Postdoctoral researcher launches Community Noise Lab at Boston University

BOSTON--Dr. Erica Walker, a postdoctoral researcher at Boston University School of Public Health's Department of Environmental Health, has launched Community Noise Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab that will explore the relationship between community noise and health. Using real-time sound monitoring, smartphone technology, laboratory-based experiments, and community engagement activities, the lab will work with Boston-area communities to address their specific noise issues.

"We hope to inform, empower, and impact the communities we work with, while using their experiences to strengthen and advance our research," Dr. Walker said.

Community Noise Lab operates on the hypothesis that community noise negatively impacts residents' mental and physical health. To explore this hypothesis, researchers will partner directly with communities on their unique issues, such as highway noise pollution, overhead aircraft sounds, and outdoor summer concerts. "We like to call this approach ride-sharing science," Dr. Walker said, "While our final destination is public health, we will share our ride with others who have their own noise-related journeys and destinations."

Partnering with local activist groups, Community Noise Lab is working in four affected communities in Greater Boston: The Fenway (working with Fenway Quality of Life); Mission Hill (working with Mission Hill Health Movement); East Boston and Milton (working alongside the Eagle Hill Civic Association and Air Inc.); and a community in Andover (working with a local group of organized residents).

Community Noise Lab's work will be documented on the lab's research website designed by Yonatan Girma of Adulis, Inc. Each community has a webpage on the site and the Community Library will be a place where anyone can access and download fact sheets, reports, and data.

Dr. Walker's research on the impacts of community noise is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The two-year, $410,000 grant will fund a real-time sound monitoring network, which consists of a series of eight rotating sound stations; upgrades to Community Noise Lab's smartphone app, NoiseScore, which allows residents to objectively and subjectively describe their environmental soundscape and map their responses in real time; a laboratory-based experiment examining the neurological underpinnings of noise exposure; and a series of community engagement activities ranging from sound walks to podcasts.

"Studies have shown that unpleasant and unwanted noise can trigger stress, contribute to cardiovascular-related hospital admissions and influence our health in other ways,'' said Nancy Barrand, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "We are excited to learn what Dr. Walker and her team uncover from this pioneering work to help us better understand sounds impact on community health."


About Boston University School of Public Health:

Founded in 1976, the school offers master's- and doctoral-level education in public health. The faculty in six departments conduct policy-changing public health research around the world, with the mission of improving the health of populations--especially the disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable--locally, nationally, and internationally.

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