From the ashes of the Thomas, Hill and Woolsey fires comes an award-winning device that can determine the quality of the air we breathe, invented by Oxnard High School students, that is small enough to fit in your pocket.

The ReLAQS (Respiratory Local Air Quality Sensor) was devised by a group of Oxnard High students taking part in the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program known as MESA, which was created at UC Berkeley in the 1970s to provide disadvantaged students with opportunities in the STEM fields. Seniors David Pulido, Sara Centeno and Carl Vincent Cuyos and sophomore Jenna Hyunh developed the device using Arduino, an open-source electronic prototyping platform.

Inside of the ReLAQS are two sensors, one that can detect gasses like carbon dioxide, butane, methane, and other hazardous gasses, and another that detects particulate matter in the range that is harmful to human health, 2.5 to 10 microns in size.

Nick Peterson, Advanced Placement Physics instructor and science department chair at Oxnard High School, as well as FIRST Robotics team leader and the MESA Advisor on campus, says that the idea stemmed from uncertainty surrounding whether or not school would be in session during the major fires of 2017 and 2018.

“Locally available air quality data was, for lack of a better term, faulty,” said Peterson. “We’d get sent to the school for the day and midway through they’d say air quality is going down, everyone go home. It created a giant back and forth between the school, parents and district. No one was thrilled.”

The students’ design took them to the University of California Santa Barbara’s Science and Technology Day. At UCSB, which provides funding and equipment for the MESA Program, the students presented their concept for the first time and took first place, allowing them to compete in the regional competition at UC Riverside.

From UC Riverside, the students took second place and advanced to the State Championships where they won outright, having worked and re-worked paperwork, retooled their presentation and the device itself, shrinking it from a 5 inch by 5 inch by 3 inch box, upgrading to the Arduino Pro Mini, which is no bigger than two postage stamps, fitting the entire device into a casing no bigger than an iPhone.

Winning the MESA National Engineering Design Challenge State Finals on May 4 qualified the team for the ultimate competition, the nationals, held in Tucson, Arizona, June 19-21. While the students didn’t place in the top three at that competition, Peterson says the students have bright futures ahead of them.

Pulido will move on to the University of Michigan as an electrical engineering major; Centeno will attend California State University, Channel Islands, in the mechatronics engineering program; and Cuyos will attend University of California, Santa Cruz, as a robotics engineering major. Sophomore Hyunh will return to Oxnard High School in the fall, where she will become MESA President.

Peterson says that the students may continue with the ReLAQS device or move on to another project when the session begins again.

For more information on Oxnard High, visit www.oxnardhigh.us. For more information on the MESA Program and how to apply, visit www.ouhsd.k12.ca.us/oxnard/departments/clubs/m-e-s-a/.