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How Clean is Your Air?

In this activity we’ll do a simple experiment to see what little objects are floating through the air, to learn a bit about air pollution. 

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution occurs when gases, dust, smoke, or odour get into the air and make it unclean. This is both harmful for the environment and for us to breathe in.

Air pollution can be caused by natural things in the environment or by man-made activities. People cause air pollution with cars, factories, etc. Air pollution is also caused by dust, pollen, mold spores, volcanoes, wildfires, etc.

Air pollution is harmful to our health and the environment. It can cause acid rain, affect wildlife, cause damage to forests and crops, and much more. We can help decrease this by reducing the amount we pollute the air. Planting lots of trees and plants is one way you can help to clean the air!

Now, let’s do an experiment to learn a bit about the particulate matter (tiny particles of matter) in the air around you.

Materials

  • 2 pieces of paper
  • Petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Butter knife
  • Tape

Procedure

  1. Use the butter knife to spread a thick layer of petroleum jelly on one side of both pieces of paper. 
  2. Use your tape to stick one of your pieces of paper somewhere indoors, with the jelly side out (careful not to get petroleum jelly on any surfaces other than the paper!). Then use your tape to stick the other paper in a spot outdoors.
  3. Leave both papers out for a day. Make a prediction: which paper do you think will collect more pollutants?
  4. After one day has passed, investigate both sheets of paper! Analyse the different objects found on both pieces of paper (use your magnifying glass if you have one). Was your prediction correct? Were there more objects found on the paper left inside or outside? Compare each paper to determine why there may have been more objects on one. Did you place the outdoor one near somewhere with traffic? What impact would cars have on your experiment? Cars pollute the air, so if you placed your paper near traffic you probably collected more particulate matter!

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STEM Camp is a Canadian, bilingual, not for profit organization with a mission to inspire Canadian youth in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics.

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