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Centre for Atmospheric Science


Dr. Markus Kalberer (Chemistry)

Chemistry of atmospheric aerosols and their effects on human health

Atmospheric aerosol particles (with a size range of a few nanometers to tens of micrometers) are key components in the climate system and are associated with respiratory and cardio-vascular diseases. In both areas the chemical composition and reactivity of aerosol particles are important.


Our research activities include:


Analysis of the composition of organic aerosols

About 30-50% of atmospheric aerosol particles are composed of organic material. The chemical composition, formation pathways, and reactions of this organic material are poorly characterised.

To gain more detailed insights into the chemical composition of organic aerosols, we are using a number of state-of-the-art analytical-chemical techniques, including ultra- high resolution mass spectrometry, NMR and chromatographic methods. Changes in the organic composition of the aerosols due to atmospheric oxidation reactions are investigated, and the corresponding changes in the climate forcing and toxicity of the aerosol are explored. We are generating and reacting aerosol particles in laboratory experiments or analyse particles collected from the ambient atmosphere.

The emphasis of these analyses is currently on elucidating the role of the recently discovered high molecular weight organic oligomers and humic-like substances that are often found in atmospheric aerosol.

(a) Mass spectrum (MS) of organic aerosol particles, generated and oxidized in a laboratory set-up. Hundreds of small oligomers are generated with masses up to 1000 m/z (Kalberer et al., Science, 2004).

(b) If measured with a high resolution mass spectrometer, the elemental composition of all compounds in a MS can be determined. The oxygen to carbon atom ratios are shown here for all higher molecular weight compounds in the MS of another laboratory aerosols sample (dots represent peaks in the original MS), which allows the deduction of possible formation mechanisms and structures of oligomers and monomers (Reinhardt et al., Anal.Chem., 2007).


Development of analytical-chemical instrumentation

To advance our knowledge of the chemical composition of aerosols novel analytical methods and instrumentation are required. Recently we have introduced a number of new analytical techniques to the field of atmospheric sciences, most notable in the field of mass spectrometry. We are currently developing analytical methods and instruments to identify and quantify the components of aerosol that are relevant to human health effects.


Interactions of aerosol particles with the lung

Epidemiological studies have shown correlations between aerosol particle exposure and a range of adverse health effects. However, the interaction of particles with the lung, the main pathway of undesired particle uptake, are not well known and a mechanistic understanding of particle effects in lung cells is lacking. We recently built a particle deposition chamber, which allows for an accurate deposition of nanometer sized aerosol particles on lung cell cultures mimicking accurately the in vivo physiological conditions. In collaboration with cell biologists and toxicologists we are investigating the effects of particle composition and particle source on the biochemical and physiological responses of lung cells.





Related Publications 

Comparison of on-line and off-line methods to quantify reactive oxygen species (ROS) in atmospheric aerosols
SJ Fuller, FPH Wragg, J Nutter, M Kalberer – Atmospheric Environment (2014) 92, 97
L Kuenzi, J Dommen, N Daher, M Krapf, S Schneider, N Jeannet, S Platt, J Slowik, ASH Prevot, M Kalberer, U Baltensperger, C Sioutas, M Geiser – JOURNAL OF AEROSOL MEDICINE AND PULMONARY DRUG DELIVERY (2013) 26, A64

Centre Highlights

• January 2024: The CCPG have successfully submitted a proposal for PACESETTERS!

• September 2nd 2023: Dr Annela Anger-Kraavi has co-authored a paper analysing just transition narratives in European coal regions. Read the paper here

• December 13th 2022: The CCPG have co-authored a paper on game-changing innovations towards net-zero, published in Energy Strategy Reviews. Read the open access paper here.

• November 15th 2022: The final conference of PARIS REINFORCE is taking place today in Sorbonne. Read more about the event here

• October 24th 2022: The CCPG have successfully submitted a proposal for the Cambridge-Tsinghua joint research initiative! 

• May 5th 2022: We've submitted to the UNFCCC's Global Stocktake (GST). More information is available on our news page. 

• March 23rd 2022: Multiple CAS academics have published a paper investigating the future role of anthropogenic methane emissions. Read the open access paper here.

• Feb 18th 2022: Dr Parris and Dr Anger-Kraavi have co-authored a paper that develops a tool to support co-designed transformative change. Read the open access paper here.

• Dec 16th 2021: Dr Parris has co-authored a paper that introduces a tool to support plastic pollution policy. Read the open access paper here.

• Nov 22nd 2021: Dr Anger-Kraavi has co-authored a paper with Paris Reinforce. Read the open access version here

Want to know more about our high-profile publications? Check out our Publication Highlights!


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