New Lab for Aerosol Studies

The Georgia Tech Indoor Environmental Chamber Facility, which is used to investigate aerosol formation and its chemical and physical properties, is now up and running in the Ford ES&T Building. Nga Lee “Sally” Ng, Assistant Professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has spearheaded the project and will run her research group from the facility. 

“With the Georgia Tech Indoor Chamber Facility, we are now able to perform experiments to understand aerosol formation under a very well-controlled environment over a wide range of parameters,” Ng says. “Combined with field studies, these experiments will provide valuable insights into understanding aerosol formation, composition, and evolution.” 

Ng, who began creating the lab in August 2011, says that the basis for the construction began with a simple sketch drawing. Today, the state-of-the-art facility consist of two 10 m3 Teflon chambers suspended in a 21’ x 12’ enclosure surrounded by UV lights and fluorescent sun lamps to achieve a temperature range between 4°C and 40°C.

“There are several chamber facilities in the country that are of different sizes and configurations, but this is the only US facility that can generate aerosols under low temperatures and has a light spectrum that captures the full range of photochemistry in a well-controlled environment,” Ng says.

During the construction phase, Ng’s research group focused on conducting ambient field measurements, such as participating in ClearfLo, a field campaign in London, and performing ambient field sampling around Atlanta as part of the Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology (SCAPE). Now that the lab has been completed, they can begin chamber experiments to study aerosols.

Since the extent to which human activities affect aerosol formation and evolution is uncertain and poorly understood, the group’s first set of experiments will be to determine how anthropogenic emissions affect organic aerosol loading and composition over a lifetime. This summer, the research group will also participate in the Southern Oxidant and Aerosol Study (SOAS) in Alabama, and data from field measurements and chamber experiments will provide insight into the complex interaction between anthropogenic and biogenic emissions.

While building a facility from scratch was not short of challenges, Ng says that it provided her with the opportunity to design the chamber exactly how she envisioned it. “I was able to design how everything would be built, where everything would be placed, what materials to use, and how the tubing would be plumbed,” Ng says. “I had the opportunity to participate in the whole process from beginning to the end, including learning how to read architectural drawings, interviewing contractors, and solving various engineering problems. We had to overcome many challenges throughout the process, but the overall process of seeing the little sketch on my notebook slowly coming to life is very satisfying and taught me a lesson on perseverance.”

The Georgia Tech Indoor Chamber Facility was featured in the debut issue of Georgia Tech Engineers, a magazine produced by the College of Engineering. Read "In the Air We Breathe."

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