Researchers have developed a new way to monitor organic aerosols (OA)–a sizable class of atmospheric aerosols, which exert a strong impact on climate as well as human health. Aerosols are tiny particles suspended in the air.
The new measurement technique may be useful for the detection of air toxins and also further our understanding of the health effects of atmospheric particles. Insights gained could ultimately inform regulatory policy for managing air pollution and addressing its impact on global climate change.
A team of University of Vermont researchers developed the technique, called Near Infrared Laser Desorption/Ionization Aerosol Mass Spectrometry, which can analyze trace levels of individual compounds within particles. The ability to measure OA chemical composition will lead to a better understanding of OA sources, as well as what controls their levels in the atmosphere.
Aerosol mass spectrometry is widely used to analyze atmospheric aerosols, but usually cannot directly monitor the chemical composition of OA particles at their typical atmospheric concentrations. The NSF-funded innovation uses a low-energy, infrared laser to gently create ions of the organic compounds, keeping them intact and thereby giving results that are easier to interpret. The technique has demonstrated unprecedented sensitivity in detecting individual chemical compounds. This allows for analysis of the changes in aerosol composition as they occur in the atmosphere.