Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Where there’s smoke, there’s science

To discover the finer points of smoke’s composition, Los Alamos National Laboratory has launched the Center for Aerosol Forensic Experiments — CAFE, for short.
October 15, 2017
Plume from wildfires, such as this one in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe, is a rich brew of chemicals and particles

The plume from wildfires, such as this one in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe, is a rich brew of chemicals and particles. To understand its composition, Los Alamos National Laboratory has launched the Center for Aerosol Forensic Experiments, which includes an aerosol mass spectrometer for dissecting the components of the plume. CREDIT: Dreamstime photo

Where there’s smoke, there’s science

by Manvendra Dubey

It’s been a smoky summer in New Mexico and all around the West. Huge wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and Montana were in the news for weeks, spreading a fine haze across the Southwest, raising the obvious question: What’s in that smoke? A big fire gives off a big plume made up of a complicated and constantly changing mix of particles, gases, and other chemical compounds. Explosions — including nefarious detonations — can emit similar plumes.

To discover the finer points of smoke’s composition, Los Alamos National Laboratory has launched the Center for Aerosol Forensic Experiments — CAFE, for short. The lab has a long history of researching the atmosphere, work that stems from its primary mission as a national nuclear security laboratory and its role in monitoring nuclear activity around the globe. This new suite of instruments, which centers on an aerosol mass spectrometer, provides detailed information on the chemistry of wildfire smoke particles. A mass spectrometer takes in samples, gives them an electric charge, then sorts them by the ratio of their electric charge to their mass. It’s a powerful means of identifying the elements and compounds in a complicated sample like smoke.

See the YouTube video.

This story first appeared in Santa Fe New Mexican.


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