Running a Funding Sandpit in a Digital Environment: A Case Study

Our next Collaboration Building Workshop takes place this month, and we’ve been reflecting on what we learned from the first workshop, which took place last November. Online events are likely to be more prevalent, even once lockdown restrictions are gone, so we have published a case study of our workshop. The paper outlines some of the key factors that made the workshop successful, and also shares our plans to make the next workshop even better.

The case study will be of interest to anyone looking to organise workshops, and in particular those running funding sandpits. 

Air Quality & COVID-19: Knowledge Gaps and Calls to Action

Following the successful online workshop held on 20th May, we are pleased to announce the publication of the Executive Summary. This document identifies the key knowledge gaps relating to air quality and COVID-19 and recommends action to researchers and research funding organisations. The full report from the workshop will be published in the coming weeks. The three organising networks (AQNUK, SAQN, UKIEG) will be working with network members to act on these knowledge gaps and seek to contribute to the research in these areas.

It is clear that further interdisciplinary work is needed to tackle the questions raised at the workshop, and that more research is needed, particularly relating to indoor and outdoor air quality and the interaction between them. This is particularly timely as we begin to emerge from lockdown and consider how COVID-19 transmission and effects may change as we approach the autumn.

We encourage our network members and event attendees to share these findings widely and welcome suggestions and ideas as to how the SAQN can continue to support discussion and action in this space. Following the announcement of the UKRI SPF Clean Air networks, we will be exploring ways of collaborating with these networks to address these research questions in the coming months.

Further details of the event, including the agenda and recordings of some of the presentations can be found on our event page.

Research Partner required for CV-19 virus detection technology

VN Aerotoxic Detection Solutions are currently developing a sensor for the detection of poisonous compounds inside aircraft cabins, and they are putting together an independent project to adapt the technology so that it will be able to detect Covid-19 and other viruses non-invasively, and in real-time.

The company is looking for research partners who could help with source the virus, facilities or funding to enable the research and development of the technology and build a proof of concept as a technology validation.

Further information about the project is available to download in the following documents:

For further information and to discuss getting involved, please contact Mark Gilmore on

LIDA Data Scientist Internships

The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) is now inviting applications for the fifth cohort of its leading Data Scientist Internship Programme. Paid internships are available for a fixed term period of 12 months, commencing end September 2020, to help drive research activity across each of LIDA’s constituent areas: health informatics, urban analytics, statistical and mathematical methods, and visualisation and immersive technologies.

LIDA are looking for graduates from a wide range of backgrounds who have a keen interest in using data and statistical and predictive techniques to answer real-world questions. As an intern, you will have the opportunity to own delivery of data science projects and get hands-on technical experience using real data. You will also be able to build your capacity in advanced analytics through the benefit of supervisor mentorship as well as training in programming, visualisation and statistical analysis.

Internship start date: 28th Sept 2020

Length of internship: 12 months fixed term contract, full time (35 hrs per week)

Salary: Grade 5 sp17: £23,067 pa

Closing date for applications: Friday 17th July 2020

Interviews: will be held remotely in August

For more information on the Programme, and to see information about the current cohort of interns and the kinds of projects on which they are working, please visit the LIDA website.

APPLY ONLINE for an internship by visiting the University of Leeds jobs site (job number PSLDA1000).

Please contact Kylie Norman, Programme Co-ordinator, or if you have any questions.

Defra Areas of Research Interest in Air Quality

Members who attended our Network Launch in January 2020 will remember the interesting presentation from John Newington, Head of Air Quality Evidence at Defra. John has kindly shared a paper about Defra’s areas of research interest, which we are pleased to share in full below.

Network members can use our new Discussion Board to raise and debate any of the topics of interest below.

Areas of Research Interest: Environmental Quality Outcome System – Air Quality and Noise

Air pollution commands significant political interest. Despite significant improvements, further reductions in emissions are needed to improve human and environmental health, ecosystem resilience and to address exceedances of statutory nitrogen dioxide limits, which are the focus of current legal challenges, and meet new emissions targets and ceilings. There is an increasing focus on the climate agenda and it is important that policies required to deliver Net Zero also deliver co-benefits for air quality and ecosystem function. Unintended consequences to air quality must be  avoided whilst incentivising decarbonisation of heat, energy and transport and reduction of agricultural emissions.

