More than Air: My Reflections on Interning with Gasp

More than Air: My Reflections on Interning with Gasp

Working at Gasp has been really eye-opening because I’ve met some passionate Birmingham citizens. Last semester, I went to my first city council hearing and witnessed more than 50 people advocate the need for a non-discrimination law in the workplace. Each person at the hearing told very personal stories and listening to them made me question why there isn’t already a law against racial, disability, sexual orientation, and gender discrimination.The law passed and hopefully businesses are enforcing it.

This semester I met Christopher, a teacher at Creative Montessori School. He’s one of the most passionate teachers I’ve seen and was really impressed with his ideas for children’s education. When he explained how he uses the community’s projects to educate children rather than textbooks, it made me really wonder how much I really know about the world. Thinking “when is this stuff useful?” in my high school classes, I really wish I had more opportunities to go out into the city and learn more rather than sitting in classroom for 8 hours memorizing textbooks.

Speaking of high school, I got the opportunity to speak with smart Hoover High school students. They are working on environmental projects and would like to pair up with Gasp to make their own air monitor.

The air monitor is under construction but we hope to have the coding problems solved within the next two weeks. With the help of UAB professors and Jon Self, the air monitor should be able to count particulate air matter correctly and output the information to phones via Bluetooth. Here is a link to my earlier blog post about the air monitor.

Speaking of the coding issues we’ve faced, Jon has been working tirelessly on getting those fixed and we think we’re just about there! Here’s a short video he made showing the sensor in action!

What’s in the Air: EPA’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory

What’s in the Air: EPA’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory

Report: What’s in the Air?

A look at the EPA’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory

As we know the air is majority of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. But we humans contribute a lot of negative pollution to the air harming us currently. It is wise to be aware of the types of pollution and their effects in your county. We will look at the the major counties in Birmingham: Jefferson, Shelby, and Walker. This data is from the U.S. EPA’s recently released 2014 National Emissions Inventory.

The National Emissions Inventory (NEI) is a comprehensive and detailed estimate of air emissions of criteria pollutants, criteria precursors, and hazardous air pollutants from air emissions sources. The NEI is released every three years based primarily upon data provided by State, Local, and Tribal air agencies for sources in their jurisdictions and supplemented by data developed by the US EPA. The NEI is built using the Emissions Inventory System (EIS) first to collect the data from State, Local, and Tribal air agencies and then to blend that data with other data sources.

Particulate Matter (PM2.5)

Exposures to air pollution can also cause noncancerous health effects, such as neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive and/or immune system damage. As you can see from the graphs above, in all counties, most 2.5 PM levels come from the non-mobile (others) category.

Nitrogen Oxides & Volatile Organic Compounds

Ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. We’ll take a look at the NOx and VOC data.

Similar to PM levels, the NOx and VOCs are produced mainly from non-mobile (others) category. Jefferson county produces the highest VOC and NOx.

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It is invisible and has a nasty, sharp smell. It reacts easily with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles. About 99% of the sulfur dioxide in air comes from human sources. The main source of sulfur dioxide in the air is industrial activity that processes materials that contain sulfur, eg the generation of electricity from coal, oil or gas that contains sulfur. Some mineral ores also contain sulfur, and sulfur dioxide is released when they are processed. In addition, industrial activities that burn fossil fuels containing sulfur can be important sources of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is also present in motor vehicle emissions, as the result of fuel combustion. Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions.

By looking at this data, we notice that in Jefferson county SO2 levels are primarily from the non-mobile (others) category and for Shelby and Walker SO2 are mainly from non-mobile electric sources.

It is very important to know what is in the air because it will help us save the earth and reduce our pollution!

Issues & Programs

2320 Highland Ave S, Ste 270
Birmingham, AL 35205

Monday-Friday / 9-4

An Update on the Citizen-Science Air Monitoring Kit

An Update on the Citizen-Science Air Monitoring Kit

An Update on the Air Monitoring Kit


Vaishali is an intern with Gasp through the UAB Academic Small Business Alliance program.

With the help of our lovely technical advisor, Jon Self, we have built our first prototype of the Air monitor! The monitor will test humidity, temperature, air particulate matter, and sound levels through the phone.

(All of the steps are in a PowerPoint. I’ve included some of the slides at the end of this post.)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


First we needed to solder the Arduino and powerboost shield then we started connecting each part through wires on the breadboard. Below there is a picture of the prototype. Now you may be wondering how we get to see the information collected by the machine. The air particle sensor displays data to an Android device and runs on a battery so it is very convenient and easy to make!

The problem with our first prototype is the original particle sensor did not pick up PM2.5. So we bought a new particle sensor and we are waiting for the new part to come in. We know that the original sensor was incorrect because we compared the data to Dylos, another air particle sensor and there was a vast difference. Comparing the same time and place, the Dylos PM2.5 value was 1000 and our prototype was 6000.

We are also working on 3D printing a case to hold the air monitor parts and look stylish encasing the equipment. Hopefully this new sensor will work correctly and we can start spreading this project to schools for children to make their own!

Air Monitor Construction Status Update

Air Monitor Construction Status Update

At Gasp my project is to build an air monitor meaning this device needs to measure temperature, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon monoxide, ambient particulate, and humidity levels.

Purpose: Currently, there is a small of amount of data on the particulate matter. There only 7 in Jefferson County that measure fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is an air pollutant and when its levels are high the tiny particles reduce the visibility of the air making the air appear hazy. The higher the PM levels, the worse it is for the lungs so it is important for everyone to know the air quality for their own health and create a safe environment for the next generation.

Future goals: With a successful device, the best way to give back to society is to share our hard work by teaching others how to make their own air monitor. My vision is to create a video with step by step instructions and placing the code on a public platform. A materials kit can be ordered from Gasp and the office would ship the kit to a customer with the link to the instructions and the code. We would like to go to high schools and have a session in class for each student to build his or her own device that they can take home and place it outside.

Current status: We are waiting for the Arduino to ship into the office. The Arduino connects the electronic device to the computer and we use it as a coding software. The Arduino lets us code what we want the machine to do. Our wonderful technical adviser John is working on completing the code. Here’s a picture of all the current parts!