As Air Quality Data Scientist, Jack Kodros works with our Lab team to research new methods for calibrating our low-cost sensors and evaluate and study their performance under various environmental conditions, taking a scientific and research-oriented approach to understanding and improving sensor performance. His background as a Research Scientist at Colorado State University and his Ph.D. in atmospheric science gives him extensive expertise that informs his work at Clarity and helps him bridge the gap between air quality science and impact.

What is the pathway that led you to begin working in the air quality space?

I had always been interested in physics, but I recognized that I really wanted to work on applied problems. My general interest in nature combined with the ongoing threat of climate change led me to study atmospheric science as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. The big shift into air quality happened when I was applying to Ph.D. programs. Jeff Pierce, the professor who would become my advisor and mentor, offered me a position in his group working on a project about the climate and health effects of cookstove emissions (rudimentary stoves used in parts of the world where access to electricity is limited). I was really motivated to work on a problem with direct implications for so many people along with science questions that ranged from cloud physics to epidemiology.  

Before joining Clarity, you co-authored a study to assess racially segregated communities' air pollution exposure across the U.S. as a research scientist at Colorado State University. What motivates your work as an air quality researcher, especially in relation to this piece of research in the environmental justice space?

I have always been interested in working more in the environmental justice space, specifically. In previous projects, I (as well as plenty of other researchers!) had often noted the disproportionate air quality burden in low-income countries. I had done some field work in rural India and it really hit me how different the air different people breathe in is. Most people have very little choice as to what air they breathe. The United States has an explicit history of racism (which still persists today) and I think it is critical for scientists to demonstrate the multitude of ways this negatively impacts people’s lives. 

What does a typical day at Clarity look like for you?

I start the day by checking in with colleagues on the various projects we are pursuing. Next, I’ll typically try to translate the general project goals I have into specific science questions I can answer through the datasets we have generated. 

What role does your team, the Clarity Lab, play in working towards cleaner air?

The Clarity Lab team is relatively new and I am super excited to be a part of it. The projects we take on are usually longer-term research and science questions. We do deep dives into understanding how our air quality sensors work in different environments (e.g., climate types, seasons, time of day - the list goes on) and how we can improve them. At the end of the day, better monitoring of air quality will lead to a better understanding of emissions and atmospheric processes that lead to unhealthy air and, finally, a better understanding of how to address the problem. 

What role does calibration play in ensuring successful air quality monitoring networks? 

For our sensors, the calibration step means we are turning a generic sensor into one that is specific for the time and location of a study. We take a sensor and say, “hey this one is going to specialize in monitoring San Francisco’s air quality” or “this one is going to specialize in monitoring Kyrgyzstan's air quality”. This specialization in the calibration step gives us an advantage in providing high spatial and temporal resolution to our air quality monitoring. 

Is there any aspect of air quality sensor calibration that tends to be misunderstood?

All air quality monitoring instruments need to be calibrated — even the instruments that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Sometimes these are the most difficult to calibrate. In essence, we need to convert an electrical signal into a concentration of a specific gas or particle. The methods for high-cost instruments and low-cost sensors may be different, but the calibration step in the workflow is always an essential part. 

What is your approach to making air quality science accessible to a non-technical audience?

I try to remember that air quality is something we all experience. We all breathe! We’ve all experienced the overpowering smell of smoke and exhaust from cars. Or the smell of pine trees and salt from the ocean. We’ve all seen the blanket of smog and haze over a city. Or that crystal clear day when you go for a hike and see the Farallon Islands from the top of Mount Tamalpais. I think we’d all prefer some of these over the others.

What is the most gratifying part of your work with Clarity?

I’ve been blown away by the depth of knowledge of the people that work here. Getting the chance to learn from hardware engineers with years of sensor experience or project managers who’ve been responsible for city-wide monitoring programs has been a huge benefit. 

What do you see as the most exciting area of emerging research in the air quality space?

The dramatic increase in air quality sensor networks (such as the ones we deploy at Clarity) have been providing such great data. I am excited to see how the increased spatial and temporal resolution of these networks helps epidemiologists better understand how acute (i.e., short-term) exposures to different air pollutants affect our health. I’m also curious to see if air quality forecasts gain more traction. It would be great to check the air quality forecast for the week the same way we check the weather. 

What excites you most about the next several years at Clarity?

I’m really excited to see our sensor networks expand and help communities understand the air they live in and breathe. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t working to improve air quality?

I like to get out and breathe that clean air! I like to try out anything from rock climbing, rafting, camping, mountain biking, or skiing. Also perfectly happy with a couch, a book, and a baseball game on the TV. 

Thank you for joining us!

Thank you to Jack for joining us in this discussion and for his continued dedication to bringing clean air for all. 

Interested in joining our team? See our Careers page here to see our available roles.