Leiden University again finalist for Academic Year Prize
The ‘Measuring particulates with your smartphone’ project by Leiden University astronomers is one of three contestants for the 2012 Academic Year Prize.
The project amounts to a type of crowd sourcing: people who sign up can participate in scientific research on particulates in the air in the Netherlands. As long as they are in possession of a smartphone, that is. By attaching a small device, developed by the team, onto their smartphone, they are able to take measurements from the air around them. The device also has a matching app. SPEX-technology (Spectropolarimeter for Planetary EXploration). This is where the project gets its name: iSPEX.
Last year a Leiden-Rotterdam team beat the other two finalists, one of whom was also from Leiden. And in 2010 the Labyrinth Public Award went to a team from Leiden.
If the project wins, the € 10,000 in prize money will be spent on the production and distribution of 10,000 smartphone attachments. And next May, measurements will be carried out all over the Netherlands on the same day: the participants will start up the app, and aim their smartphone, with the device attached, towards a chunk of clear sky. This will allow different types of particulates to be measured. Using the app, all the information is transferred to a central database where the data collected can be processed into a particulates map of the Netherlands.
The team is made up of a varied assembly of institutes: Leiden University/NOVA, SRON, RIVM and KNMI. The project is intended to find out more about the sources of particulates and about their influence on climate and public health. Particulate matter consists of floating particles that can be detrimental to health. iSPEX makes it possible to distinguish between the different types of particulate matter in the air. This information can then be linked to health data from people living in a specific area.
The iSPEX technology was developed by the astronomy group of Leiden University/NOVA in collaboration with the Dutch business community. At the moment, the technology is being adapted for use in a satellite instrument for worldwide observations of particulate matter in the atmosphere. A plan to further fine-tune the system for asthma patients, who would then be able to measure whether they are at risk on a specific day or location, is also under consideration. iSPEX is a fine example of fundamental research applied to practical situations.
Besides Leiden University, two teams from the University of Groningen will also be competing for the prize: the first team with their project ‘Frozen wilderness in motion, the surviving North Pole’, and the second with ‘Love to Know’ (about love and sex). A jury of experts selected these projects from nineteen submissions.
The Academic Year Prize is awarded to the best translation of scientific research to a wider audience. The winner of the Prize 2012 will be announced on Wednesday 24 October. The winner of the Labyrinth Public Award is chosen online, by the public.
(19 June 2012/Astronomy)
iSPEX website (online shortly)
The Leiden Observatory
Fundamentals of Science is one of Leiden University's research themes