Exhibition encourages citizen science

Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) and Glasgow Science Centre have teamed up to show visitors how lichen can indicate local levels of air pollution.

OPAL worked alongside Glasgow Science Centre to create a new experience where visitors learn how to classify different types of lichen and observe how their presence on trees can show how clean or polluted the surrounding air is. Using their new-found knowledge, visitors can then explore the trees in their own back gardens, local parks and woodlands and take part in OPAL’s nationwide Air Survey to help scientists identify areas with high levels of air pollution and better understand its impacts.

Lichen, a combination of a fungus and an algae or bacteria, grows on almost any surface including trees, rocks, soil and artificial surfaces such as concrete and tarmac. It’s tough stuff and even survived outside the International Space Station for a year. Some types of lichen can only grow in clean air free of nitrogen pollution, while others can survive higher pollution levels. By observing which types of lichen grow in a given area, scientists are able to evaluate local air quality.

The exhibit forms part of a new development within Glasgow Science Centre that explores the impact of our communities on the natural environment. The lichen exhibit will sit alongside a Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) exhibit that reinforces the value of good air quality and the negative effects of pollution.

Stephen Breslin, chief executive at Glasgow Science Centre said: ‘The new OPAL exhibit will act as a stimulus for both our school and public visitors, encouraging them to think about air pollutants and how they can play an active role in helping scientists identify areas of poor air quality. I am excited for our visitors to get hands on and take part in the Air Survey where their data, alongside thousands of others, helps scientists to learn more about the health of the natural environment.’