Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park have captured the most detailed images to date of airborne soot particles, a key contributor to global warming and a health hazard.
The discovery reveals the particles’ surprisingly complex nanostructures and could ultimately aid the understanding of atmospheric processes important to climate change, as well as the design of cleaner combustion sources, from car engines to power plants.
The study, published in the June 28th issue of Nature, also pioneers a method for studying a broad range of individual particles, such as cells or proteins, and opens up exciting possibilities in the study of aerosol dynamics using highly focused X-ray lasers, such as SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).
“Our study shows that LCLS can drive a paradigm shift in imaging airborne particles, allowing us to look at them one at a time instead of using a composite of many different particles,” said Duane Loh, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at SLAC and Stanford University’s PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science. “We now have a richer imaging tool to explore the connections between their toxicity and internal structure.”
SLAC as released a conceptual animation showing how individual airborne soot particles are analyzed at LCLS, which is available online.