|Black Carbon Pollution
Black carbon pollution is the release of tiny particles into the air from burning fuel for energy. Air pollution caused by such particulates has been a major problem since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the development of the internal combustion engine.
Scientific publications dealing with the analysis of soot and smoke date back as early as 1896. Mankind has become so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels (petroleum products, coal, and natural gas) that the sum total of all combustion-related emissions now constitutes a serious and widespread problem, not only to human health, but also to the entire global environment.
In recent years, there has been great concern about black carbon pollution of the air in parts of Eastern Europe. Education is one important step toward correcting the problem.
In 1989, a high school biology teacher named Dean Rockwell came from Macomb, Illinois to spend a summer in the DOE Teacher Research Associate Program (TRAC) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was assigned to work with a research group studying the earth's atmosphere. One of the scientists, a physicist named Tony Hansen, was part of this group. Tony is the inventor of an instrument capable of measuring graphitic carbon aerosol (a suspension of airborn carbon particles better known as soot). Soot is a major atmospheric pollutant. Tony developed a device to measure this pollutant, and he introduced Dean to its use.
After learning more about the instrument, Dean and Tony discussed the possibility of developing a similar device that could be easily understood, built, and operated by students. They challenged themselves to make an instrument that would be inexpensive , so that teachers could afford to assemble it on their small science budgets. Tony and Dean developed a procedure that used simple, commonly available materials such as facial tissue, a vacuum cleaner, a large garbage bag, a light bulb, plastic cups and a $2.40 photo cell that could be attached to an ammeter. Tony and Dean built the instrument out of these simple materials and they tested it. To their surprise, this low-tech procedure produced data that were extremely similar to those provided by Tony's best high-tech equipment!
Tony had developed research collaborations with scientists in Eastern Europe even before the Berlin Wall fell. The air pollution problem, particularly the soot concentration in Eastern European countries, can be ten times greater than the concentration on a bad day in Los Angeles. European scientists discussed their limited resources and their desire to set up a network to monitor air pollution. Tony suggested that they try the instrument that he and Dean had developed. This idea was very interesting to scientists in Slovenia.
Dr. Mirko Bizjak, of the National Chemistry Institute of Slovenia, thought it would be a good idea to involve and educate school children about environmental issues. In the summer of 1992, Dean Rockwell was invited to visit 10 schools in Slovenia and to talk about the program to school science teachers. The teachers were enthusiastic. Through the Slovenian Board of Education, Dr. Bizjak developed information packets and a training video that were sent to interested school teachers.
The idea caught on. School children volunteers and their teachers/mentors built their own sampling and analysis devices in school shops and laboratories.
Dr. Ulle Kikas, an educator and scientist from Tartu University in Tartu, Estonia learned of the Slovenian program in 1992 received instructional materials from Drs. Bizjak and Hansen. The school-based measurement program also caught on fast in Estonia.
Today, over 60 schools in Slovenia share data on the Internet in this national network. Classroom materials have been developed for all grade levels, and older students receive and analyze data. In Estonia, the 12 schools that measure soot in the atmosphere comprise the only air pollution monitoring network in this small country!