A CIESE Realtime Data Project

Size, Shape and Health Effects of Particulates - Air Pollution: What's the Solution?

Size, Shape and Health Effects of Particulates

 --> What is the impact of the size, shape and what are the health effects of particulates?

In this activity, you will explain the impact and composition of shapes of particles and the health concerns related to particulate matter.

Part 1 - Size

  1. Have students review a meter centimeter and millimeter on a standard meter stick.
  2. In cooperative working groups or as a class, have students review the Units of Length table and answer the questions on the Student Worksheet.
  3. Distribute the rolls of register tape, colored pencils, rulers, meter sticks and calculators. 
  4. Have the students unroll and find the approximate middle point of the strip of receipt tape.
    NOTE: To conserve class time, complete this step for the students prior to class.
  5. Have the students label the middle point as "0" and measure and label 1 meter to the left of "0" and 1 meter to the right of "0". 
  6. Have the students attempt to measure 1000 meters to the right. Have the students tally how many meters were actually to the right of "0". If possible, have the students stretch out the tape as far as it can go in one length to give them an idea of the distance between 1 and 1,000 meters. Answer the questions on the Student Worksheet.
    • Can you fit 1000 meters on the remaining paper on the roll? How far did you get?
  7. Have students return to the "0" point in their roll of paper. Have the students measure and label 1 centimeter to the left of "0". Then measure and label 1 millimeter to the left of the 1 centimeter mark. Challenge the students to measure and label 1 micrometer or 1 nanometer on the roll.
    • Answer the questions on the student worksheet.
    • Is it possible to measure with a ruler and place on the paper 1 micrometer or 1 nanometer? Explain why or why not.

Part 2 - Shape

  1. Particulate matter is very small. Look at the illustration below which shows how much smaller particulates are as compared to a human hair.

Cross section of a human hair

  1. Click through the following gallery of Scanning Electron Microscope Images. Note all of the different shapes of the collected particles.


Chalk Dust Particle Coal Ash Particle Diesel Particles
Chalk Dust Particle
Coal Ash Particle
Diesel Particles
10 µm scale
10 µm scale
0.05 µm scale

Part 3 - Health Effects

  1. Obtain the real time air quality levels for your area through the AIRNow web site.
    • Do you think the current PM level might cause a person with asthma to suffer from an asthma attack? Why or why not?
  2. Look at the current air quality map of US
    • Is there another area of the country where particulate matter levels might pose a health threat or cardiovascular disease to people who live there? Where?
  3. Using the American Lung Association data, click on your state and county and answer the following questions. If your county is not listed, select one that is closest to you.
    • What is your county's grade for Particle Pollution?
    • How many children are diagnosed with the following in your county and what is the percentage compared to the total population for your county?
      • Pediatric Asthma
      • Adult Asthma
      • Chronic Bronchitis
      • Emphysema
      • Cardiovascular Disease
    • How could these people use the AQI to plan out their daily activities?
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