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NSF CAREER Award Project on Air Pollution

NSF Grants $500,000 to SPIA Prof. Steve Hankey

The five-year project will utilize sensors to measure pollution and engage the public through crowdsourcing pollution tracking.

Steve Hankey, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, stands with his instrumented bicycle next to the Drillfield on the Blacksburg campus. Hankey will use sensors attached to bicycles to track air pollution as part of his five-year NSF CAREER Award project. Photo by Emily Roediger for Virginia Tech.

Steve Hankey, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, stands with his instrumented bicycle next to the Drillfield on the Blacksburg campus. Hankey will use sensors attached to bicycles to track air pollution as part of his five-year NSF CAREER Award project. Photo by Emily Roediger for Virginia Tech.

In February 2020, Dr. Steve Hankey, assistant professor,  received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The $500,000 award will fund Hankey’s five-year project to measure pollution using various sensors and engage the public by tracking their pollution intake using a smartphone app.

This project received initial funding from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment. Additional supporters and ongoing partner organizations include the Center for Geospatial Information Technology in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity in the College of Engineering, and the Institute for Policy and Governance.

Methodology

The smartphone app will estimate the pollution along users’ paths but also show them alternate routes to take where the air is cleaner. Data for the research will be obtained through (1) mined Google Street View Imagery and (2) measured air pollution using 50 stationary PurpleAir low-cost sensors and two mobile high-cost sensors that will be attached to bicycles. 

The smartphone app, developed through a partnership with the Center for Geospatial Information Technology and the University of Minnesota, will be publicly available to all citizens. 

Community Engagement

The study is not only designed to measure pollution around cities’ roadways and walkways, but also to educate citizens about those measurements so they have an opportunity to change their active transportation habits for the better.   

High school students from African-American fraternal organizations will participate in collecting data wand working with graduate students from the Urban Affairs and Planning. They will test a smartphone app that tracks an individual’s exposure to pollution when walking or bicycling around Washington, D.C.  and be able to suggest improvements to roadways and street designs.