Undergraduate Researcher Tracks Allergy Season Using Google Searches


MACON – Mercer University junior Matthew Parker was recently featured in Science News for his research on using allergy-related Google searches as a proxy for pollen counts.

Parker tracked trends in Google searches for terms such as “pollen” and “Zyrtec” in Metro Atlanta from 2004 to 2011. He compared those trends with measurements taken at two local pollen counting stations for ragweed, oak and pine pollen.

The comparison proved effective for tracking pollen trends, even in the spring of 2011, during which an unusual allergy season took place.

Despite the tens of millions of Americans being affected by allergies each year, some 19 states lack any certified pollen counting stations. Parker's research could prove valuable for providing long-term pollen trends in such areas, although his method is limited to areas with large numbers of Internet users.

As rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are expected to increase the intensity of peak pollen production, Parker told Science News, tracking pollen will become increasingly important.

Parker's research began while he was participating in a summer internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society on Jan. 7 in Phoenix.

A biochemistry and molecular biology major from Avondale Estates, Georgia, he plans to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry.

Science News is a publication of Society for Science & the Public (SSP), a nonprofit 501(c) (3) membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education.

Originally called Science Service, the organization's founders distributed the latest science research to the public through a news service for reporters. In 1922, due to interest from non-journalists, Science Service began distributing Science News-Letter, which was renamed Science News in 1966 and added an online component in 1996. Now updated continuously online, Science News attracts more than six million unique online visitors each year.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.