Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Caption: Student led research project conducted by Judiht Hilares, showcases the importance of creating an environment that can help students and educators moving forward with an initiative to bring in plants to potentially help air quality.
(First photo): Hilares waters plants while discussing her research and what more she expects to find moving forward.
(second, third and fifth photo) Judiht discusses as time goes on the need to change certain things about her experiment.
(forth photo) Checking the "Airthing" is the most essential part to the research and not a single part goes unnoted. (Photos by Jenny Hernandez)
—By Arianne Bakelmun
As part of the Urban Scholars for Climate Change Grant, Judiht Hilares is working with advisor Professor Thomas Van Aken on research that explores improving indoor air quality by using plants. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Almost the entire global population breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits, and threatens their health” (“Billions of People Still Breathe Unhealthy Air: New Who Data”).
Therefore, it continues to be important to research ways to offset this threat to health. Jenny Hernandez and I, advised by Dr. Christine Waldeyer, make up the documentation team for the Urban Scholars for Climate Change as they explore their research. I was able to observe Hilares at work on June 2nd, June 9th, and June 23rd 2022.
Through the grant, initiated in March 2022 and running through 15 August 2022, Hilares has set up two tents in Passaic County Community College’s STEM Lab in classroom A312. Set up began 26 May 2022. As of today, one tent contains six plants while another tent is empty.
A monitor called “Airthings” sits in each tent and measures six benchmarks of air quality: radon, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature, and volatile organic compounds. Another device does not remain in the tents but may be held inside each one to measure ions in the air. This includes anions (negatively charged ions) and cations (positively charged ions). A negative ion reading indicates healthier air.
Hilares is curious about how plants will affect air quality, and hopeful that they may improve the air we breathe and its impact on our well-being. Yet, there are several variables that may prove challenging, such as the data being collected in an enclosed tent, by a window, and crowded with plants. She has already found that the heat and moisture gets trapped in the tent, raising the temperature, humidity, and positive ions, and therefore lowering air quality.
However, a tent is not the space that indoor plants normally occupy. As such, Hilares is interested in the effects plants have on indoor air quality when she is not taking measurements from a mostly sealed tent. Additionally, she wants to leave the “Airthings” devices in each tent and give them more time to collect an accurate reading.
Throughout this process, Hilares remains open to adjusting the experiment to accommodate challenges. She hopes that if data is collected that show the role plants play in air quality, such data may be used to promote tangible action. This could include increasing plants in Passaic County Community College’s classrooms, where students and teachers benefit.
“Billions of People Still Breathe Unhealthy Air: New Who Data.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 4 Apr. 2022, https://www.who.int/news/item/04-04-2022-billions-of-people-still-breathe-unhealthy-air-new-who-data.