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Yue Zhang Leading DOE-Funded Secondary Organic Aerosols Research

The research will answer key questions about the physicochemical properties of aerosol particles, and aerosol-cloud interactions.

Apr 4, 2022

Dr. Yue Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University, was recently awarded Large-Scale Research project funding from the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science user facility sponsored by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program.

Titled “Connecting the physicochemical properties with ice nucleation properties of secondary organic aerosols formed from multiphase chemical processes,” the project will address gaps in scientists’ understanding of how secondary organic aerosols, or SOAs, interact with clouds.

“This project will provide new insights on how the SOAs generated from multiphase reactions, an important pathway for trace atmospheric gases to directly interact with particles, will affect aerosol physicochemical properties and aerosol-cloud interactions,” Zhang said. “The outcome will be useful for improving current models in predicting aerosol transformation and future climate.” 

Aerosols are liquid droplets and fine solid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Some aerosols consist of mineral dust and sea salt. Zhang said that the majority of the fine particles, whose diameters are smaller than 2.5 micrometers and detrimental to human health and the climate, consist of other compositions, such as organic carbon, sulfate, and nitrate — including organosulfates formed by the atmospheric chemical interaction of sulfate and organic carbon. The complex physicochemical properties of these particles will have important implications on the health and climate effects of aerosols. 

“We are excited about this research because we will be able to systematically generate complex and realistic aerosol particles, mimicking those formed in the ambient environment,” Zhang said. “Then we will be able to work with experts at EMSL and use state-of-the-art instruments to understand the impacts of aerosol physicochemical properties on our climate.”

Thirty-five projects were allocated resources from EMSL, and scientists from each project will receive up to two years of access to EMSL’s world-class expertise and instrumentation. Zhang’s research team plans to analyze the morphology, mixing state, phase state, and other physicochemical properties by working with the research team at EMSL. 

Collaborators on the project will include Dr. Swarup China, Dr. Alla Zelenyuk, Dr. Gourihar Kulkarni, and other scientists from PNNL. 

“Ice nucleating properties of SOA are poorly understood, and I hope this project will shed light on the building blocks of organics aerosol to better represent ice formation properties in a cloud model,” Kulkarni said.  

Undergraduate researchers and graduate students in Zhang’s laboratory, including students from underrepresented groups, will also participate in this project, he noted.

Zhang’s aerosol research work is also supported by National Science Foundation. The microscopic images and other physicochemical properties of the SOA obtained from this EMSL collaboration will improve knowledge in the climate effects of aerosol particles and connect scientific questions in other projects as well, helping us better understand and predict the earth’s atmosphere.

By Leslie Lee, College of Geosciences

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