Aerosols: A Coming of Age Story

The atmosphere is a dynamic chemical reactor. In the Slade group, we are interested in the processes that control the chemical and physical state of marine aerosols as they travel out of the ocean and through the atmosphere – ending up in the clouds that control our climate and in the air we breathe. Intense sunlight and exposure to oxidants like ozone (O3) and hydroxyl radicals (•OH) can “age” gases and particles. Short term weather and long-term climate trends lead to drastically different environments with varying temperatures and relative humidities. These processes control aerosol’s chemical composition – what molecules they are made of – and physical state – how solid/liquid-like they behave. 

My focus this summer is to investigate the composition of secondary marine aerosol – particles that form in the atmosphere from gases released from the ocean. I’m working with an Extractive Electrospray Ionization Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (EESI-TOF-MS,) a powerful instrument that can analyze molecular composition of aerosol in real time. I hope to learn more about how secondary marine aerosol evolve under different amounts of •OH exposure and at different relative humidities to simulate how they might behave in the real world and predict their environmental fate.


Like the atmosphere, the Hydraulics Laboratory is a dynamic environment. Between the mesmerizing pattern of the generated waves and the whirrs and hums of instrumentation, dozens of researchers dart around. Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen the lab transform from a near empty barn to a bustling village of researchers. Oceanographers, biologists and chemists came together with targeted missions and a wealth of information. Being a first-year graduate student with little prior atmospheric chemistry experience, I have thrived in the learning environment offered by being surrounded by such a diverse group of people. I’m excited to share my newfound understanding and learn a lot about this multidisciplinary project!

Written by: Adam Cooper, Graduate Student, UC San Diego

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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