There are three broad areas of research and development need, to deliver our statutory International and domestic obligations and meet the delivery challenges we are facing in the short term (1-3 years) and medium term (4-10 years):

ARI 1: Air Quality improvements and their link to health & environmental impacts and outcomes

The ability to robustly articulate health and environmental costs and benefits of complex interventions are fundamental to the development of effective policy. Despite a reasonably strong evidence base there remain significant areas of uncertainty which require improved characterisation of the problems and their resulting impacts. These include:

  1. Differential PM toxicity: Understanding the different toxicities on different disease targets from various PM sources including secondary formation from ammonia, to enable better causal relationships to be made between source effects on health outcomes.
  2. Personal exposure and health inequalities: Improve our understanding and ability to apply it, at relevant scales across the variable exposure environments and individual experiences, including; from the indoor-outdoor interplay;  better understanding specific pollutants and mixtures; understanding whether total exposure or peak exposure drives health and ecosystem outcomes; understanding how exposure varies across the UK and whether it is linked to specific behaviours, socio economic reasons or other health inequality drivers.
  3. Non-exhaust Emissions (NEE): more detailed and accurate understanding of the NEE source apportionment across the UK and ability to interrogate historic trends and predict trends
  4. Behaviour change: understanding the scale of behaviour change needed to implement clean air policies and the mechanisms to realise those changes, at all tiers of societal organisation (individuals, business, government). Improve our understanding of the barriers to change and implications for air quality policy ambitions for people and places. 
  5. Quantifying and costing ecosystem change: understanding the air pollution effects on habitat resilience, species and ecosystem services and biodiversity targets if action is not taken to reduce emissions that lead to nitrogen deposition and acidification. What is the financial cost of ecosystem damage and remediation. How does ecosystem damage impact development aspirations and land use planning ambitions. Identify habitat change including recovery for policy evaluation.
  6. Measurement of particle characteristics across UK: New legislative requirements for measuring and reporting Ultrafine Particles, particle number (as well as mass) and Black Carbon are likely in the near future. Improved understanding of their importance and relevance to environmental and health outcomes are needed to inform policy decisions and UK measurement capability
  7. Understanding of what works: systematic evaluations of air quality interventions at all scales across the UK for all air pollutants.

ARI 2: Evidence capability transformation & innovation

The field of air quality science would significantly benefit from focused research into the development of new techniques to draw out the salient evidential messages from wider sets of information. Many of these techniques are developed in isolation where a systems approach to developing UK capability would be beneficial. Research and development of practical approaches to utilising the UK’s capabilities in this area could provide significant benefit in both better characterising the problems and delivering policy and technical solutions. For example:

  1. Better characterise current environment – improve the accuracy and performance of models used to estimate emissions and concentrations of Air Pollutants and keep up with the changes in the world around us. 
  2. Combined atmospheric science, ecosystem and health outcomes datasets: Deliver research maximising the information to be found within existing atmospheric science and health outcomes data to increase our understanding intervention options and impacts, aid decision making, reduce air pollutant emissions and improve health and environmental net gain outcomes. Develop Novel approaches and methods to combine and use these and new local, national and global datasets.
  3. Innovation in measurement and data science techniques  for evidence improvement and policy evaluation purposes to make local and national scale decision making improvements: Maximise the benefits and practical application of i) low-cost sensors ii) the ‘internet of things’ iii) use of Artificial Intelligence Techniques iv) Use of model-coupling and model systems approaches v) combining proxy datasets e.g. SMART city data vi) data merging and fusion techniques vii) EO technology and data to improve national and local emission inventories 
  4. Systems thinking: develop system thinking research and incorporate air quality into broader research areas, including urban land use planning, building design, net zero policy development and into the delivery of an enhanced system of AQ evidence infrastructure to deliver the evidence base of the future. Develop more flexible and inter-operable model systems across disciplines.
  5. Data Discovery and Re-use: Improve the accessibility and transparency of UK data sets through continued use of open data and/or data sharing and standardisation of relevant data sources, considering synergies with other domains, e.g. noise, biological, health and environmental parameters, ecosystem condition, meteorology.

ARI 3: Abatement Innovation and streamlining of implementation through planning

Air pollution is a result of the way we currently generate power, heat our homes, produce food, manufacture consumer goods and power transport. Better, cleaner technologies and changes in behaviour will tackle the pollution and reduce people’s exposure and health impact whilst protecting ecosystems. Technological Innovation and development of new ways of working across all sectors and in all environments where people are exposed will be needed. Specifically, research and development to tackle the following emerging challenges is a priority:

  1. Working practices and technology to reduce ammonia (and other pollutant) emissions from livestock production and anaerobic digestion and the subsequent digestate management, 
  2. Abatement Innovation across all sectors, specifically, domestic combustion, transport sectors, agriculture, industrial processes subject to BAT and IED and facilitation of risk assessment through integrated tools to streamline decision-making and implementation.
  3. Emissions from non-exhaust road transport emissions (brake and tyre wear)
  4. Building design and indoor product development to reduce VOC, PM and other air pollutant emissions from all sources found in UK homes. 

