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C331: Atmospheric Aerosol Particle Composition Affecting their Climate and Health Effects (Lead Supervisor: Markus Kalberer, Chemistry)

Supervisor: Markus Kalberer (Chemistry)

Importance of the area of research:

Atmospheric aerosols are key players in the climate system: they affect the radiative balance of the Earth’s atmosphere and are important in the formation of clouds. Aerosols are also one of the most important air pollutants. Both climate and health effects of aerosols are poorly understood. A major fraction of the aerosol mass in the atmosphere is composed of organic compounds but only little is known about the detailed chemical composition of organic aerosols, which affects all of the above processes. Unravelling the enormous chemical complexity of this organic material is a significant analytical-chemical challenge and a main reason for the low level of understanding of aerosol sources and their effects in the atmosphere and on human health. An improved understanding for the formation and composition of organic aerosols, however, is essential to advance our understanding of their effects.

Project summary:

The aim of this project is to improve the understanding of aerosol formation processes and sources by analyzing their composition in laboratory and field studies.

Atmospheric processes forming organic aerosols will be simulated in laboratory experiments. State-of-the-art analytical-chemical techniques (mainly mass spectrometry based) will be used to determine a detailed characterization of particle composition and the identification of important particle sources. Aerosol generated under controlled conditions in the large-scale Cambridge Atmospheric Simulation Chamber will be compared to aerosol collected at ambient urban and remote locations to improve our understanding of key aerosol formation processes in the atmosphere and their effects on climate.

What the student will do:

The student will generate atmospheric aerosols using the large-scale Cambridge Atmospheric Simulation Chamber, which allows to mimic atmospheric processes under realistic ambient conditions. A range of state-of-the-art mass spectrometers will be used to characterize organic aerosol and gas phase composition and formation processes. The simultaneous analysis of gas and particle components with unprecedented time resolution and sensitivity will allow to study in detail the fast gas/particle transition processes that lead to particle formation in the atmosphere. A range of atmospherically relevant formation processes will be studied to simulate natural and anthropogenic particle sources and assess their importance in the atmosphere.

The project will be suitable for students from a range of natural science backgrounds with an interest in experimental and data analysis work. The student would be expected to present their work at national and international conferences.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Nozière, B. et al. 2015 The Molecular Identification of Organic Compounds in the Atmosphere: State of the Art and Challenges, Chem. Rev., DOI: 10.1021/cr5003485, 2015.

Kourtchev, I. et al. 2014. Molecular composition of biogenic secondary organic aerosols using ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry: comparing laboratory and field studies, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 2155-2167.

Follow this link to find out about how to apply for this project

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