ASRC in the Community: Community Sensor Lab

How can technology improve personal and environmental health in NYC communities? How can we help empower communities with technology? These questions motivated Research Associate Professor Ricardo Toledo-Crow and Science Education Coordinator Kendra Krueger to start the ASRC Community Sensor Lab in 2019 – an initiative to teach high school students and community members of all ages how to build their own low-cost, DIY (Do-it-Yourself) environmental sensors and how to understand the data. Community Sensor Lab students are empowered to monitor their own local environments – their home, school, gym, park, work, etc. – and build a real world understanding of how their daily lives and health are impacted by scientific discoveries.

four researchers stand in a lab space, smiling and looking at the camera
Kendra Krueger (left) and Ricardo Toledo-Crow (right) work with CUNY students Samaiyah Morgan (Laguardia Community College) and Peter Christakos (City College of New York) as part of the ASRC’s Community Sensor Lab.

“People can get their own data on the status of the air quality in their kitchen for between $100 to $200, and we can put together a fairly sophisticated unit with pressure, temperature, humidity, particulate matter, and CO2 sensing capability.” Ricardo Toledo-Crow

The pandemic highlighted how critical it is for the public to engage with and understand science. Our students learn the basics of environmental science, circuits, coding, data analysis, and research methods, along with public speaking and the history of environmental justice. The first DIY sensors they created detected carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. Now, students can create their own comprehensive Air Quality Monitoring Kit that also measures particulate matter, temperature, pressure, and humidity.

Undergraduate interns from Queens College, City College, Macaulay Honors, City Tech, and Barnard College were instrumental in helping to create the sensor designs and train high school students. We are also grateful to the ASRC SensorCAT, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Science and Resiliency Institute at Jamaica Bay, CUNY RecoveryCorp, Center for Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center, and 500 Women Scientists for essential funding to launch the Community Sensor Lab and support its programs over the past two years. We are thankful for new partners, the Rockaway Initiative for Sustainability and Equity and Red Hook Farms, who helped the Lab expand their impact through joint summer youth programs.

Toledo-Crow and Krueger are planning to design additional DIY sensor kits that integrate with themes from the ASRC’s Initiatives that will detect light, brain waves, and soil and water quality. The Community Sensor Lab is part of the ASRC’s IlluminationSpace, a growing hub for community science, science communication, education and outreach.

All materials and guides are available on the ASRC website and on Instagram @CommunitySensorLab.