Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ACP Award 2015

ACP Award 2015 goes to Joel Corbin, PSI

Joel Corbin

The annual ACP Award for Atmospheric Research is granted by the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Commission (ACP) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (sc|nat+) to a young scientist for outstanding achievements during his/her MSc or PhD thesis in the domain of atmospheric chemistry and physics.

The 2015 ACP Award was sponsored by the Federal Office for the Environment and Meteotest. The winner was Joel Christopher Corbin, for his outstanding doctoral thesis “Mass Spectrometry of Atmospherically-Relevant Soot and Black-Carbon Particles”, which consisted of four peer-reviewed papers.

The thesis addressed the characterisation of black carbon (soot) particles in the atmosphere, using a state of the art online mass spectrometer. Formed by the incomplete combustion of carbonaceous fuels, soot particles are the most strongly-light absorbing particles commonly found in the atmosphere, exerting a global radiative forcing comparable to that of CO2. Exposure to soot particles has also been associated with human lung cancer, respiratory disease, and cardiovascular disease. Thus it is important to understand the sources of black carbon, and how it is subsequently aged and removed from the atmosphere.

Corbin applied the newly developed soot particle mass spectrometer (SP-AMS) to characterise different kinds of soot, finding that the mass spectra could be related to the combustion sources forming the soot. In the future, this may be a new and accurate way of assessing the relative contributions of different emission sources on the atmospheric burden of black carbon, assisting air quality monitoring and regulatory efforts.

The chemical ageing of soot particles emitted during beech wood combustion was also studied in the laboratory, providing the first time resolved, in-situ measurements of the surface ageing of black carbon. Further, experiments were performed to characterise the emissions from wood burning which lead to formation of secondary aerosols in the atmosphere via oxidation of gas phase species and condensation to form particles.

The final manuscript in the thesis describes a study of hitherto-neglected uncertainties in the analysis of Aerodyne’s High Resolution Aerosol Mass Spectrometer (HR-AMS) data. The HR-AMS is a widely used instrument in aerosol science, and understanding the uncertainties associated with these measurements is crucial when using the data to ascribe the observed aerosol components to their various sources.

Corbin’s research has led to a significant advancement in the understanding of the emission and atmospheric transformation of black carbon and organic species from combustion sources. These results will be of great benefit in the future, to improve source apportionment and also modelling of such compounds.