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A Student's Clear Lesson on Clean Air

Sixteen-year-old Naomi Shah shares how she became a finalist winner in Google's Inaugural Global Science Fair and discusses the importance of clean air in ensuring human health.

Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Naomi Shah, the sixteen-year-old winner of the Google science fair for her project focusing on the effects of air quality on asthma, and the importance of clean air in ensuring human health.

After watching both my dad and brother suffer from chronic allergies year-round, I was driven to find out why their symptoms persisted well past the pollen season. I started researching and found that the culprit was indoor air pollutants, which can also be influenced by outdoor air pollutants. I also discovered that people spend more than 90 percent of their lives indoors, and that the economic burden of asthma exceeds that of AIDS and Tuberculosis combined.

As soon as I realized this, I found myself investigating the underlying relationship between four pollutants and the lung health of asthmatic patients. At first, I just wanted to find out which pollutants had the biggest impact on lung health. But soon after, I developed a novel mathematical model which can be used by doctors and environmental specialists to quantify the effect of the pollutants on the lung function as measured by the peak expiratory flow rate-- which is essentially how much a person can breathe out in one breath.

What surprised me is that no model currently quantifies this relationship between environmental pollutants and lung health. I independently designed experimental methods that are scientific and HIPPA compliant and I studied the air quality and lung health in over 100 human test subjects in the Portland-metro area. Identifying which pollutants impact them the most can improve treatment and target remediation efforts.

I have participated in many science fairs since middle school; however, being a finalist winner in Google's Inaugural Global Science Fair opened many doors, including meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office in October 2011! Additional highlights of our trip to DC included meeting EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Directors of the National Institute of Health, and other government officials. I was very inspired by everyone I met on my trip to Washington, DC and was honored that so many people had heard about my research and believed that as a high-school student, I could impact many lives.

Yet, despite all the evidence implicating both indoor and outdoor air pollution's harmful impact on public health, we still have so much to do to clean up our act. We have the technology to clean up the unhealthiest sources of air pollution, and my research reiterated for me that we can't afford to wait too long to clear the air. I believe that as citizens and as a nation, we have a responsibility to provide for the common good and the common health. As long as we have the will to defend our right to clean air, we can ensure a brighter and healthier future.

Naomi Shah is the sixteen-year-old winner of this year's Google science fair.