UCC research team awarded €3.2m to develop cost-effective way of measuring air-pollution

The team hopes their research can overcome some of the challenges associated with measuring air pollution, a lead factor in the cause of over 400,000 premature deaths across the European Union each year
UCC research team awarded €3.2m to develop cost-effective way of measuring air-pollution

The team, which is drawn from industry and academia and coordinated by UCC, says they plan to design and build low-cost instruments that will measure the presence of harmful atmospheric ‘radicals’ in the air we breathe. File Picture: John Giles/PA Wire

A University College Cork-led research project has received €3.2m in European funding to develop a more cost-effective way to measure air pollution.

The team, led by UCC Professor Justin Holmes, have been awarded €3.2m in funding for the ‘RADICAL’ Project from the European Union’s research and innovation programme.

The team hopes their research can overcome some of the challenges associated with measuring air pollution, a lead factor in the cause of over 400,000 premature deaths across the European Union each year.

The team, which also comprises partners from academia and industry across five different European countries, is just the second of its kind to ever be coordinated here in Ireland.

The team, which is drawn from industry and academia and coordinated by UCC, says they plan to design and build low-cost instruments that will measure the presence of harmful atmospheric ‘radicals’ in the air we breathe.

The team says that such devices, once developed, could be easily deployed on airplanes, ships, and other platforms.

The devices could then be used to "supply real-time data on the distribution and transmission of free radicals in the atmosphere,” said Dr Subhajit Biswas, a UCC researcher on the project.

"‘Radicals’ are reactive species that drive chemical processes in the atmosphere," explains Professor Holmes.  

"They influence climate change, the formation of acid rain and driving the production of photochemical smogs, all detrimental to human health and the environment.

Driven by a chemical process that can influence air quality, atmospheric free radicals affect the health of humans, animals, and plants in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Researchers say that despite the significant and harmful impact these substances can have, the detection of 'Radicals' remains a technically complex, time-consuming, and expensive process.

As a result, there are only a small number of research groups capable of performing air pollution tests like this anywhere in the world.

Professor Holmes said: "The aim of our project is to develop new and cheap technology for measuring radicals in the atmosphere that can be easily implemented and deployed worldwide."

Director for the Centre of Research on Atmospheric Chemistry at UCC, Professor John Wenger says that the technology goes "far beyond the state-of-the-art." 

He said: "This technology be deployed at all of the world’s operational air quality and meteorological stations, significantly enhancing scientists’ ability to monitor and control air quality, allowing for more accurate climate predictions and a better quality of life for citizens.

"This new technology has the potential to revolutionise the whole field of environmental monitoring and atmospheric science and could possibly be extended into other areas, such as electronic health for monitoring chemistry in the human body, he added. 

Funding for the ambitious project was secured with the help of Prime UCC - an initiative that helps UCC researchers make successful applications for European funding.

"When I saw the idea and science behind RADICAL, I knew it was a breakthrough proposal," said Dr Magdalena Tyndyk of UCC Prime.

Having successfully secured funding for their project, the focus of the multidisciplinary research team has now turned to developing and manufacturing the technology required to measure harmful radicals with the help of some of Europe’s leading tech SMEs.

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