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Detailed look at air pollution reveals surprising variety at molecular level

Scientists take an up-close look at organic aerosols

Nov 2, 2018 - by Staff

A new study examining organic aerosols and published today in Nature's Communications Chemistry is co-authored by Julia Lee-Taylor, a visiting scientist in NCAR's Atmospheric Chemistry Observations and Modeling lab. The study uses the GECKO-A model, a collaboration between NCAR and the University of Paris 12 Creteil. The following is a news release from Yale, which led the study.

A research team, led by Yale and including a visiting scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has found that a type of air pollution is much more complicated than previous studies indicated.

Using high-powered equipment to analyze air samples, the researchers were able to get a detailed look at the molecular makeup of organic aerosols, which have a significant presence in the atmosphere. Posing risks to health and climate, these airborne particles generally fall into two categories: Primary organic aerosols that can form during combustion, such as in car and truck exhaust, and secondary organic aerosols that result from oxidation of organic gases and particles in the air.

For the study, published Nov. 2 in Nature’s Communications Chemistry, the researchers used a combination of liquid chromatography, which separates thousands of compounds in a sample, and a mass spectrometer, which identifies and analyzes those compounds.  

“Here, we can actually differentiate molecules that would otherwise appear to be very similar,” said the study’s senior author, Drew Gentner, assistant professor of chemical & environmental engineering. “In past studies, they had less information on molecular identities across the complex mixtures present. With these instruments, we can determine molecular formulas with more accuracy.”

Read more at Yale News.

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