Keeping smog in check requires computer modeling: simulations of how pollution particles move and interact. These, in turn, must be fed accurate data.
The research group known as AirUCI specializes in puzzling out the intricate interactions between pollutants, such as fine particles less than one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, and their environment.
Recent findings in their decades-long research have revealed that a large bulk of these fine particles, which can cause or aggravate a variety of respiratory illnesses, had previously gone unnoticed. Known as secondary organic aerosols, they were able to stay under the radar because they are not formed during combustion, like other types of pollution tracked by regulators. Instead, they stick to airborne particles after combustion occurs in the engines of cars and trucks, lingering in the air far longer than previously known.
The findings mean pollution models might need correcting – along with the control measures that rely on such modeling. AirUCI has a habit of upsetting the computer-modeling apple cart; other work from the research group has revealed gaps in the understanding of how nitrogen oxides react on surfaces, such as leaves or concrete, which likely led to gaps in modeling as well.
The group also is known for its studies of sea salt particles and how they might affect formation of some types of air pollution.