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Investigating our air

Richmond, Virginia

Featured image for the project, Investigating our air

Devin Jefferson, Community Science Catalyst, leading Air Quality walk. (Credit: Science Museum of Virginia)

Richmond, Virginia, has some of the highest rates of allergies and asthma—shown to be correlated with long-term exposure to poor air quality—in the United States. This project is in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond and engages youth in collecting baseline air quality data measurements for Richmond neighborhoods to increase their community’s climate resilience.

Description

Richmond, Virginia, is consistently ranked as one of the “sneeziest and wheeziest” cities in the country, largely due to high rates of asthma and allergy diagnoses. On a regional scale, Richmond is considered to have generally good air quality despite being so “sneezy and wheezy” and that has inspired the community’s efforts to better understand why. Decades-long scientific studies have demonstrated that environmental factors such as extreme heat events, can have more variation between individual neighborhoods than previously thought. Those variations tend to be more apparent in neighborhoods that are heavily affected by redlining policies from the 1930s-1940s that denied mostly Black and Brown communities access to home financing and generational wealth. The Science Museum of Virginia’s Heat Island assessment showed there can be up to a 16° F difference between neighborhoods that are heavily impacted by redlining practices.

Early air quality work by the Museum has demonstrated that we can use volunteer community science efforts to gather air quality data as the city attempts to build a more complete picture of exactly which neighborhoods are affected by poor air quality. The study used diagnosis rates of illnesses like heat stroke, cardiovascular/heart disease, and asthma in order to highlight the correlation between the long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and the underserved communities affected by redlining. Air pollution measuring PM2.5 (the size of small Particulate Matter measured in microns) is what tends to be connected to the elevated occurrence of asthma, COPD, and heart disease. We would like to support the community by building a baseline of PM2.5 measurements to inform future environmental justice efforts.

 

The Project

The community would like help understanding air quality in Richmond so that they can share that knowledge with the community, which will benefit climate resilience efforts for the area.

In this community science project, youth will be recruited by the Boys & Girls Club and be trained in how to collect usable Particulate Matter (PM) measurements with Airbeam 2 sensors. We will map block-by-block routes through their neighborhood and record our measurements of PM2.5, the size of particulate matter from combustion particles, organic compounds, metals etc. Those PM2.5 measurements will immediately be available on an AirCasting interactive map and shown as color layers on the map. Based on the youths’ findings, the Science Museum of Virginia will co-create community-led solutions to the air quality problem in the Museum’s makerspace (The Forge). In the fall, we hope to showcase the community findings and potential solutions they’ve ideated with the community at large.

This project will involve supporting the Boys & Girls Clubs’ efforts to create awareness about air pollution and how it affects the community. We plan to generate that momentum by collecting data to fill in the AirCasting interactive map with PM2.5 data. We will collaborate with collaboration of the Museum’s makerspace to support the ideation and creation of community-driven solutions. In the fall, we will communicate our findings and potential solutions to community members/leaders.

The primary outputs will be the baseline data set on the AirCasting website visualizing the average levels of PM2.5 and community-relevant conversations/presentations to share our findings. We believe presenting our findings directly to the community will increase the long-term impact of this effort.

Accomplishing the outputs above will hopefully increase the community’s capacity for scientific learning among the members and leaders. By increasing scientific literacy and awareness, we hope to make the community a more confident and capable self-advocate in the future.

 

Timeline and Milestones

The project is expected to last 8-9 months, starting in May/June.

  • May
    • Recruit scientist
  • June- August
    • Data collection training
    • Data collection
  • September- October
    • Data collection continued
    • Reflect on PM2.5 measurements with scientist
    • Brainstorming solution with the Forge
    • Create opportunities to share what we’re learning so far
  • October- December
    • Creating/building community-driven solution to air quality problem in the Forge in the Science Museum of Virginia
    • Showcase for the Boys & Girls Clubs kids to showcase their knowledge of air quality and how it affects their community

Project Team

Community Leaders

Sarah Craig: Consultant, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond; Master’s degree in leadership; Stanford University Social Innovation Fellow.

Craig, who came to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business after a career in fundraising and K-12 out-of-school-time program design, including 15 years in Richmond, plans to create a lean model to support innovation that responds to local communities in a way that can be replicated in other communities. Using the professional network she grew as chief impact officer for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, she has already begun laying the foundation by involving local parents, teachers, and leaders in education, philanthropy, business, and government in conversation.

Kelly Burnett: Director of Outcomes, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond

Main contact for lesson planning

 

Community Science Fellow

Devin Jefferson has spent his career connecting non-profit missions to high-impact initiatives through program management, youth development, and STEM programming in both formal and informal settings. As a native of Richmond, Virginia, Devin has a deep knowledge of and connection to the Metro Richmond area. This history serves him well as he has developed STEM-focused programming for culturally and racially diverse audiences over the years​. Community engagement has been an ever-increasing focus as Devin spent time as Community Relations Manager for a charter school in Brooklyn, New York. That wealth of experience is showcased through his transition back to Richmond in 2020 as ​the Community Science Catalyst at the Science Museum of Virginia

 

Community Scientist

Role to be filled.

Scientist Wanted

Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond seeks a scientific partner who is:

  • Comfortable meeting and engaging with a new community (potentially from a distance at first)
  • Background in environmental science (ideally air quality related)
  • Climate scientist with adaptation experience
  • Experience collaborating with local community members
  • Comfortable with kids
  • Knowledge and respect for Indigenous cultures and worldviews
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Experience with air quality analysis and urban sustainability
  • A detailed understanding of the interplay of equity, resilience, and climate adaptation
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement
  • Experience making environmental issues relatable to marginalized communities
  • Experience (co)hosting webinars to share findings

 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!

Collaborating Organization(s)

Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond 

The mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond (BGCMR) is to empower young people—especially those from historically marginalized communities—to succeed in life. Since 1953, we have committed to helping young people in Richmond and Petersburg thrive both in and out of school. Through innovative programs and a diverse and dedicated staff, we provide a safe, educational and welcoming space for students in our community. Over the past six decades, BGCMR remains distinctive for our consistent open-door policy. No matter their story, young people will always have a home at the Club. BGCMR wants every young person to know and experience the Clubs as an anchor that provides security and guidance as they explore new opportunities without fear.

 

Science Museum of Virginia

Science Museum of Virginia looks for all opportunities to encourage Virginians to enrich their lives through science. The Museum is a catalyst for inspiration, a place that sparks curiosity, encourages discovery and generates ideas in science, technology, engineering, and math. The 223,000-square-foot building features hands-on exhibits about wellness, innovation, and physical sciences, to name a few, that let you see if you’re faster than a rat, can beat a robot playing air hockey, or have great balance. Four lab spaces—eco, animal, science, and art—let guests interact with science in unexpected ways. Two makerspaces harness the power of the maker movement, celebrate innovation, and let guests roll up their sleeves to create.