Precise analysis of the particulate composition of smog

phys.org | 5/22/2018 | Staff
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Researchers from several leading Warsaw scientific institutions have collaborated to develop a new, extremely precise method for the chemical analysis of suspended particulate matter comprising smog. The method, easily adaptable in modern laboratories, not only determines the chemical composition of compounds, but even recognizes changes in the spatial distribution of atoms in molecules.

Atmospheric particulate matter, popularly known as smog, is becoming increasingly troublesome. Smog attacks the lungs of the inhabitants of big cities, and in industrialized countries, it is literally everywhere, even in forest areas seemingly distant from urban agglomerations. Smog is characterized by a huge richness of chemical compounds, many of them occurring in isomeric forms, differing in the distribution of atoms in the molecule, and consequently also in their chemical properties. The detection of these isomers used to be the weak point of modern analytical techniques—until now.

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In the pages of Analytical Chemistry, Warsaw-based scientists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS), the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the PAS and the Institute of Environmental Protection of the National Research Institute present a method of extremely precise analysis of smog particles. The new analytical technique can be used by any relatively modernly equipped chemical laboratory.

"What is really reaching our lungs? When we look closely at air samples, it turns out that they contain a lot of aerosols. In most cases, these particles, with sizes in the order of micro- or even nanometers, are of natural origin. These are mainly particles produced in gigantic quantities by complex atmospheric processes, whose main drivers are plants, especially forests," says Dr. Rafal Szmigielski, professor at the IPC PAS, head of the research team which has for years been dealing with atmospheric chemistry, including the mechanisms of suspended particulate matter formation and the evolution of smog.

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