60-Second Earth

Poetry Poster Sucks Up Smog

A building-sized poem shows how billboards could help cut pollution from cars. David Biello reports


Can poetry fight air pollution? Turns out it can—with the help of nanotechnology.
Tony Ryan is a polymer chemist at the University of Sheffield. He works with tiny particles of titanium dioxide, which can use sunlight to suck up smog-forming pollution and purify the air.  
To demonstrate the effect, Ryan attached a poster 20 meters tall and 10 meters wide to the side of a building in Sheffield on May 14th. The poster is coated with titanium dioxide and can consume the nitrogen oxide exhaust of about 20 cars per day. He argues that every billboard could be similarly treated to suck up pollution at an extra cost of just a few hundred dollars.
The Sheffield poster comments on its own function. Written on it is a new work by poet Simon Armitage entitled "In Praise of Air." I'll give him the final words: "… on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog / or civilization crosses the street / with a white handkerchief over its mouth / and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs / I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep. / My first word, everyone's first word, was air."
—David Biello
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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