Air aware: air quality experiments for curious kids
On this page:
Collect dust using a dust trap - a strip of sticky tape on a piece of paper that collects dust from the air - and learn about the science behind it.
- Double sided cellotape
- Blu Tac
Setting the trap:
Select 3 to 4 locations where you would like to set a trap (example locations: lounge in your house, school car park)
Pick out one piece of paper for each location and write down the name of the location, date, time on each piece of paper. If you are doing this with other people, also write your name.
On each piece of labelled paper, stick a long strip of double sided sticky tape under the label.
How to deploy?
Using a small piece of blu-tac, stick your paper on a flat wall or window in your chosen location. (Make sure the labels match the location). Leave them out for as long as you think is appropriate (at least a week).
What to record?
Use a separate piece of paper to record how dusty your traps are in each location. You could create a table to record whether you think each of your traps are not dusty, a bit dusty or very dusty each day:
A bit dusty
When you decide to take your dust traps down, take a photo of each of them making sure the name of the location is visible in the photo along with the tape.
What is your final assessment?
Using the information you recorded, try and answer the following questions:
- Where did you trap most and least dust? Can you think of reasons for this difference?
- Do you think you will get different results if you repeated the activity in same locations for longer period, shorter period or same period of time?
- Can you think of any ways to improve this activity? OR if you were to repeat the activity, what would you do differently?
Know the science behind it
How does this work?
Our air contains very tiny particles. These tiny particles can blow with the wind and move around but will eventually settle on surfaces like walls, floors and furniture. Double sided tape acts as a ‘glue’ for the particles and traps them on the surface. If there are enough particles, you can start to see them.
How do these particles get in the air?
Particles are released due to many activities such as, moving cars, burning wood or coal, cooking, clothing fibre or even animal hair! Can you think of any more? Particles are released in the air even when we are kicking the ball around on a hot day in the park! Why not might that be? Why not do some research or start a discussion on seesaw.
How does the weather affect it all?
If the winds are strong, they keep mixing and swirling the particles around! Low temperatures and calm winds are perfect conditions for the particles to settle down. If it rains heavily, it washes the particles out of the atmosphere.
Are they harmful?
Too much of anything is bad! But some particles are more harmful than others.
- Just like the image to the right, create a map of your local area using sketches, photos or icons.
- Pick 3 to 4 places around your home or school to visit and use your senses to experience the air around you.
- Use you nose, how does it smell? Use your eyes, can you see smoke or is it clear? Use your touch, is it warm or cold? Windy or calm?
- Find where you are on your map.
- Draw emojis (or use stickers if you have some) to represent what your experienced, such as bad smells, visible smoke or clean air, on your map at your identified location.
- You could also record your observation for each location after every visit in a notebook.
- Repeat the above steps at each location on several days.
Is there anywhere where you always reported the same thing? By identifying landmarks where you see and smell smoke often, you might help researchers select a future site for an air quality sensor.
- Transparent tape
- A ziplock plastic bag
- A (thick!) marker
- Blue food colouring and a cup to mix it
- Notebook to record your observations
Make and deploy your bag:
- Decorate your bag by using you permanent marker to draw weather on it.
- Mix your food colouring with a little water and pour it in.
- Seal your bag up tight and stick it up onto the window (Hot tip! Seal most of your bag up and GENTLY squeeze out as much air from your bag as you can. Then blow new air into your bag. Why will this make a difference?)
- Take a photo to show your bag in its location!
- Record in your notebook all the locations you have set weather bags.
- Watch over the coming days. Does the amount of water increase?
- Does it change throughout the day?
- Make observations. Do you get droplets forming on the inside of the bag? When does that happen? What’s the temperature like? Is it sunny/cloudy?
- Investigate! What are the processes happening in your bag?
In your notebook, record your observations each day in the morning or as often as you like.
If you are repeating the experiment, try keeping the bags out for a longer period of time before you make an observation.
How to retrieve?
When you decide to take them down, take a photo of each of your bag from each location.
Know the science behind it
The water cycle
Water is constantly moving through our environment as a solid, liquid or gas.
What is water vapour?
When liquid water turns into gas, it is called water vapour. Water vapour in the air is invisible to our eye but the amount of water vapour in the air is commonly known as humidity.
How does water vapour get in the air?
Liquid water changes from a liquid to a gas due to evaporation and becomes part of the atmosphere. All kinds of water can evaporate: Oceans, rivers, lakes, puddles and drops. Evaporation takes heat energy, so when it’s warmer there’s more evaporation.
If water vapour is created due to heat energy, what happens when it gets colder?
Condensation is the opposite of evaporation. It’s when water turns from a gas to a liquid. It does this by losing heat. That’s why condensation happens when it’s colder. When water turns into a liquid it wants to stick to something. That’s why we get droplets forming on windows and other cool surfaces.
Where can you see water vapour condense?
When water in air hits a warm surface, it condenses back to liquid water. When the temperatures are low and winds are calm, several particles of water in the air condense on the surface to form fog. Water vapour in your homes can condense onto the walls creating moist surfaces. This can lead to the growth of mold on the walls. In your experiment, you saw water vapour condense onto your bags!
(NOTE: If you suffer from respiratory issues, do not try this experiment)
- Balloons (20cm)
- Piece of string
Experiment (we recommend doing this with someone else):
- Stretch out the balloon and blow it up a few times to loose the stiffness on the balloon. Why do this? The stretchier the balloon, the more accurate are your results!
- Breathe in and out - inhale and exhale a few times in a combination of deep to normal breaths. Why do this? You have just stretched the balloom and your lungs need a bit of a workout before you begin.
- Take the balloon in your hand and breathe in the maximum amount of air you can and blow into the balloon as much and as fast as you can. Don't let the air escape the balloon!
- Find the widest part on the blown up balloon.
- Once you decide where the widest part is, wrap your piece of string around the widest part once. Hold the string where the ends meet and use the ruler to measure the part of the string that wrapped around the balloon - this gives you the circumference of the balloon.
- Note this observation down in your notebook and repeat the experiment 3 times.
- Using all the observations, calculate the average value and use this circumference to find out the radius of the balloon and then the total volume of air your lungs can hold! Use the calculator below to do this - link on top of the page.
- Record your volume in your notebook.
Give it a go!
Know the science behind it
What is your lung capacity?
Lung capacity is the volume of air you can move in and out of your lungs. The amount of air your lungs can hold up varies depending on your breathing patterns. For example, when you take a deep breath and exhale - this is the maximum amount of air your lungs can hold up. On contrary, when you find it difficult to catch your breath, your lungs store the least amount of air. This is when you re-instate your lung capacity by taking a few deep breaths! Why do you think that helps?
What has the balloon go to do with it all?
When you take a deep breath, blow into the balloon and hold you transfer all the air in stored your lungs into the balloon. Therefore, the volume of air in the balloon is a representative of the maximum amount of air your lungs can hold up. Can you think of other ways to measure your lung capacity? How do doctors measure your lung capacity?
What can affect your lung capacity?
All work and no play can reduce your lung capacity! People with respiratory problems have a low lung capacity. Do you think being exposed to pollution can affect it too? Can you think of more?