Scientists Learn to Study Dust One Particle at a Time
Chemists testing a sensor type found dust trapped inside, and as they assessed the situation, they realized they were able to measure the composition of the dust one particle at a time. When they finished, they had identified 63 unique particles in their laboratory. This led to another realization, and in an issue of The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, these scientists explained how their accidental discovery allowed the scientific community to study respiratory issues and the airborne particles that cause them.
Dust tends to be natural and organic. The 63 unique particles they found were all irregular masses comprising of numerous different ingredients. The most common ingredient of indoor dust is organic matter, originating from plant or animal. During the in-depth analysis of this particular dust, they were able to identify skin particles, pet dander, pollen and many others. After organic matter, quartz was the most common matter. In fact, the scientists found organic matter and quartz together in more than half of the particles they analyzed. Exposure to quartz dust can cause silicosis. The remaining ingredients were man-made chemicals from construction materials, fertilizers and air pollution.
The metal mesh sensor was invented in 2003 to create surface plasmons which are a blend of photons and conducting electrons. Part of the process is transmitting infrared light through the mesh. A byproduct of this process is that trapped material leaves behind a unique signature which they can analyze for composition.
When the dust discovery occurred, the chemists were testing light flow through the sensor. They coated the mesh with latex spheres, expecting to use the latex signature as a baseline measurement. Upon studying the signature, however, they found that it contained numerous unexpected minerals, apparently from dust particles in the laboratory air. Even at that point, isolating a single dust particle was no simple matter.
James Coe, a Ohio State University Professor challenged his students and made a contest out of it. He awarded the winner with naming rights for the particle, a mention in the publication and a free lunch. That winner was Matthew McCormack. He named the particle Abby, after his dog, and went on to use study of that particle as the basis for his thesis. After isolating that first particle, students then isolated the remaining sixty-two in subsequent tests. As the tests went on, the process became very efficient, and they obtained signatures from the sensor that were free of scattering effects and stronger than expected.
The result was a catalog of common dust components for the lab: Forty particles contained organic matter, with quartz the most prevalent mineral (54%). Other common minerals include carbonates (27%) and gypsum (22%). Professor Coe stated a library of dust components could be incredibly useful in many areas of science including environmental sciences, astronomy, geology and public health.
We still don’t know all the ingredients in the dust in our homes but we do know that dust is toxic. We know some of what’s there: skin, dander, mold spores, pollen and so forth. We also know that dust acts as a sponge soaking up toxins and airborne contaminants, which it then emits over time.
Our best course of action is to dust regularly, and to clean our air with a portable HEPA air purifier from a top-line manufacturer. HEPA filters ensure the removal of 99.97% of all particles down to 0.3 microns in size, which includes all forms of dust. When we think about our indoor air quality and what our children are breathing, it’s horrifying.
Fortunately, we can do something about it. A portable HEPA air purifier provides our families with the cleanest air possible, and it can have a significant impact on the symptoms experienced by asthma and allergy sufferers. The time is now to do something about your indoor air.
- Administration Staff