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New noise and air quality monitoring network assesses region

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach, in partnership with campus researchers and area students, have deployed an environmental monitoring network across the St. Louis Metropolitan and Metro East areas.

The network of sensors is collecting data that will guide research considering how levels of noise pollution and air quality affect various communities throughout the region, and how events and various regional activities contribute to varied levels. Since June, 10 sensors have been installed on SIUE’s Science West Green Roof, and in surrounding cities such as Highland and Mitchell, Ill., as well as Ferguson, Mo.

The establishment of the network is contributing data for participants in two grant-funded programs:

•             Environmental Health Investigators: Building STEM Interest to Promote Careers in the Health Science, supported by a five-year, $1,337,855 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnerships Award program

•             A Youth-Led Citizen Science Network for Community Environmental Assessment (Y-CITYSCI), funded by a three-year, $1,033,648 award from the National Science Foundation Division of Research On Learning

“The intersection of these two programs was a happy accident as we considered how to creatively engage and empower middle and early high school students in authentic science experiences in environmental science — a shared focus of both initiatives,” said SIUE STEM Center Director Sharon Locke, PhD, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Environmental Sciences.

“The environmental monitoring network is helping students in the Environmental Health Investigators program understand how various environmental factors affect individuals’ health,” she explained. “Simultaneously, the data being collected are helping students in the Y-CITYSCI program build their scientific skills and their competence in sciences, which will lead them to form a more solid science identity.”

Despite COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings, researchers are virtually interacting with students to teach them scientific concepts, and help them participate in data collection, analysis and interpretation through the monitoring network.

“Each week, we are giving students assignments to get them safely outside and exploring their world,” said Carol Colaninno, PhD, assistant research professor in the SIUE STEM Center. “Given the circumstances, we are providing background information and offering more time for participants to discuss what they are doing and learning during regularly scheduled Zoom meetings. Then, we give them weekly ‘missions’ to collect information or data about their environment.”

“In 2021, we hope that participating middle and high school students may be able to develop their own scientific questions,” Colaninno added. “Because these data are collected using calibrated scientific instruments and are real data, students can use them to make interpretations about their community or more broadly about the region. We hope that through this process, they will be able to make an original contribution to science.”

Environmental sciences graduate student Josh Gifford, of Monticello, is among the SIUE students helping develop and maintain the environmental monitoring network. In doing so, Gifford is gaining valuable experience for his professional future in the field of environmental science.

“Currently, we are looking at noise and air pollution, and in the future, we will also be collecting data on soil and nitrates,” Gifford explained. “I organize and analyze the extremely large datasets that we glean from the monitoring network. This experience is allowing me to become experienced and knowledgeable on how to collect and utilize environmental data in the same fashion that it is done by professionals in the field.”

Network data will support the thesis research of Gifford and graduate student Christine Favilla, who has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining the network. Additionally, undergraduate students will work with the data to conduct analyses and make scientific interpretations, as well as learn how the monitors are maintained and the steps necessary to process these data and make them usable.

The air quality sensors used in the network are PurpleAir monitors, which offer real-time tracking and download options. Find the SIUE monitor via

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Center for STEM Research, Education and Outreach comprises an independent group of researchers and educators, innovating ways to engage students and the public in science, technology, engineering and math. Within the SIUE Graduate School, the Center brings together research faculty, graduate students and practitioners to conduct education research. The Center contributes educational expertise to SIUE undergraduate classes and provides professional development for K-12 teachers. The Center boasts a significant library of equipment and resources, which are available for loan at no cost to campus and regional instructors. For more information, visit or contact STEM Center Director Sharon Locke at (618) 650-3065 or

PHOTO: After retrieving data, SIUE environmental sciences graduate student Josh Gifford reinstalls a noise sensor on the Science West Green Roof.


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