Skip Navigation

Your Environment. Your Health.

Columbia University New York Morningside

Smart Miniaturized personal monitors for black carbon and multiple air pollutants

Steven N. Chillrud

Project Description


Assessing spatial and temporal variations in individual exposures to airborne particulate matter components that are representative of key local sources like diesel traffic is critical for advancing our understanding of the health effects of urban air pollution. Current methods of exposure assessment are too cumbersome, noisy and labor-intensive, and do not provide near-real time measurements of key analytes.


Our project has been developing and testing miniaturized personal samplers for measuring black carbon (BC) exposure as well as other air pollutants. Our final goal is to develop and test a palm size, quiet, rechargeable personal sampler that will:


  1. Record time- and space-resolved concentrations of black carbon (BC) in near-real-time,
  2. Collect and archive time- and space-resolved PM samples onto teflon filters for later laboratory analysis,
  3. Record location and activity data, and
  4. Be able to make additional analyses in near real-time, including carbon monoxide gas concentrations and concentrations of aromatic rich particulate matter (UV active PM), which includes sources such as cigarette smoke and woodsmoke.


Location information is provided for key indoor locations such as home by radiobeacon technology and GPS technology for outdoor locations (either by external data loggers or built in GPS chips, depending on the model). The unit will automatically archive multiple time- and space-resolved particulate samples (up to a week) for lab analysis via gravimetric, optical, mass spectrometric and other techniques to identify temporal-spatial patterns of exposure to particle matter and their sources and to a wide range of compounds.


The monitoring system will be useful in a wide range of sampling designs to assess spatial and temporal patterns of exposure, log time at home, advance and switch sample tape locations automatically, monitor compliance and other quality assurance data, and provide data that can be used for estimating ventilation rates and thus potential inhaled dose.


The intended applications would include studies aimed at understanding exposures and health effects from key sources of airborne particulate matter including diesel engines (trucks, ships, trains, construction sites), space heating, and biomass combustion. The monitors could be used as personal, indoor or mobile monitors to dilineate both acute and chronic exposures to incomplete combustion products.


To date, we have field-tested both an integrative sampler and the commercially available microAeth® black carbon monitor in lab and field settings with a cohort of 9 and10 -year-old children in NYC with the goal of developing new insights into the role of inflammation in asthma. This testing has identified several issues in the hardware design that are being incorporated into the current version of the real-time smart monitor. We have recently launched a proof of concept study focused on using our real-time smart monitor and the RTI microPEM on objectively measuring second hand tobacco smoke (SHS) exposure in a cohort of adults and children and testing whether the exposure distributions are associated with newly developed genetic markers of biological response to SHS.  


We are interested in additional opportunities for testing our units in field studies as opportunities arise including studies on biomass exposures.  To this end, we are currently partnering with a new spin off of Magee Scientific, called AethLabs, which is responsible for commercialization of the microAeth technology. Their engineering capabilities as well as their key market advantages and ability to commercialize the product make them a good partner for further development.


See this project's publications and patents 

Back to Top