Portrait of Dr. Shanhu Lee

Dr. Shanhu Lee, an associate professor of atmospheric science, received a National Science Foundation grant for the instrument.

Michael Mercier | UAH

In the spring, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) Department of Atmospheric and Earth Science will become the home base for a new instrument designed to help scientists study aerosols in the atmosphere.

UAH, a part of the University of Alabama System, will become only the second university in the Southeast to have this special type of spectrometer, joining Georgia Tech.

The instrument’s name is a mouthful – the Filter Inlet for Gases and Aerosols High-Resolution Time-of-Flight Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer. It will be shared by UAH and three partner universities.

Dr. Shanhu Lee, an associate professor of atmospheric science, received a $349,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant to acquire the instrument for real-time molecular level measurement of atmospheric gas- and particle-phase compounds. The UAH Earth System Science Center is providing $149,760 as the institutional cost share.

The spectrometer will be used for atmospheric aerosol research at UAH and shared with Dr. Amanda Frossard, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Georgia; Dr. Charles Stainer, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa; and Dr. Murray Johnston, associate dean of arts and sciences and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Delaware. Other users may be added in the future.

“This is a field-deployable instrument, which means this instrument is easily shipped to different locations,” says Dr. Lee.

“This instrument does two unique things,” she says. “One is to measure chemical composition of small clusters – either electrically charged or neutral – formed in the atmosphere. Second is to measure chemical composition of aerosol- and gas-phase species, simultaneously.”

The instrument is useful for atmospheric research related to aerosol formation and growth, and aerosol chemistry, Dr. Lee says. Atmospheric aerosols are also known as particulate matter, a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that originate from natural and human activity sources.

‘The main reason behind this research is to understand the aerosol effects on global climate, air quality and human health,” says Dr. Lee. “My group is conducting new particle formation studies via laboratory observations and filed observations. We want to know how naturally emitted vs. pollutant trace gases are oxidized in the atmosphere to form aerosol particles.”

The spectrometer will provide the important chemical fingerprints of chemical compounds that play critical roles in the new particle formation processes.

“There may be some co-effects, either enhancing or suppressing, when we mix different chemical compounds emitted from different sources,” she says. “Understanding these mixing effects will help to better predict cloud production, because in the real atmosphere, we always have many different types of chemical compounds mixed together – as opposed to homogeneous compounds – and they constantly evolve through chemical reactions.”

The NSF’s MRI program encourages proposals with multiple users, so Dr. Lee coordinated the partnership between UAH and the other three universities by teaming with colleagues who could benefit.

“For a shared user, this is a great deal, better than buying an expensive one on their own,” Dr. Lee says. “This instrument belongs to UAH, but it will be shipped to them and rotated among different users.”

Each user group will be responsible for their own operation, troubleshooting and maintenance at their site.

“It is like we have continuous ‘field campaigns,’ where the instrument is shipped to different locations,” she says. “I hope this instrument will open new collaborations between shared users.”



Dr. Shanhu Lee

Jim Steele