This summer, Vanessa and I are interning at Mason Laboratory, in the lab of Dr. Drew Gentner. We are focusing on air quality, especially in respect to the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the atmosphere, which are organic compounds that evaporate easily at normal temperatures. Scientists care about these substances in the air because they can have negative implications for both human and environmental health. With the former, exposure, whether short-term or long-term, to these compounds can increase people's risk of certain health issues, and with the latter, these compounds, if combined with nitrogen oxides, react to form ozone in the troposphere, contributing to climate change, and thus, acting as dangerous air pollutants. These substances can be emitted from a number of different sources, and the main ones we are exploring and testing this summer are anthropogenic (human-caused, e.g. vehicle emissions) sources, biogenic (natural, e.g. from trees) sources, mixed emissions, and indoor environments. In the lab this summer, we will be assisting in collecting air samples from 1-2 of each type of source here in New Haven, in hopes that, after analyzing these samples along with others working in the lab, we can get a better idea of the contents of the air we breathe everyday.
The first part of our work in the lab, which we started with this week, is actually constructing the devices used to collect the air samples. This involves strategically "packing" glass thermal desorption tubes with three main types of absorbent materials, which will actually trap the different compounds as we pump air through them at our 4 or 5 chosen locations around the area, and after we collect enough samples from these locations, we will learn how to actually analyze them. Overall, these next few weeks in Dr. Gentner's lab will be very fun and enlightening, and I look forward to the work we will be doing.