CAICE Summer 2018

Particles for Days

Aerosols influence the climate and the environment directly by interacting with incoming and outgoing radiation and indirectly by acting as cloud seeds.  Because of their influence on climate, it is important to measure aerosols, but what are the different ways that our group analyzes them?

The Aerosol Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer

The pinnacle instrument of the Prather research group is the aerosol time-of-flight mass spectrometer, known as the ATOFMS.  The ATOFMS measures the aerodynamic diameter and the positive and negative chemical spectra for a single aerosol particle in real time. This instrument allows us to look at the chemical signature of the sea spray aerosols released from a breaking wave. With this instrument we can distinguish between different aerosol particle types including sodium rich aerosols, organic rich aerosols, or biological aerosols.  To distinguish between these particle types, we analyze the chemical spectrum from a particle and look for distinct chemical peaks.

However, we have another instrument used to distinguish between biological and non-biological single particles.  This instrument is known as the wideband integrated bioaerosol sensor (WIBS) and determines if a particle is biological based off fluorescence of known biological compounds.  Specifically, the WIBS uses ultra-violet light to excite an aerosol particle and, if it is biological,

The Wideband Integrated Bioaerosol Sensor

the WIBS will then collect the fluorescent signal.  Fluorescence in biological particles occurs because they often contain the amino acid tryptophan and/or the biological co-factor NADH, both of which contain conjugated bond systems and allows for the absorption and transfer of the excitation light source. In addition to the fluorescence signature of a single particle, the WIBS provides information on the particles’ diameter and the asphericity of the particle.

This summer, both of these instruments will be used in tandem to analyze sea spray aerosols released from breaking waves to better understand the role of sea spray on cloud formation and climate.




-Brock Mitts, Graduate Student


Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
CAICE Summer 2018

Is the Ocean Healthy? Let’s Sniff it to Find Out!

This summer I have been fortunate to be a part of the CAICE summer experiment at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. My mentor, Jon Sauer, and I have been using a Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer (CIMS) to analyze the carbon-containing gases, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced from the ocean.

CIMS summer expt 2018
The CIMS instrument next to the wave channel

In conjunction with the Aerosol Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (ATOFMS), which measures the chemical composition of individual aerosol particles, and aerosol particle sizing equipment we can effectively measure the chemical nature of gases and particles produced from seawater in our experiment. The CIMS plays a crucial role in analyzing the health and stability of the phytoplankton bloom in the ocean water within our sampling tanks. To do this, we use the CIMS to sample gases produced in the headspace above the ocean water in our tanks. Looking for specific species reassures us that successive phytoplankton communities are similar to one another and remain healthy.

Along with a lot of amazing knowledge, one of the most important and useful things I will take away from this experience is the importance of communication. This large of an experiment requires constant communication between everyone involved and the people in this group set an amazing example for how to communicate effectively. From group meetings to day to day problem solving, constant sharing of ideas and findings never go unheard.

Summer Expt 2018
Dr. Kim Prather talking to Ben Rico and Jon Sauer about their experiment

The environment promotes curiosity and collaboration and the people I’ve been so lucky enough to work with are always willing to help. I owe a great deal of thanks to my mentor Jon who not only went out of his way to make me feel a part of the group but who made the long days of work enjoyable. Whether we were acquiring data from the CIMS or he was telling me about all the fish he caught from his last fishing trip, Jon managed to make every day of my summer experiment a memorable one.


I am looking forward to the rest of my time being a part of this summer experiment and cannot wait to see the results of all the hard working people that are a part of it.

— Ben Rico, Undergraduate Researcher

— Jon Sauer, Graduate Student Researcher

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).
CAICE Summer 2018

Does Aerosol Size Matter?

The three of us, Lee, James, and Young, have been fortunate enough to participate in research for the first time in our undergraduate careers, down at the SIO Hydraulics lab with CAICE.

Lee James and Young
Lee, James & Young working on the wave channel to measure the size distribution of aerosol particles generated by breaking waves

As students with backgrounds in chemistry and the environment, it’s hard to think of a better situation to be in, helping save the planet and all. Young and Lee are UCSD seniors studying chemistry, and James is a sophomore studying environmental science at Warren Wilson College.

So far in the lab, we have been trained to be in charge of instruments that measure the size and count the number of particles in the air. More specifically, we look at sea spray aerosols that are produced from bubbles bursting.

Wave Channel
33 m long wave channel at Scripps Institution of Oceanography Hydraulics Laboratory

With the new 33-meter wave flume (see photo) that was designed to mimic waves breaking and bubbles bursting in the ocean, we hope to find out what biological and chemical phenomena are characteristic of different particle sizes. If all goes well, this will help researchers improve existing climate models with more knowledge and understanding of the effects of sea spray aerosols on the atmosphere.

Besides using cool instruments and working on experiments, one of the best parts of research at CAICE is the people of CAICE. The other undergraduate students, graduate students and postdocs are incredibly generous and fun to work with. Not a single birthday is missed without some sort of celebration and cake. And, of course, we always look forward to coffee runs and playing frisbee together at the end of a long day.

–Lee Elmont, James Mayer, Young Jeong

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Perspective of IMPACTS from a middle school student

I am a 12 year old boy who is going into 7th grade at the San Diego Jewish Academy. I have two siblings named Rebecca and Jacob and a mother and father. Also, I have a pet dog named Rocky. I like playing basketball and watching shows like Sports Center, football, and basketball games.

This summer, I have been lucky enough to join the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for a volunteer chemistry week, July 21 – 25, 2014. During the start of the week, I worked with the wave machine. In the wave machine, we create waves, conduct experiments and detect particles. Some experiments included detecting particles while others needed very high technology. The main reason for having the wave machine is to have a simulation of sea spray. Sea spray is a big factor in world climate as it controls how many clouds form. I learned this week that the prediction on the amount that comes out of the ocean ranges from one to 1 trillion.  CAICE scientists are trying to learn how chemistry controls the amount of sea spray that makes its way into the atmosphere.

Most of the week, I was in the Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) lab. There are two freezers in the lab – one is set at -80* C and the other is setAaron at -20* C. There is ice in the freezers and also samples or dyes used for detecting bacteria. One of the days, I took a ride on the truck that collects ocean water from the dock. Once the ocean water sample is collected, it is then brought back to the Hydraulics Lab (H Lab). We use the water in the wave machine, for outside tanks, and for other scientific purposes. The water we collect is filtered to the point where only viruses and bacteria remain in the water.

One important chemistry concept I learned about is the difference between a particle and a molecule. A molecule is just a mixture of atoms whereas a particle is more like a big mixture of molecules. For example, a molecule would be CO2 or H2O but a particle would contain billions of molecules mixed together. One thing that I learned a lot about are aerosols (many particles) which are a big question because of people predicting how many there are and because we don’t understand the climate effects from a single aerosol. An aerosol, also a particle and created by “ocean foam”, gets released into the air and carries bacteria and viruses up to six miles high into our atmosphere!!

Phytoplankton is a small plant that floats around in the ocean and is in the bottom of the food chain. It gets concentrated in a special layer of the ocean called the “sea surface microlayer.” Phytoplankton is important to our earth because it feeds the entire ocean and produces much of the oxygen we breathe.

The work conducted in the MESOM and H Labs is important because it will help us better understand our climate and the world. I really enjoyed volunteering in Dr. Prather’s lab and working with all of the graduate students. I learned a lot during my week and hope to come back next summer.

Aaron Bronstein

San Diego Jewish Academy