John Newington, December 2019

DEFRA Call For Rapid Evidence: Air Quality Impacts of COVID-19

Defra’s Air Quality Expert Group have issued a request for rapid evidence on how changes in societal and economic activity during the Covid-19 outbreak are affecting air quality in the UK. Submissions are by 30 April 2020.

Key questions are:

  • What sectors or areas of socioeconomic activity do you anticipate will show a decrease in air pollution emissions, and by how much? Are there any emissions sources or sectors which might be anticipated to lead to an increase in emissions in the next three months?
  • Can you provide estimates for how emissions and ambient concentrations of NOx, NO2, PM, O3, VOC, NH3 etc may have changed since the COVID outbreak? Where possible please provide data sets to support your response.
  • What changes do you anticipate in indoor air quality as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • How might public exposure to air pollution have changed as a consequence of recent restrictions on movement?
  • How might altered emissions of air pollutants over the next three months affect UK summertime air quality?
  • Based on what is already known about air pollutants as respiratory irritants or inflammatory agents, can any insights be gained into the impact of air quality on viral infection?
  • Are there any insights that can be gained from aerosol science on possible viral transmission mechanisms?

Call details:

Guest Blog: Clean Air Challenges for Industry

We’re pleased to welcome our first guest blog from Jim Mills, Chair of Environmental Industries Commission Air Quality Group. SAQN members can share their responses on our new Discussion Board.

As the Chair of the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), Air Quality Group, I was delighted to be invited to engage in conversation with the STFC Air Quality Network (SAQN). Our group consists of a wide range of environmental industry members who are keen to learn about and engage with some of the cutting edge research conducted by SAQN and also to share some of our own challenges and ideas with the academics and researchers within the SAQN. 

There are four main categories of EIC members:

· Major corporates (eg major industrial forms involved in automotive and energy technology, major waste and resources firms etc)  NRMM manufacturers, rail, marine and aviation companies, etc) 

·  Abatement Technology Companies (Retrofit systems, alternative fuels, combustion experts, green wall providers, pollution catalysts, absorbents, HVAC companies, etc)

·  Monitoring and Analysis (sensor and reference grade monitoring technologies, data analysts, computer modelling, indoor air quality and ventilation specialists, etc)

·  Consultants (some specialists operating in one or more of the above and many large internationals operating in most or all of the above.

As EIC members, we all share common goals and those are, to minimise the impact of our own and our clients operations on the environment in general and more specifically, on air pollution and climate change. 

Here is a non-exhaustive selection of some of the specific issues we are currently involved in, which we hope will provoke discussions with people within the SAQN.

1.      Standby generator sets many of which burn diesel fuels not only in times of power outages but also are used to supply power to the National Grid in times of high demand. Some of this plant is older technology and thus generates higher levels of NOx and PM than more modern generators. Perhaps alternative, cleaner fuels could be used to reduce emissions with immediate benefits and without significant capital investment as an interim step whilst regulations are tightened and technology is updated? 

2.      Non Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM)  This equipment used on construction sites is not currently regulated to the same standards as on road vehicles but are a contributor to NOx and PM emissions within our cities often close to sensitive receptors. How might we reduce these emissions, develop good practice and enforce compliance?

3.      Mobile refrigeration units. These also are not regulated to the latest Euro VI standards and are often not considered within CAZ or LEZ schemes, but they contribute to exposure in cities and around large distribution depots around the UK. They can run continuously for up to 24 hours a day, making them a serious source of emissions to air. How much do these units contribute to poor air quality and can we find cleaner ways of running refrigerated containers with lower emissions?

4.      Green walls and other barriers and abatement systems are now being used around an increasing number of schools, nurseries and homes for the elderly in an attempt to reduce air pollution exposure. How effective are these interventions and how might we measure and/or improve their efficacy?

5.      Encouraging the monitoring of carbon dioxide in addition to criteria pollutants. We can then calculate criteria pollutant ratios to CO2 in order to produce emissions indices, which can assist with source apportionment studies and to study changes in road transport fleet emissions over time. Absolute pollution concentrations vary with meteorology, but emissions indices can better show underlying emission trends and are much less affected by weather. Given the low cost of CO2 sensors, why don’t we routinely measure CO2 at existing air quality monitoring sites, in order to better exploit this important additional information? 

6.      If we are to improve indoor air quality, where most of us spend most of our time, the interface between outdoor air quality and indoor air quality needs to be better understood. How do we monitor indoors and outdoors in a manner that provides comparable data? How do sources of pollution indoors (cleaning materials, heating, cooking etc) react with pollution from outdoors? How is indoor air quality affected by building design and ventilation systems and to what extent can we intervene to reduce exposure and create healthier indoor spaces?

