COVID-19 lockdown was a difficult time for city kids living in small apartments. It confined them to small spaces and kept them away from school, after-school activities and their friends.
While COVID-19 closed my school doors, it opened up newer windows of education based on curiosity and passion. Even though I was waking up later, I could still hear the birds chirping in downtown Toronto in the morning. This usually never happened before. I was intrigued as it meant that slowing down in human activities gave space for nature to come back.
I like to learn by building new things, setting up experiments, doing fieldwork, and then demonstrating results to others. I could not resist the call of the birds. It gave me the idea to create a project to measure how the environment around us is changing because of the COVID-19 lockdown. This was the origin of the Masked Scales project.
Using old stuff found at home and with sensors, I assembled an instrument to measure changes in sound levels, pollution levels and traffic in the neighbourhood of my house. I combined it with NASA satellite data to measure changes in the night-light levels to quantify the slowdown in economic activities in downtown Toronto during the COVID-19 lockdown. I presented the data using the usual charts and figures. However, to reach out to other youths and my community, I ended up sonifying the data to create a musical on the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns.
This project became a NASA SpaceApps COVID-19 Challenge Global Winner, beating 1,600 teams and more than 20,000 participants. I have been invited by NASA to visit a spacecraft launch in February 2023.