All I Want for Christmas is Clean Air

In China, over 1.3 billion people have high health risks associated with exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The data says that the air quality in major cities in China exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines (AQG). However, it is hard for people in the U.S. to experience that. 

About the PM2.5, I experience it myself. This is a real story:

In 2015, during the fall break, I went back to my hometown, a city near Beijing. Unfortunately, I experienced the days with severe PM2.5 pollution. I could hardly see the building next to me. I need to hold my breath and reduce the outdoor time. Even worse, my flight back to Guangzhou was canceled.

We want to tell the story because we want people who have never been in a city with severe PM 2.5 air pollution to be able to imagine what it is like to breathe in such an environment. In order to show that, we choose 3 cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu to form our story and create snow globes for each city. Each snow globe is filled with a certain amount of glitter to represent the 2017 average PM 2.5 amounts in each city normalized to the area of each city. This visualization would be an interactive experience. First, from the information box, the audience could know answer the question themselves. Then, we let the audience guess and rank the cities 1 to 4 from most to least polluted. Finally, the audience could shake the snow globes to see what the air pollution looks like visually and the answer is revealed as they pick up the globes.

The goal of this visualization is to quantify air pollution measured in PM 2.5 and to educate people about what PM2.5 really is. Many people are aware that air pollution is bad, but they are not familiar with the concept of PM 2.5. The particles in the air do not make it harder to breathe, but instead, breathing in a lot of these particles into the body can result in serious health effects.

We chose the presentation in the form of snow globes because it is an item that most people are familiar with and the reveal when the globes are shaken provide a nice surprise element. The black glitter was chosen to represent PM 2.5 because the metaphor of black particles as hazardous to health gives off a warning sign.

We would like this visualization to be an exhibit in a museum where people can interact with the snow globes. The snow globes are relatively small and the skyline is not easy to see clearly, so ideally we would have live video cameras that project onto a large screen, so when people pick up and shake the snow globes, they can see an enlarged version of the snow globes on a big screen and can clearly see what the skylines look like covered in the black glitter. Furthermore, if we could gather more data, we can make globes for more cities in China or even cities around the world.

What is PM2.5?

By Haley Meisenholder, Jay Dev, Yihang Sui, Kunyi Li

Beijing needs to breathe!

The data say that Beijing’s pollution has been getting a lot better over the past few years, but is still a lot higher than their target of 30 microgram per meter cube. We want to tell this story because it tells a story that’s not the common narrative: yes the pollution is bad, but it is getting a lot better.

Our audience is Americans interested in China.

There are a few interesting notes about the data: the seasonality is very strong, with highs in Winter. A little research suggests the idea that coal burnt in northern China produce chemicals that are then brought to Beijing by the wind patterns.

We tried looking for the familiar narrative of better pollution levels during the 2008 Olympics, and did find that the levels were much lower than they were for the same time future years.

However, what caught our eye was the dramatic improvement over the past few years, where the worst part of the year is similar to the best of previous years. This is a dramatic reduction in the pollution of the city!

Focusing in on that narrative, we worked to find a sculpture that could convey the discomfort of the pollution, while also leaving the audience with a sense of hope for the future. We settled on using masks that the viewer would wear on the way in – the pollution is still terrible after all, while displaying the yearly pollution levels in stacks of masks.

Margaret, Rikhav, Olivia

Breathing Beijing

How does it feel to breathe in Beijing? We are exploring the US Department of State “Mission China” Air Quality dataset in an effort to recreate the experience of breathing with varying degrees of difficulty.

We are grouping the data into three categories: good air quality, moderate, and low.  With each category, a different breathing experience aims to be simulated using different straws.

We believe this is a powerful physical data experience because it is simple in execution but powerful in action. The simple act of trying to breathe through different straws re-creates the experience of having different levels of breathing difficulty. This directly connects a person in this exhibition with a person living in Beijing that has different breathing difficulties due to the air pollution levels.

In order to differentiate the air pollution levels, we have used colors and the diameter of the straw.

