Science Museum of Va. turns ‘global issue into a backyard solution’ with federal grant money


RICHMOND, Va. — The Science Museum of Virginia received a nearly $250,000 federal grant to track how much pollution is in the air in busy neighborhoods around the museum.​ ​

The Institute of Museum and Library Science grant is going toward a new citizen science project to collect information about the backyard impacts of climate change. ​The money will be used to purchase up to 30 handheld devices that can analyze what’s in the air. That data can be uploaded through Bluetooth to a smartphone application. ​ 

​”What we hope happens is to definitely bring this project into other communities in the state of Virginia and throughout the country,” Dr. Jeremy Hoffman, the museum’s chief scientist, said. “What we learn here we hope to be applied elsewhere.”   ​ ​

The science museum did a similar citizen science project studying heat a few years ago. The goal was to learn what contributes to uneven temperatures in urban areas. ​ ​

Dr. Hoffman says they are recruiting volunteers now to be part of citizen science teams. The museum is working with community partners, including Groundwork RVA, to do this research. The research is expected to begin next year.  ​ ​

The teams will be sent out with the devices to Richmond’s Scott’s Addition neighborhood, which is close to the museum, once or twice a week for about an hour at a time to collect data on the air quality. ​ ​

The neighborhood is a busy area with a lot of new construction, a growing population and traffic. ​ ​

Right now, museum officials say there’s not as much information on the quality of air in specific neighborhoods. More data is available about regions of the Commonwealth. ​ 

​”Without that information we’re in some ways just guessing about the best ways to solve it,” Dr. Hoffman. “How do we use that information to design a more healthy community now and into the future?”

​​Some ways to use the information collected to create “impactful solutions” include figuring out the best places to put in rooftop gardens to filter out air pollution or how to better plan and design cities for neighborhoods with growing populations. ​ 

​These are ideas not only can come from city leaders, but community members too. Dr. Hoffman says citizen science projects like this aim to engage everyday people with the tools to make a difference — by turning a “global issue into a backyard solution.”​ ​

“What we’re looking forward to the most – is not only inspiring these folks to enrich their lives through science – but then sharing that with our community and showing people that by using science you can become empowered to make a change to your neighborhood that is a positive thing for everyone for years and years to come,” he added. ​

​Museum officials say part of the federal grant money will also go toward an exhibit to showcase the local air quality research. The grant money lasts for three years. ​

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