• Scott Collis of Argonne National Laboratory, left, and community leader Nedra Sims Fears work to advance urban resilience through science. They collaborated with NASA during the STAQS air quality mission in Chicago. NASA/Kathleen Gaeta

    A Tale of Three Pollutants

    It was a hazy August day on Chicago’s South Side, and Nedra Sims Fears was hosting a small gathering to talk about the air. Interstate-94, which bisects her Chatham neighborhood, hummed nearby. “This was the summer I spent watching summer out my window,” Fears said. 

    That’s because asthma runs in her family, and smoke from wildfires in Canada had wafted into Chicago, making it difficult for her to breathe. Many of her neighbors don’t have air conditioning, which means they don’t have the luxury of shutting their windows against the tiny hazardous particles contained in the smoke.

    Several thousand feet above the Fears’ home, one of the largest flying laboratories in the world circled the skies over Chicago. The plane – NASA’s four-engine DC-8 jet – is a storied research craft. Over the past 25 years it has supported field campaigns across all seven continents. On this August 2023 day, it carried 40 researchers and a pack of scientific instruments investigating air pollution over the cities and pasturelands of the Midwest.

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