Billboard poem fights dirty air by sucking in pollution

A giant poem on the side of a building in Sheffield is fighting air pollution by sucking in harmful nitrogen oxide. Called In Praise of Air, the poem absorbs as […]

Register now!

By Vicky Ellis

A giant poem on the side of a building in Sheffield is fighting air pollution by sucking in harmful nitrogen oxide.

Called In Praise of Air, the poem absorbs as much nitrogen oxide as 20 cars emit per day.

It is printed on material coated with tiny pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

Award-winning Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage who is Professor of Poetry at Sheffield University teamed up with researchers on the project.

His poem starts: “I write in praise of air. I was six or five / when a conjurer opened my knotted fist / and I held in my palm the whole of the sky. / I’ve carried it with me ever since.”

Hinting that “smog” can fuddle your thoughts, it ends with the words: “My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.”

The poet says: “I’ve enjoyed working with the scientists and the science, trying to weave the message into the words, wanting to collaborate both conceptually and with the physical manifestation of the work.”

Professor Tony Ryan, Sheffield’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science believes cheap technology could be used on billboards and advertisements alongside congested roads to cut pollution.

He says: “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster.”

The poem will be on display on the side of the University’s Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, for one year.

A version of the poem will be showcased during a late night exhibition at the Natural History Museum on Wednesday 11 June 2014 as part ofUniversities Week.