Molecular aerosols—microscopic particles suspended in air composed of many molecules—are all around us. They influence processes in the atmosphere such as absorption and scattering of solar radiation that determine our climate. Aerosols are also a factor in pollution control, industrial processes and the delivery of medicine into the human body.
Given their pervasiveness and impacts on human life, understanding the formation and behaviour of molecular aerosols is vitally important in fields as diverse as climate research and medicine. Pioneering research by Ruth Signorell, of the University of British Columbia, is helping unlock these mysteries and has earned her a 2011 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship.
Dr. Signorell’s work includes the development of new instruments and experimental techniques to study the interaction of aerosols with light—a determining factor for our climate. The investigation of cloud formation will benefit from new methods devised by her team to detect ultrafine aerosols. This could not only provide insight into issues surrounding the climate on Earth, but also help to shed light on the atmosphere of other planetary bodies such as Saturn’s moon Titan.
Dr. Signorell’s research will lead to greater understanding of how to control the formation of molecular aerosols, which could contribute to the development of nano-medicines. One of her team’s research goals is to create encapsulated or coated particles to be used for controlled drug delivery. This emerging field has the potential to provide the means to deliver new therapies for various conditions, including cancer.