FoNS Strategic SME Engagement Funding – a case study: working with Plume Labs to develop an app to collect and analyse data on local air quality

Dr Audrey de Nazelle

Dr Audrey de Nazelle is the founder of Imperial's Network of Excellence on Air Quality (NExAIR) bringing together researchers from across Imperial to improve air quality for all. Her research is focused on the fields of environmental sciences, health behaviour, transportation and urban planning and she works to guide policy makers in health-promoting built environments.

In late 2016 Dr Audrey de Nazelle applied to the FoNS SME Engagement Fund for “E-Plume”, a project that brought together colleagues from across Imperial's Centre for Environmental Policy (CEP), Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringEnvironmental Research Group and, crucially, external SME partner Plume Labs. The project team received £15,000 from the FoNS SME Engagement fund which, together with an appropriate contribution from Plume Labs, funded a postdoc and supported focus group sessions, a stakeholder workshop and travel costs.

The project

The goal of the E-Plume project was to develop means to engage citizens into taking action to improve health by minimising exposures and contributions to air pollution. Collectively the team sought to accumulate and analyse data to enhance research and policy applications, whilst also improving the usability, appeal and utility of the Plume Labs Air Quality app, including the quality of data generated by the Plume Labs wearable air pollution monitor.

The project recruited volunteers to test the app (which currently has more than 100,000 downloads) and wearable monitors, and also surveyed a broader number of app users to assess stakeholder perspectives on the potential utility of these tools. The air pollution data collected from the Plume lab’s wearable device was compared to personal exposure estimates based on a combination of personal activity data.

The impact of the Engagement funding

Dr de Nazelle is keen to emphasise how the FoNS SME Engagement fund allowed the project to flourish, initially by allowing collaboration with Plume Labs on their app's user interface, and subsequently on collecting and analysing data – via questionnaires from a sample of E-Plumes app and sensor users, and also from in-depth interviews.

"We were able to firstly verify the usability, appeal and utility of the Plume Labs app and secondly the usability and quality of data generated by the Plume Labs wearable air pollution monitor. We were able to present the results of the research at the Centre for Behaviour Change Conference and publish them in the Journal of Transport & Health. We were also invited to present our findings by the Future Cities Catapult and also at Nesta’s Challenges of our Era Forum: Make London Breathe Again: Accelerating Clean Air in the Capital."

And the impact didn't end there: “Beyond the immediate results the project led to further funding applications, including a successful ESRC DTP studentship and an ESRC Impact Accelerator award to work in collaboration with the Imperial Environmental Research Group (then at King's College London) on further app development. Partners have benefited from the interactions by improving their awareness of evidence-based methods of engagement, including keys to success and opportunities for most effective engagement through smart phone technologies.”

How to apply

The next round of FoNS SME Engagement fund is now open. Applications are limited to just two pages, and an outcome will be decided by the end of February 2022. For details of how to apply see the FoNS Strategic Funds webpage.

Who should apply?

We strongly encourage early career researchers from departments within the Faculty of Natural Sciences to make an application, and bid for up to £15,000 of funding. Fellowship-holders are also eligible to apply for FSRF funding as long as the end date of the project falls within the fellowship appointment.


The deadline to apply is 14 January 2022 (5pm).

Contact us

If you have any queries please contact Ester Buchaca-Domingo.