Back in 2019, the Morgan Academy Young Engineers Club was working on robotics projects, exploring engineering solutions using microcontrollers such as the Micro:bit, Arduino, and using online tools to programme and connect motors, sensors and articulated structures. With the help of members from Dundee Makerspace, who are professionals from the local community, we were able to share ideas and explore trends in physical computing, electronics, and many other aspects of the maker movement.
Dundee is a city that does not seems particularly affected by air pollution as it is surrounded by woodlands and an estuary with the open sea on its doorstep, though it suffers from heavy road traffic as with any major urban area, and with some factories still active. The school has ample green areas with a large park right next to it, and were you driving a car you would not notice any major air pollution issues. But for those of us that walk or cycle to school, things are different. Two major roads surround the school and traffic is an issue: large lorries and buses are constantly passing by.
This is the reason we decided to apply to the Royal Society for a Partnership Grant with our STEM partner Dr David Martin, a Senior Lecturer in Life Sciences at the University of Dundee. We wanted to create a portable air pollution monitoring station and gather data to share with the local community, giving young people an opportunity to investigate further their knowledge of pollution and how it affects their neighbourhood.
We also wanted to make sure we could share our work with a larger audience, developing our young people’s communication skills to raise awareness. This was greatly supported by the Press and Public Affairs team at the Royal Society through the Tomorrow's climate scientist programme, an extension to the Partnership Grants scheme. They went to great length to contact local media and politicians to maximise the impact of our work. To help with this we produced our first video introducing the project.
As part of the project, we have been building up on our knowledge and understanding of sensors and micro-controllers. With the support of James Bastone from Dundee Makerspace we were able to work with the latest Raspberry Pi addition, the Raspberry Pico, just out of Raspberry Pi PCB press in January 2021; a decision that gave the young people the privilege and opportunity to work with the latest technology available, with a brand new, simple and trouble free online interface BIPES (Block based Integrated Platform for Embedded Systems). This fantastic new resource was later deployed in the classroom and adapted to our Engineering Science curriculum.
Young people have engaged with the project and have found space to develop their own interests, either by building the station, coding the boards, creating communication materials such as video and voice recording, researching air pollution resources online, or collecting and analysing data.
The resources created in this project will be used with other schools and organisations in the local community who are part of our local technology educators network.