European citizen science study using light to understand air pollution

28 August 2015

As part of the International Year of Light, the Institute of Physics (IOP) is playing a leading role in a Europe-wide experiment called iSPEX-EU to measure air pollution across the continent.


London’s citizen scientists are being encouraged by the IOP to use cameras on their iPhones to examine the scientific properties of sunlight filtering through the atmosphere, and anyone can get involved right up until 15 October.

The University of Manchester is leading the same experiment in Manchester.

Toby Shannon, coordinator of the International Year of Light in the UK, based at the Institute of Physics, said: “We hope that people in London and Manchester will join our neighbours from across Europe and be part of this exciting experiment. It’s a great opportunity to get hands-on with sophisticated light-based technology to measure something so crucial as the quality of the air around us.”

iSPEX-EU encourages members of the public to use their iPhones with a special hardware add-on and corresponding app, to obtain information about the concentration of particles in the atmosphere with the aim of creating a European map of air pollution.

The particle concentration is measured by examining the quality of the sunlight passing through the atmosphere using a special filter attached to the smartphone camera and calculated using the free app. The data is then transferred to the central project database of measurements from across Europe.

iSPEX-EU will form a network of thousands of people all over Europe that will take iSPEX measurements and provide information at locations and times that are not covered by current air pollution monitoring efforts, and thereby help to increase our understanding of these impacts.

A limited number of free iPhone-compatible devices are available for those wishing to take part.  Depending on your location, email either or Alternatively, tweet @light2015UK for further info.

iSPEX-EU is running until 15 October and has been organised by the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, funded by an EU Horizon 2020 grant. Other cities taking part in this project include Athens, Barcelona, Belgrade, Berlin, Copenhagen, Milan and Rome.

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