pollution and its effects on local community well-being. This unique collaboration between academic experts, citizen scientists, digital artists, and local communities generated new tools to effectively engage and empower communities.

During a  three-day workshop titled “Luchtkwaliteit in Beeld” (Air Quality in Photos) carried out in June 2023 in Leiden, citizen scientists, comprising professional and amateur photographers and environmental activists, explored various aspects, including: 

  • The wider social and health implications of air pollution, 
  • How citizen scientists can use photographic light painting to visualise air pollution and change the narrative to raise awareness and tackle air pollution.
  • How to build low-cost air quality monitoring sensors.
  • Learning how the photographic light painting technique and identifying the best location in Leiden for capturing images that represent air pollution

A set of 8 photos from the citizen scientists was selected to represent the project at the Nacht van Ontdekkingen (Night of Discoveries), an art and knowledge festival carried out in Leiden on Saturday, 16 September 2023. At the festival, the research team engaged with the citizens of Leiden,  examining “how to make the invisible visible” and pinpointing locations in Leiden where the photographic light painting technique might help to identify air pollution hotspots.

Further information

For more details, you can explore this video showcasing the workshop’s activities and view  this interactive map featuring the photos taken by the citizen scientists involved in the project. 


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