Public Lab Research note

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Smartphone App for Residential Testing of Formaldehyde (SMART-FORM) Interim report

by nshapiro with gretchengehrke |

Below is the interum report of the NSF-funded SMART-FORM project, lead by Karen Dannemiller of Ohio State University and with Public Lab as a Co-PI.

To stay up to date with the project you can visit the project's website:


We spend about 90% of our time indoors, where we are exposed to a complex mixture of chemicals, including formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and exposure can also result in eye, nose, and throat irritation. Currently, concerned members of the public have no method to inexpensively and reliably measure the formaldehyde concentration in their environment. Current methods require expensive analytical instruments, are prone to contamination, suffer from interfering compounds, or are difficult to complete. The goal of this work is to develop and launch an accessible, inexpensive and reliable formaldehyde detection technique for use in community science and by the public writ large. We have achieved partial completion of each of our three objectives as described below and will continue to pursue completion over the following year:

1) develop a colorimetric formaldehyde detection badge and novel Smartphone-based App to read the badge.

We have completed production of the beta version of the Android app and the iOS beta version is nearing completion. Community feedback has been and will be incorporated in the design throughout development. Independent verification at the Building Energy and Environmental Systems Laboratory (BEESL) will confirm that badges function properly. Environmental chambers have been commissioned to perform the verification tests planned for the Fall of 2017.

2) ensure adoption of the new technology by the community science community and concerned community members.

We have completed our initial community survey through which respondents provided information about their interests, concerns, and input for the development and design of the app. We are currently preparing for a community beta test of the app. Later we will also complete a community case study using the final version of this novel formaldehyde detection system.

3) To make the collected data publicly available to community scientists for interpretation.

We have generated interest in the app through conversations with a concerned community, social media, email, and a blog post. We will ensure that data and information are publicly available as described in the proposal.

Intellectual merit: We have demonstrated a new inexpensive method to measure compounds of concern in the indoor environment using a smartphone app to quantify the extent of color-change reactions. Concerned members of the public and community scientists will be able to use this technology to easily and inexpensively measure the formaldehyde concentration in their environment. This technology has the potential to expand to measure other compounds of concern.

Broader impacts: We have prioritized community engagement in the project. We have already incorporated community feedback into the app design and will continue to do so for the remainder of the project. We are actively working with community members to promote community science.

Next Steps

Next steps for Public Lab include: beta testing the app, open sourcing the app in the Public Lab GitHub, and designing and implementing the case study in Waycross GA.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No.1645090 "EAGER: Collaborative Research: SmartPhone App for Residential Testing of Formaldehyde (SmART-Form)." Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

smartphone formaldehyde indoor-air-quality nsf smart-form



Hello. How can I become of beta-tester of this program? After beta-testing will you sending really working exposing badges (works version)? Thanks!

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hi @aldehyde great question! you can follow this link to beta test the app

yes, after the beta testing is done we will validate the badge and app in an exposure chamber. Following that we will be running a case study in Waycross with working badges and hopefully our industry partner will be offering the badge for ~$5. What scale of monitoring were you hoping to do? Thanks again!

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Hi @nshapiro, I am presenting of the pedagogical university in Ukraine department of biology and chemistry. We want to involve the students in the investigation of environments especially them student campus and education laboratory also to investigate of sources formaldehyde in the classrooms of the schools in our town.

What version of Android does the platform support? LG D295, Android 4.4 - the app is incompatible with your device. P.S. Beta tester from Ukraine is it not a problem?

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Hi @aldehyde,

Apologies for the delay! That sounds like an incredible application of this technology. Are there ways that we can support you in that work? The validated version of the app should be ready in early spring.

I'm sorry that the Google Play store was reporting incompatibility. You can download the app directly here:

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