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Children test for a breath of fresh air

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Smoke billowing out of industrial chimney stacks in South Auckland has inspired local children to find out more about what they and their families are breathing

Five early childhood education centres have teamed up with NIWA scientists to investigate local air quality in a way that under-fives can understand. The project is one of six community science projects in South Auckland funded through the Participatory Science Platform.

A sensor box with colourful shapes attached to a computer screen lets children test the air for temperature, carbon dioxide, dust, light and distance from the sensor. A computer screen shows the measurement simply using both colours and sound.

NIWA air quality scientist Gustavo Olivares drives the technical science side of the partnership.

“The project is perfect for continuing and expanding NIWA’s community engagement efforts in South Auckland, and it’s a great test of scientists’ ability to communicate and collaborate across all ages and cultures.”

Project Manager Dr Sarah Morgan says the budding scientists understood the temperature and distance measurement straight away.

“They really got it, and they really enjoyed getting a dusty branch from a science display table and shaking it in front of the particulate sensor.”

The equipment has been designed to be robust and usable by pre-schoolers without supervision, and the prototype testing has already led to some refinements. The longer term aim is a compact and moveable sensor that children and whānau will be able to take outside, and into their homes.

“Air quality in early childhood centres is subject to several regulations, so for some children, the air quality they experience there is a lot better than at home,” Dr Morgan says.

NIWA is working with Good Seed Children's Centre, Le Malelega Lotu Talapa, Agape Aoga Armata, Akaiti Mangarongaro Punanga Reo preschool and Puna O le Atamai Aoga Amata.

An initiative under A Nation of Curious Minds, the Participatory Science Platform engages young people, communities and scientists in collaborative science and technology projects. It is currently being piloted in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.