Research, Scientific culture
Sarah Duché is a geographer at the Alpine Geography Institute (IGA). She does her research in the PACTE laboratory and talks to us about citizen sensors which enable our exposure to air pollution to be measured.

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 Question Box

What led you to focus on the subject of air pollution?

Sarah Duché: I wrote my thesis on the perception of air pollution and the exposure of tourists in Île de France. As I was working on it, I began to realise that there was a lack of fine-scale data and, especially, resources for measuring at the individual level. I had two choices for measuring the exposure of tourists: use existing, fairly broad-scale models or use measuring instruments that, at the time, were very cumbersome. I could carry them around as part of a research project, but I couldn’t ask just anybody to wear them for days at a time. These observations drove me to focus on miniaturised sensors and participatory science.

What is participatory science?

S. D.: It involves getting citizens to take part in research work in order to build a substantial database, as well as learning from their usage and the extent of their adoption of the sensors. For example, in my field, there is currently not enough fine-scale data to say what level of air pollution I am exposed to when I go to a given place. My scientific approach is increasingly aimed at the individual level. That is why I chose to focus on developing miniaturised, low-cost sensors that each and every citizen can wear in their everyday lives – for example, while riding a bike or going for a run – in order to determine their exposure to air pollution. These sensors will help us put together a scientific database generated by citizens, as well as examine their spatial and temporal representation. The feedback from the public could also open up new avenues for improving information on the issues surrounding air quality. 

How will you be rolling out these sensors?

S. D.: We have already produced the first sensors for citizens via a ‘FabLab’ (a digital fabrication laboratory). The idea was to use open-source electronics with an Arduino platform that anyone can reproduce at home. At the next Fête de la Science, we will be offering visitors the chance to make their own sensors using a set of instructions and a carefully designed casing. The second step will be looking at how well they adopt the device and how they use it.

Miniaturised sensors have a scientific value, but they also serve to raise public awareness regarding the issues surrounding air pollution…

S. D.: Precisely. Raising public awareness regarding air pollution means giving citizens a key role to play in their exposure and their sources of emissions. It could well have an impact on reducing pollution.
Updated on December 13, 2016