Project highlights

  • Develop new low cost techniques for source apportionment of air pollution
  • Work in both the UK and East Africa
  • Work with industrial and governance stakeholders to achieve maximum impact.


Air pollution is a global killer responsible for approximately 7 million premature deaths per year worldwide. Cities with healthy populations are more prosperous because the population’s life expectancy, quality of life, and productivity are all increased. Poor air quality acts as a brake on prosperity by increasing market costs through various mechanisms including higher expenditure on healthcare and loss of labour productivity.

Successful air quality management and control not only requires measurement of air pollution levels, but it also requires information on the sources of air pollution and their relative magnitudes and importance. Without this information, it is impossible to plan and enact cost-effective control measures. By achieving local source apportionment in a lower cost manner, this project will allow source apportionment to be used more widely for regulatory and compliance purposes both in the Global North and South.

This studentship will work towards providing important breakthroughs in the wider and more comprehensive use of source apportionment by utilizing the recent revolution in low-cost techniques. The ability of low-cost sensors to apportion air pollution from specific activities within complex real-world environments will be investigated. By allowing individual pollution sources to be pinpointed, the developed methodologies will significantly improve global prospects to reduce air pollution concentrations through the targeting of specific sources.

Annotated photograph of Kibera in Nairobi, highlighting where potential sources of air pollution could arise from. including residential, biogenic, vehicular, construction and industrial
Figure 1: Annotated photograph of Kibera in Nairobi, highlighting where potential sources of air pollution could arise from. (Photo: Prof. Francis Pope)


University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability


Project investigator

Prof. Francis Pope, University of Birmingham ([email protected])


Prof. Roy Harrison, University of Birmingham ([email protected])

How to apply


Low-cost source apportionment will be applied to regulatory important sites that are impacted upon by emissions from various sources. Various statistical and machine learning methods will be used to analyse data collected from the low cost instruments.  This will allow for the effect of specific pollution sources at different sites to be assessed. It will also allow for the anticipated levels of pollution, which are dependent on meteorological conditions and temporal variations, to be determined.  Results from low cost sensors will be compared to regulatory grade source apportionment to ensure robustness of results.

Field locations are available in both the UK and East Africa (via industrial, governmental and UN partners) to investigate and appraise the ability of low-cost techniques in source apportionment. The use of arrays of sensors across urban areas in combination with the developed techniques will allow for source triangulation of the location of emitters.

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

The student will be provided with full training on the modelling packages with which to derive emission factors, including R, Matlab and Arc GIS Pro. The candidate will be encouraged to attend modules from atmospheric science related MSc courses at the University of Birmingham. They will be trained in an interdisciplinary environment at the University of Birmingham, with colleagues whose interests span meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and air quality.  The student will benefit enormously from synergies between the studentship and the wider team including industrial and governance colleagues in the UK and Africa.

Partners and collaboration

The student will benefit from extensive links between the project and industrial, governance and NGO partners that are based both in the UK and Africa.  The project will benefit from the stakeholders involved with the ASAP East Africa ( and WM-AIR ( projects.  The student will also benefit from working with industrial partner Dustscan Ltd, who are involved with cognate projects with Professor Pope.

Further details

Prof. Francis Pope ([email protected]) will be delighted to take informal questions about the project.

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)
  • Submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: and go to Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_B18 when completing the application form.

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023. 

Additional information for international applicants

  • All international applicants must ensure they can fulfil the University of Birmingham’s international student entry requirements, which includes English language requirements.  For further information please visit
  • Please be aware that CENTA funding will only cover University fees at the level of support for Home-fee eligible students.  The University is only able to waive the difference on the international fee level for a maximum of two successful international applicants.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Literature survey and review paper.  Exploring source apportionment techniques and low cost air pollution sensors. Developing new technique to combine low cost source apportionment with three dimensional source triangulation.  UK based measurement campaign. Attend national UK conference.

Year 2

Further development of source apportionment technique to allow for multiple sensor data.  Use of machine learning techniques to provide source apportionment predictions.  Africa based field campaign with associated stakeholder engagement in country.

Year 3

Data analysis and interpretation. Implementation of field data into model. Discussions and analysis will be finalized here, and final outputs will be published.  Presentation of results at international conference e.g. AGU in San Francisco, USA. Thesis preparation and viva.

Further reading

  • Recent papers from the Pope and Harrison groups on cognate work can be found in the following journal articles:
  • Bousiotis, D., Beddows, D., Singh, A., Haugen, M., Diez, S., Edwards, P.M., Boies, A., Harrison, R.M. and Pope, F.D., 2022. A study on the performance of low-cost sensors for source apportionment at an urban background site. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques15(13), pp.4047-4061.
  • Haugen, M.J., Singh, A., Bousiotis, D., Pope, F.D. and Boies, A.M., 2022. Differentiating semi-volatile and solid particle events using low-cost lung-deposited surface area and black carbon sensors. Atmosphere13(5), p.747.
  • Bousiotis, D., Singh, A., Haugen, M., Beddows, D., Diez, S., Murphy, K.L., Edwards, P.M., Boies, A., Harrison, R.M. and Pope, F.D., 2021. Assessing the sources of particles at an urban background site using both regulatory instruments and low-cost sensors–a comparative study. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques14(6), pp.4139-4155.
  • Singh, A., Gatari, M.J., Kidane, A.W., Alemu, Z.A., Derrick, N., Webster, M.J., Bartington, S.E., Thomas, G.N., Avis, W. and Pope, F.D., 2021. Air quality assessment in three East African cities using calibrated low-cost sensors with a focus on road-based hotspots. Environmental Research Communications3(7), p.075007.
  • Crilley, L.R., Singh, A., Kramer, L.J., Shaw, M.D., Alam, M.S., Apte, J.S., Bloss, W.J., Hildebrandt Ruiz, L., Fu, P., Fu, W. and Gani, S., 2020. Effect of aerosol composition on the performance of low-cost optical particle counter correction factors. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques13(3), pp.1181-1193.
  • Crilley, L.R., Shaw, M., Pound, R., Kramer, L.J., Price, R., Young, S., Lewis, A.C. and Pope, F.D., 2018. Evaluation of a low-cost optical particle counter (Alphasense OPC-N2) for ambient air monitoring. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques11(2), pp.709-720.
  • Pope, F.D., Gatari, M., Ng’ang’a, D., Poynter, A. and Blake, R., 2018. Airborne particulate matter monitoring in Kenya using calibrated low-cost sensors. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics18(20), pp.15403-15418.


This project has been designed with the potential of Covid to rebound in mind.  The modelling and associated calculations can be achieved predominantly via desktop study.  Whilst the project has a field data collection component, if required pre-existing low cost sensor data sets can be analysed. Therefore, if required, the project can be carried out remotely, with just access to laptop and wifi.  The use of TEAMs and Zoom meetings allows for effective group interactions, including the weekly online group meetings and presentations, so full inclusion into group activities is possible even under future lockdown possibilities.