The National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU) is a specialist centre that is operated by School of Science and the Environment, University of Worcester.
NPARU carries out research, teaching and commercial activities across a range of specific subject areas across the environmental sciences. Our new laboratories in the Charles Darwin building are providing state of the art facilities to staff, students and international visitors. These improvements have allowed NPARU to expand their research from aerobiology to agriculture, atmospheric sciences and microbiology. Our topics of research include airborne pollen, fungal spores and chemicals, as well as crop pathogens and plant diseases.
NPARU has been producing pollen forecasts at the University of Worcester for more than two decades, in partnership with the Met Office. The monitoring of air-borne pollen led to work on hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and other allergic responses. Such studies have informed allergy control product testing, giving our research commercial impact. The products we test are designed to remove or weaken the effects of allergens, helping allergy sufferers to relieve their symptoms in their own homes.
The research conducted at NPARU is currently being supported by the university itself, the UK Research Councils (BBSRC and NERC) and the European Union. Work within NPARU underpinned two Impact Case Studies used in the University’s Research Excellence Framework 2014 submission in Biological Sciences. These REF2014 case studies have contributed to improving the quality of life for hayfever sufferers and improving crop protection against plant diseases. We have also translated our high-level research into practice, through advising governmental boards and the daily pollen forecasts.
Our undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities enable our students and researchers to explore real world biological problems in society. We use modern technology to carry out world-leading research and deliver quality teaching on our degree courses. Our equipment includes a controlled environment chamber, novel detection technology and a high performance computing facility for environmental simulation and the detection of biological substances.
For more information about our environment chamber, product testing or research and development services, please visit the commercial scientific services webpage. For enquiries and further information about NPARU, please contact Beverley Adams-Groom.
Recording the pollen count
We collect the UK pollen data using a network of pollen monitoring stations run by the Met Office. The stations all use the same type of device, the seven-day volumetric spore trap made by Burkard. Most stations are located on flat roofs of two or three storey buildings. Collecting pollen from the ambient air on rooftops avoids measuring highly localized pollen concentrations.
Each trap has a pump that pulls air through a slit-like orifice at a rate of 16 litres per minute. The pump contains a rotating drum mounted with sticky tape that traps pollen, spores and other airborne particles. The drum uses a clockwork mechanism to revolve past the orifice at a rate of 2mm per hour. After 7 days, we cut the tape into 24-hour lengths and then mount these strips onto microscope slides.
The slides can then be counted for pollen (and other bioaerosols) which are identified by family, genus or species. To obtain the classic pollen count, we rotate the tape 12 times every 2 hours. We convert these 2-hourly readings into daily average pollen count by calculating the pollen grains per cubic metre of air.