We are planning conversations around these and other air quality challenges and to facilitate further discussion, EIC are inviting SAQN to address one of our quarterly meetings during 2020 to explore how researchers and industry can work in collaboration to address some of these issues.

Jim Mills, EIC

Domestic Fuel Burning: share your research questions

Does your research explore domestic fuel burning challenges? What are the key research questions in this area? We would like to explore the interest in this space and link research questions to policy needs. Please share your research questions on domestic fuel burning, which we will collate and discuss with policy colleagues. If there is sufficient interest we will develop this as a special interest group within the network.

Please note that these questions can be broad / top level. We are not requesting information that is unpublished or proprietary.

Call for researchers and industry partners for new Air Quality Technologies European Special Interest Group

UK Fluids Network has been nourishing a network of special interest groups in different areas of fluids research in the UK. One of the groups (led by Svetlana Aleksandrova from Coventry University and Andrew Williams from University of Chester) is dedicated to Particulate Matter Filtration, and is a community of researchers, industry representatives and policy makers building a dialogue around reducing particulate matter pollution from transport.

After three years of successful operation, the group is now seeking to expand into a European Special Interest group and become a part of ERCOFTAC (European Research Community on Flow, Turbulence and Combustion). The new group will have a wider scope, with a provisional title of “Air Quality Technologies“.

Being part of Ercoftac will allow the group to continue supporting excellent research related to reducing air pollution, build a dialogue between academia, industry and policy makers, exchange ideas and inspire the new generation of researchers. Activities of the group will include (but not be limited to) organising meetings, seminars, courses, summer schools, research visits etc.

The group already has potential representatives from several European pilot centres (UK, Greece and Iberia), but would like to invite all researchers working in adjacent areas to take part in the bid. Industrial representatives are also very welcome.

In order to be included on the Steering Committee (i.e. take an active part in making decisions about the group future and funding distribution), the organisation should be paying Ercoftac an annual fee (500 EUR for universities, 1000 EUR for industry). There is no such requirement for taking part in regular Special Interest group activities.

If you are interested in taking part in the bid, please contact Svetlana Aleksandrova ( or Andy Williams (

Outcomes and Actions from SAQN Launch Meeting

The SAQN has reviewed feedback from network members and points of discussion raised at our initial meeting, and agreed the following actions for the network to pursue:

Future events

For future events we will continue to prioritise venues with convenient location and good accessibility, as far as budget will allow. 

Online discussion space

We will investigate options for this that would allow conversations between members. Constraints would be that we do not have a budget for this, and do not want something that involves a lot of monitoring/moderating. A possible platform is LinkedIn or there may be a google platform supported by the University of York that would suit.

Collaboration Building Workshop

A decision was taken to rename the sandpits as ‘Collaboration Building Workshops’ given the negative connotations of sandpits for many people. The topics identified could be used for the workshop in June to give the event more focus, but the LMG had concerns that this might be too narrow and exclude too many people. The risk of giving the sandpit no focus is that there will not be enough common interest amongst the attendees to produce good projects. This discussion will be taken further by the LMG when planning the workshop.

Mapping networks

Given the feedback about the numerous other networks, we felt it would be helpful to map these networks and identify their particular niche. This would help us in our awareness of other events and activities, as well as to define more clearly our own niche in the air quality space. It would also enable us to better signpost members to other relevant activity where their interests cannot be met by SAQN. This mapping exercise would need to be maintained and revised over time to take account of the changing landscape.

Tracking new collaborations

One of the aims of the network is to foster new collaborations among network members that lead to new projects and research activity. We have positive indications that such collaborations have started already at the launch, but need to get more detailed information about who the collaborators are and what activity they are doing. We will ask members to report back regularly through the monthly newsletter, but also send an annual survey to members, asking them to give details of any new partnerships that they have developed through SAQN. This information can be reported back to STFC, but will also allow us to make better connections through the network, by spotting opportunities for different organisations to join a developing collaboration or signposting people to relevant funding.

Under-represented sectors

Discussions at the meeting identified areas of interest to the network where we did not have representation. These included health (particularly highlighted by Ian Mudway’s excellent presentation), social sciences (as demonstrated by the interest in behaviour change) and agriculture (given the strong interest in ammonia). We will:

  • Seek out individuals from these sectors to join the network / be champions / join the steering group
  • Identify relevant events to attend/present at where we can reach these sectors
  • Explore the possibilities of hosting smaller events aimed at these particular sectors (possibly by piggy backing on existing meetings or holding virtual meetings/seminars)

We welcome ongoing feedback on the activity of the network. If you have any comments on the actions from the report, or other ideas about what you’d like to see from the network, please email