Real-Time Analysis of Organic and Biological Aerosols

EPA Grant Number: F13A10049
Title: Real-Time Analysis of Organic and Biological Aerosols
Investigators: Spencer, Sandra Elizabeth
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: August 1, 2014 through August 1, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Analytical Chemistry


Current commercial aerosol mass spectrometers are not capable of performing compound identification of analytes in complex samples in real-time. This project is developing ambient ionization techniques to use in conjunction with tandem mass spectrometry for identification of compounds in and fingerprinting of aerosols and bioaerosols.


A custom-built quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer will be used to develop methods for the analysis of organic and biological aerosols. An aerodynamic lens will be used to focus aerosol particles into the mass spectrometer vacuum system. To break apart the aerosol particles and volatilize the compounds within for ionization, the particles are impacted on a heated probe. A nitrogen laser will be used to break apart any biological material in the aerosol particles. Glow discharge chemical ionization, a nearly universal ionization technique for gaseous compounds, will generate ions from the compounds in the aerosol particles. Organic aerosols from pyrolyzed cellulose will be investigated as a model for organic aerosols and both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria will be used to model bioaerosols.

Expected Results:

Once the instrumentation and methods have been rigorously tested with the model compounds, aerosols and bioaerosols of interest may be fingerprinted. It is expected that compounds in organic aerosols will be identified. However, it will not be necessary to identify the individual compounds in the bioaerosol, as each type of bacteria is expected to have a unique mass spectrometric fingerprint. The instrument designed and optimized over the course of this research will provide a basis for future instruments designed as rugged, field deployable aerosol and bioaerosol mass spectrometers.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Real-time analysis of organic and biological aerosols has applications for real-time air quality monitoring. Additionally, the instrumentation developed during the course of this project can be used as a field deployable instrument for chemical and biochemical warfare agents.

Supplemental Keywords:

ambient ionization, mass spectrometry, organic aerosol

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final