Inside Rensselaer
* Sustainability Studies Research: Asthmatic Spaces in New York
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Sustainability Studies Research:
Asthmatic Spaces in New York
Asthma is a lung disease that makes breathing difficult for individuals, and it is estimated that around 300 million people in the world currently have asthma. Overall, asthma incidence has increased dramatically in the United States and globally in recent decades, making asthma one of the most common chronic diseases in the world. And for several years, it’s been a special research interest for Kim Fortun, associate professor in the department of science and technology studies in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

“Asthma sufferers and caregivers also struggle daily to make sense of asthma, trying to understand the rhythms of incidence, triggers, and effective modes of care and prevention,” Fortun said. “The Asthma Files project aims to bring all these groups into conversation.”

This spring, she is teaching a collaborative social science research project course titled Asthmatic Spaces: New York, which brings students and faculty from diverse disciplines together to understand how asthma is produced, experienced, and cared for in particular spaces that include neighborhoods, cities, and countries. The goal of the project is to produce new understandings of asthma patterns, drivers, and experiences in New York state. Also, real-time results will be shared with faculty and students undertaking similar research in Houston, Texas, Knoxville, Tenn., and New Orleans.

“Asthma was chosen as a subject to study because of its impact on public health, because of its scientific complexity, and because of the way it draws together people with many different kinds of expertise — in health care, basic science, air quality assessment, building design, genetics, and many other areas,” said Fortun.

The results of the project will contribute to The Asthma Files, an electronic public archive of knowledge about asthma designed to promote scientific and environmental health literacy, according to Fortun. The online platform has been created with input from social scientists, artists, activists, students, and others concerned about asthma, as a way to facilitate collaboration and dialogue among the groups. The archive will include text, still images, video, and audio that illustrate multiple perspectives on asthma — from the vantage point of affected people in different locales and communities, heath care providers, and scientists from many different disciplines.

“Asthma sufferers and caregivers also struggle daily to make sense of asthma, trying to understand the rhythms of incidence, triggers, and effective modes of care and prevention,” Fortun said. “The Asthma Files project aims to bring all these groups into conversation.”

Fortun’s class includes nine students who come from a range of disciplines including mechanical, civil, and electrical engineering; mathematics; physics; management; architecture; and science and technology studies. The undergraduate students are: Andrew Cronin, Michelle Cullum, Douglas Das, Alexander Richman, William Schmitt, Jennifer Spartz, and Kevin Watters. The graduate students are Alison Kennar and Brandan Costelloe-Kuehn.

“The class provides students with an opportunity to participate in a multidisciplinary research process, and to learn how to work with complex data sets and information,” Fortun said. “The aim of the project is to develop students’ capacity to creatively integrate and communicate data on a complex problem.”

For more information, visit: http://asthmaticspaces.wikispaces.com/.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 4, March 5, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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