Sara De Clerck, research assistant at the EUREC-Air research group, is helping to measure air quality in Flanders within the citizen science project CLAIRE at the University of Antwerp. CLAIRE stands for 'Clean Air for Everyone' where citizens go out with a buggy full of measuring equipment and a doll named: 'Claire' or 'Gilbair'. The dolls measure the air quality during a walk, after which the researchers can analyze the measurements.

Out for a stroll with a doll

“CLAIRE is a project that aims to map the air quality in Flanders with children as the focus target group. Children are literally lower to the ground and therefore closer to the source of air pollution, which is why we thought the approach of the buggy and doll was important, also to make the goal even more clear."

"Volunteers travel a predetermined route with the buggy with different spots such as slow and fast roads, roads with no motorized traffic or roads with a lot of traffic. It is important to include both routes in the process so that we can properly understand the differences afterwards We can already say that a slow road is actually cleaner than a fast road. The time of day is also extremely important for the measurements, such as the morning rush hour or the temperature. All these factors can influence air quality."

Hiking hype

“After the project was launched, there was a lot of interest in CLAIRE and we decided to expand to two buggies with two dolls: Claire and Gilbair. Most likely, corona was involved in this because a lot of people started walking. By walking with our buggies, the volunteers also actively participated in a scientific project and they could feel extra useful as a walker. When someone signed up as a volunteer, we asked for motivation from which personal stories often emerged, such as asthma or living on a busy road. From this we noticed that every volunteer was genuinely interested and wanted to learn more about air quality.”

Creating awareness

“We especially want to create awareness in our society about air quality. Often this is a fact that is taken too much for granted, even though we come into contact with it on a daily basis. With CLAIRE we also want to emphasize the importance of greenery in cities. Flanders is currently one big city with too little green space. We want to emphasize the importance of greenery and nature even more so that cities can adapt their policy to this in the long term and understand the importance of slow roads.

Due to the corona pandemic, many people have (re)discovered nature and its positive influence on your own health. Leaving the car a bit longer is also something that is not yet sufficiently established in our society. CLAIRE will expire at the end of November 2021 and we hope for even more and varied results on, for example, traffic 'after' corona. So there are still a lot of interesting insights waiting for us!”