Research Scientists In Utah Get Grant To Test Air Pollution

Air pollution is a problem, and now researchers will be trying to decrease its impact in the state of Utah. Professors at Utah State University and the University of Utah have been jointly awarded a $1.2 million grant to create displays “they hope will curtail idling vehicles, a source of significant pollution in Utah“.

According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, air pollution continues to be a serious issue in the United States, and the world, even as we have made great strides in the last four decades.

However, air pollution can be harmful even when it is not visible. Newer scientific studies have shown that some pollutants can harm public health and welfare even at very low levels. EPA in recent years revised standards for five of the six common pollutants subject to national air quality standards. EPA made the standards more protective because new, peer-reviewed scientific studies showed that existing standards were not adequate to protect public health and the environment.

The funding for this grant is coming from the National Science Foundation, and the research team will be led by assistant professor Kerry Kelly from the University of Utah and will include USU psychology professor Gregory Madden.

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Madden spoke on the grant’s purpose awarded, saying:

My research focuses on impulsive decision-making, and this is a very socially significant topic — I was also excited to be involved with this cool technology, Idling your vehicle gives the immediate gratification of the heater staying on, etc. Although pollution creates long-term problems, we don’t feel the immediate effects of those small decisions.”

According to Madden, these display signs can give drivers immediate feedback on air quality. Sensors will be able to detect the air quality in any surrounding micro-environment like a school or hospital. These infrared sensors will be able to detect when a driver turns off their engine, and air quality improves.

The sign could flash with a message that says, “One driver just turned off their engine! Thank you!” or “It’s getting better!

Here’s how it will work: The sensors connect wirelessly to large LED displays that will alert parked motorists when air pollution rises to dangerous levels. USU’s Madden, who specializes in the field of behavioral economics, is creating community-crafted messages for the displays that can motivate drivers to make smart choices. 

This initial project will involve display signs at one school and one hospital each in Salt Lake and Cache counties. The team will be working with Intermountain Healthcare, which operates 24 hospitals in Utah, and they hope to install the first display by WInter 2021.