Students join scientists in search of asthma triggers

Students and teachers of more than 20 Baltimore, Md., middle and high schools will be helping NASA scientists, and doctors and researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine to better understand the causes of pediatric asthma in Baltimore City. The students will be gathering data on aerosol particles that will help experts track particulates in relation to incidence of asthma.

"Asthma is one of the most common chronic illnesses that cause children to miss school, and Baltimore City school children suffer from some of the highest asthma rates in the country," says Carol Blaisdell, Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology and Allergy at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Severe asthma events leading to hospitalization occur at much higher rates for children under the age of 18 in the fall more than during the rest of the year. Scientists believe this may, in part, be triggered by tiny airborne particles called aerosols.

The student's portion of the research is called the Baltimore Student Sun photometer Network (BSSN). Each student participating in BSSN will go outside of their school daily and point a hand held instrument, known as a "Sun Photometer," toward the Sun. These devices can determine the concentration and size of aerosols (or particles in the air) by using light from the electromagnetic spectrum. Smaller particles appear in the blue end of the spectrum, while the larger particles are seen in the red end of the spectrum. The students will take daily measurements of aerosols around Baltimore City beginning this spring and will continue to collect data over the course of this calendar year.

"The data will be included as part of a larger study to identify the environmental triggers of pediatric asthma in Baltimore," said Elissa Levine, the lead scientist on the project, who works in the Biospheric Sciences Branch at

Contact: Cynthia M. O'Carroll
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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