Understanding Our Atmosphere
How do we untangle the complex molecular level chemistry of organic aerosols? And is such knowledge even necessary when studying atmospheric processes? Here, I share my sometimes lonely – but always fascinating – journey into the unknown.
Giuseppe Petrucci |
Aerosols play an undeniably important role in atmospheric processes. And our understanding of that role has become increasingly clear over several decades. Initial research focused on inorganic aerosols, in large part because they posed questions that we thought could be answered with established methods. Sure enough, we began to answer some important questions – but, as is typical in research, some answers inspired new questions that pushed the limits of what was then current analytical science.
It soon became clear that bulk chemical measurements with time scales of days to weeks would not yield the information necessary to advance the state of knowledge with respect to aerosols. We had several important yet unanswered questions; for example, how important is the chemistry of single particles? What is the role, if any, of organics? Aerosol mass spectrometry was developed with these new questions in mind and has been revolutionary in providing tantalizing glimpses into the complex life cycles of aerosols. However, it has fallen short when it comes to organics. Questions still remain: How do we untangle the molecular level chemistry of organic aerosols? Do we even need to? What methods exist that could give us information to this end? Unfortunately, the answer to the last question is “none.”
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