Difficult Conversations: Air quality experts to discuss ways to clean up the air that we breathe

Research experts including a Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government will join a public Q&A exploring the air quality ‘crisis’ being felt across the globe.

Air quality is a measure of pollutants and other harmful particulates in the air that we breathe. But according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of the world’s urban population live in areas where air quality exceeds safe limits.

Paul Monks is a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester, and serves as Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

He will be joined by the Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), hosted at Space Park Leicester, and researchers from the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability for the latest instalment of Leicester’s Difficult Conversations series, in celebration of the University's Centenary year.

The free event (Difficult Conversations: every breath we take), to be hosted at the University of Leicester’s Brookfield campus on Thursday 7 July 2022 (6.30pm to 8.30pm), will examine different air quality challenges faced across the world, and the means by which they could be mitigated.

Panellists for the discussion, followed by a public Q&A, include;

  • Professor Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and research expert in the areas of air quality, atmospheric composition and climate change
  • Professor Anna Hansell, Director of the Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leicester and Chair of the UK’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants
  • Professor John Remedios, Director of the Natural Environment Council (NERC)-affiliated National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) and Professor of Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester
  • Dr Karen Exley, national lead for the UK Health Security Agency’s strategic priority programme on cleaner air and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Leicester
  • and Dr Joshua Vande Hey, lecturer in Environment and Health whose research explores atmospheric science and sensing and the translation of environmental science into applications in both industry and health

Professor Monks, a former Chair of the Defra Air Quality Expert Group, said: “Air quality is a persistent menace – as we look to de-carbonise our economy we should look for the win-win benefits that reduce air pollution and have positive climate outcomes.”

Professor Hansell, whose research as an environmental epidemiologist focuses on the long-term health effects of air pollution, said: “Air pollution is one of the leading risk factors for health worldwide, causing 7 million preventable deaths a year. It affects most of the body including the lungs, heart, brain and even development of unborn children.

“The WHO recently dramatically reduced the recommended air quality guidelines for exposure based on new health evidence, but it will be challenging to meet the new limits even in high income countries.”

Professor Remedios, who heads a distributed team of more than 130 scientists from UK universities – many at Leicester – and other research organisations as Director of the NCEO, added: “Studying air pollution at a micro-level is essential, but using satellite data to examine the macro effects and the large-scale trends in our atmosphere gives us another important tool for research into air quality.”

Difficult Conversations is hosted by Professor Sarah Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Science and Engineering, and facilitated by Turi King, Professor of Public Engagement and Genetics, and co-presenter with Stacey Dooley of BBC Two’s DNA Family Secrets.

As well as celebrating 100 years of world-changing research at the University of Leicester, the series also seeks to challenge perceptions on certain topics and encourage members of the public to consider ‘difficult’ questions which impact us all.

While the event is free to attend, guests are encouraged to book their place through Eventbrite. Parking is available on site, and you can plan your journey by public transport or by bike with the Choose How You Move journey planner.

Explore the University of Leicester’s Centenary celebrations, Our 100 and more about our story so far on our Centenary webpages.