This is the data for 2016:

Green color – Hours where measured air pollution is less than 100: 6720 hours, 76.8% of total hours for the year

Yellow color – Hours where measured air pollution is between 101 and 200: 1418 hours, 16.2% of total hours for the year

Red color – Hours where measured air pollution is greater than 200: 617 hours, 7% of total hours for the year.\

Team: Kallirroi Retzepi, Helen K. Bailey, Mitchel L Myers, and Marc Exposito

Tipping the Scales of Climate Justice

Scott Gilman, Sofia Reinach, Maddie Pelz

The data say that while some countries contribute more than their share of harmful emissions leading to climate change, these are not the same countries that will suffer the biggest consequences due to climate change. We want to tell this story to point out the imbalance of cause and consequences of climate change, and to encourage people in the US and elsewhere to take action to reduce their climate footprints. Our audience is people of different ages visiting a science museum, who would see this as a part of an exhibit on climate change and its causes and effects.

Each scale represents a different variable related to either the causes or effects of climate change, gathered from World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and other governmental data sources (linked below). For this sketch, some of the scales are physical and some are projected, but in future iterations they would all be physical. The three scales to the left represent the disproportionate contributions that the US and India are making to different aspects that drive climate change. The first scale demonstrates that the United States consumes more meat than India per person, which leads to increased methane emissions from agriculture. The second scale represents car ownership per person in each country, with the US again having significantly more vehicles per person than India, which contributes to CO2 emissions from fuel use and exhaust. The last scale representing cause shows percentage of non-renewable energy that each country uses. The large majority of US energy consumption comes from non-renewable resources, while India utilizes a higher proportion of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

In contrast to the first three scales that are tipped towards the US, the fourth scale has the opposite slope. This visual contrast emphasizes the last scale, which represents the projected loss of GDP due to climate change. Despite the United States contributing disproportionately to many causes of climate change, the consequences of these actions will be felt more by countries that may have a smaller carbon footprint. This makes clear that the negative effects of climate change do not discriminate by which nation contributes most, and even countries that work hard to reduce emissions will still suffer the consequences of our collective actions.

The last scale invites visitors to ‘weigh’ their own contributions to climate change based on the amount of meat in their diet, and hopefully walk away with knowledge of how changes to their lifestyle might improve climate outcomes for those in the US as well as in other countries around the world who face the biggest threats from climate change.

Economic effects paper:

Renewable energy:


Meat consumption:


Cars per capita in 2015:



Where did Beijing go and will it come back?

When we saw this photo, we were shocked.

In the press, Beijing has stood out for the levels of pollution. Before the 2008 Olympics, visitors and athletes alike voiced concern over the quality of the air. Since then, by the US State Department data, it has become worse.

Diving into the data we noticed that Beijing’s air quality is not as simple a story as it is sometimes reported. There is wide variation in the air quality and visibility in Beijing. One of the most startling differences was experienced in September of 2015 when the Chinese government held the “largest parade it’s ever held” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in WWII. During the celebration, factories were closed and cars were banned from roaming the streets. A few days after the bans were put into effect, the smog cleared and people saw blue skies in Beijing for once.

We wanted to recreate that experience and to inspire the younger generation to take some action to decreasing their carbon footprint. The air quality is inherently a sensory experience. Pollution can be seen, but it can also be felt. For this reason, our group thought physicalizing the information about air quality trends would make an impression that pictures on a page wouldn’t be able to. We want visitors to try to find images of the Beijing skyline in different pools of water that represent the level of pollution. On a clear day like in September 2015, it’ll be easy to spot those images since the water is clear. But on the worse days, such as in the winter when the coal plants are fired up to provide heating, the water is dark and feels viscous so it’s difficult to find the Beijing skyline. The reality is no different; the smog can swallow up the entire skyline and it’s difficult and dangerous to breathe in the air.

Fighting pollution will be a multi-generational challenge, so our chosen audience is children in China. We present this concept for an installation in the museums in Beijing, preferably in the children’s area. Some of them might have never witnessed blue skies so we want to show them that the environment they live in now can be improved. We also want them to leave with a physical image of the clear skyline of Beijing and on the back of that image, have more information about air pollution and steps they can take to limit their carbon footprint.

By Caroline Liu, Alicia Ouyang, Arturo Chavez