University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Petrucci Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Giuseppe A. Petrucci, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Giuseppe A. Petrucci, Associate Professor of Chemistry, was recently awarded a PHASE-ONE grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the impact of atmospheric aerosol chemistry on processes important to global change. Specifically, the award in the amount of $665,000 was made to study for the first time the role of chemistry on the particle phase of (i.e., liquid vs solid) and light scattering by naturally occurring organic particles in our atmosphere. The work will be directed by Professor Petrucci and carried out primarily in the department of chemistry at the University of Vermont, with some experiments being conducted collaboratively with Professor Scot Martin of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The 3-year project, which commenced September 15, 2012, has several far reaching and impacting goals, including:

  • determining directly the wavelength dependent total scattering and absorption of solar radiation by submicrometer-sized biogenic BSOA,
  • elucidating the role of atmospheric aging on aerosol optical properties, filling a critical gap in our understanding of brown carbon contributions towards positive radiative forcings,
  • understanding the role of atmospheric aging and evolving particle chemical composition in dictating particle phase and cloud activation.

PHASE-ONE is designed to develop an unprecedented understanding of climate-relevant properties of biogenic secondary organic aerosol (BSOA) — a prevalent and sometimes predominant component of ambient fine aerosols.  These studies address the impacts of atmospheric aging on aerosol composition and the ensuing physical phase of these particles. This information is then used to address how these factors contribute to aerosol optical properties and the ability of these particles to nucleate to form cloud droplets. Petrucci’s approach places aerosol phase at the nexus of studies because aerosol phase is likely driven by conditions of aging and particle composition.  “We believe that aerosol phase will play a determining role in dictating optical and nucleation properties of these particles,” says Petrucci.

According to Petrucci, “The extensive suite of specialized instrumentation, augmented significantly with this grant, and the collaborative approach of the proposed research will likely help elucidate this and other relationships between aging, composition, phase, and environmentally relevant properties of BSOA, thus improving our understanding of the atmospheric chemistry of aerosols.”

The unprecedented representation of these particle-level events in this simplified description of atmospheric evolution of aerosols will be of great utility to the entire atmospheric research community, affording an improved capacity to describe how atmospheric aging of BSOA translates to properties that may impact global climate.

Ultimately, this project brings together experts in particle phase and chemical characterization of biogenic secondary organic aerosol particles, as well as a state-of-the-art research infrastructure, to provide a synergism ideally suited to understanding the interconnectivity between the chemical composition, phase, cloud activation and optical properties of biogenic secondary organic aerosol in the earth’s atmosphere.