For the purposes of an XPRIZE an opportunity arises to address a fundamental issue associated with the measurement of particulate matter (and the consequences for better epidemiological studies, and health, in the future)…
Particulate matter varies widely in its chemical composition - particles from different emission sources can have radically different chemicals in them. This means the actual health impact for a given exposure to a specific mass of particles will probably be different, depending on the chemical composition of the particles. Some chemicals might be biologically inert while others (e.g. diesel emissions from vehicles) contain toxic carcinogenic compounds!
So not only is there a need to measure particle size (e.g. PM2.5, PM10) there is a need to detect the specific chemicals in (and on) those particles. We need a technology to detect chemical compounds. To date no widely available, low cost, technology has been developed and deployed.
Currently, such chemical analysis is typically conducted in a relatively slow and expensive manner in laboratories - meaning that we have no idea what the actual chemical compositions are for most urban and rural areas. [Modelling alone has a limited accuracy.]
Monitoring of chemical composition across a majority of urban streets with high traffic flows (and ideally in rural areas too) has the potential to greatly enhance the effectiveness of epidemiological studies and to increase our understanding of the specific health impacts for each type of particulate matter.
A real-time monitoring system also provides the opportunity to implement real-time control systems and strategies - to respond to pollution incidents and mitigate their impact.
It is also possible to pro-actively prevent some pollution incidents by using sophisticated modelling and prediction systems (based on accurate data and patterns of behaviour).