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Humidity sensing in Suffolk … and on the International Space Station!

7 April 2021

Dr Hannah Steventon is an engineering and environmental technology researcher, working on the Smarter Suffolk Live Labs project at the University of Suffolk. She regularly volunteers as a STEM Ambassador, bringing science and technology to life for young people, and is a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator. In our latest blog, Hannah tells us why she is excited about developing technology to support decision-making that enables environmental and economic benefits, and bringing the learnings to life for young people.

The University of Suffolk is working with Suffolk County Council as a research partner, which means we have been able to share the Smarter Suffolk Live Labs project with young learners across the county. Alongside my research for the Live Lab, I also work with university and school students developing learning based on the project. Challenges from the Live Lab have been shared with university students on several courses, as data to explore and technical issues to address. The exposure to real world situations has been really beneficial to their understanding of work beyond their studies. In return, the students’ approaches and achievements have been shared with Suffolk County Council and the Live Labs team.

In relation to the Smarter Suffolk trial sensors activity, I recently ran online workshops with children aged 11 to 14, including 20 young people from local scout groups. I introduced them to sensors used to measure humidity and temperature for road gritting decisions.

During the session we talked about different uses of temperature and humidity measurements, which included how the sensors are used to make decisions on when road gritting is needed in the winter in Suffolk. When the children see the gritters out, keeping the roads safe near their homes, they will now understand more about the measurements and decisions that were made earlier in the day.

As well, each child had the opportunity to write a code in the same Python programming language as the device developers use – the code runs a specific set of sensors called a Sense Hat, which run on a Raspberry Pi computer. Their code used simulated sensor readings to generate an output on an online emulator, displaying when humidity and temperature are too low or too high.

Temperature and humidity measurements are also used to keep the atmosphere safe for people and equipment in controlled environments like hospitals and data centres … and the International Space Station (ISS)! As part of the Astro Pi Challenge, a European Space Agency project, the codes the scouts wrote were for the computer and sensors on the ISS. Each code will be uploaded to run the ISS computer to measure humidity, the results of which will be displayed to the astronauts on the space station. The scouts will get a certificate showing where the ISS was when their personal code ran, and each one has also earned a Digital Maker Scout Badge to sew on their uniform.

The Fifth Woodbridge Sea Scouts loved taking part in the project. Reflecting on what they learned about Suffolk Highways services, one scout who lives near a local depot, said “It’s cool to know what happens before the gritters drive out. There’s a lot of work in keeping the roads safe”.

All the scouts enjoyed trying something new and finding out about some of the possible careers in science and engineering. They said “We loved it” and it was the “Best thing in lockdown”. The leaders were thrilled to have the opportunity to be a “space scientist” and for the children to build “skills for life”.

Suffolk’s Live Lab's perspective comes from Project Manager, Brigitte Sodano-Carter, she said: “Suffolk County Council is thrilled to be working so closely with the University of Suffolk on the Adept Live Labs Smarter Suffolk sensors project. The opportunity to join together and raise awareness of our work in Suffolk is wonderful. It is so pleasing to see young people getting involved, engaged and interested in the work we are doing. To hear how much the scouts learnt from the experience is fabulous feedback from the next generation – potential researchers of the future"