How to DIY a Cheap Air Particulate Sensor #CitizenScience

Particulate Sensor

I know I’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about water monitoring devices, so this week I’m changing it up with an air particulate sensor I discovered at This project was designed by Brock Hammill, a science teacher in Corvalis, Montana that likes to make things that are make-along friendly for young citizen scientists. So, he’s got some great instructions and videos to share. Particle’s Photon microcontroller is at the top of the 3D printed stand, while Seeed Studio’s Dust Sensor is housed inside. The dust sensor is considered a PM2.5 used for fine particle detection. Here’s EPA’s description of what that really means.

Sources of fine particles include all types of combustion activities (motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning, etc.) and certain industrial processes. Particles with diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers are referred to as “coarse.” Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations, and dust from paved or unpaved roads. Other particles may be formed in the air from the chemical change of gases.

Other minimal parts include a resistor, RGB LED and female-female jumper cables. Here’s Brock’s video on assembly.

I was thinking how pertinent air quality is right now given the recent wildfires. Although this sensor may not be appropriate for that use, it’s a good connection to the use of Arduino for environmental sensing. Air quality is important to monitor and people who spend a lot of time outdoors can be at a higher risk since fine particles can be damaging to lungs. This project is especially interesting to asthmatics since it can detect cigarette smoke and dust. Inspiring maker spirit, Brock encourages others to improve on his project, whether it be the accuracy of the sensing or even simplifying the housing by upcycling a yogurt container. It’s a great way to get started in citizen science and it just so happens we carry the Particle Photon in our shop. This is a friendly microcontroller with the ability to connect to WiFi and the ability to tinker through your mobile phone. It’s also incredibly small and helps to make this project inexpensive. If you want even more detail on the build, check out Brock’s personal site on the project. If you are a teacher doing citizen science projects in your classroom, let us know what your are working on!


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1 Comment

  1. This sensor is very much capable of detecting the harmful PM25 particles that come from wildfires. Here in Montana PM25 levels get so high that we have to cancel sports practice in the fall. This is common in areas with forest fires or agricultural burning.

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