Particles of soot floating through the air and comets hurtling through space have at least one thing in common: 0.36. That, reports a research group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is the measure of how dense they will get under normal conditions, and it's a value that seems to be constant for similar aggregates across an impressively wide size range from nanometers to tens of meters.*
NIST hopes the results will help in the development of future measurement standards to aid climate researchers and others who need to measure and understand the behavior of aerosols like carbon soot in the atmosphere.
Soot comes mostly from combustion and is considered the second biggest driver of global warming, according to NIST chemist Christopher Zangmeister. It is made up of small round particles of carbon about 10 or 20 nanometers across. The particles stick together randomly in short chains and clumps of a half dozen or more spheres. These, in turn, clump loosely together to form larger, loose aggregates of 10 or more which over a few hours will compact into a somewhat tighter ball which is atmospheric soot.
The interesting question for chemists studying carbon aerosols is how tight? How dense? Among other things, the answer relates to the balance of climate effects from soot: heating from light absorption versus cooling from light reflection.
The maximum packing density of objects is a classic problem in mathematics, which has been fully solved for only the simplest cases. The assumed density in models of atmospheric soot is 0.74, which is the maximum packing density of perfect spheres, such as billiard balls, in a given space. But when Zangmeister's team made measurements of the packing density of actual soot particles, the figure they got was 0.36. "We figured, man, we've got to be wrong, we're off by a factor of two," Zangmeister recalls, but "a bunch more measurements" convinced them that 0.36 was correct. Why?
Enter the summer help. Two students, one in college and one in high school, who were working with Zangmeister's group last summer were set to the task of modeling the packing question with little 6 mm plastic spheres sold for pellet guns. They glued thousands of random combinations of spheres together in clumps of from 1 to 12 spheres, and then filled every available size of graduated cylinders and hollow spheres with their assemblies, over and over, and over.
Their charted results, as a function of clump size, form a curve that levels off at … 0.36.
It gets better. Inspired by a book on the solar system he was reading with his son, Zangmeister checked NASA's literature. Comets are formed very much the same way as soot particles, except out of dust and ice, and they're a lot bigger. NASA's measurements on a collection of 20 comets estimate that packing density at between 0.2 and 0.4. So 0.36 may be an all-purpose value.**
NIST's interest in the nature of soot particles is driven by a desire to imitate them, according to Zangmeister. "It's amazing how much uncertainty there is in optical measurements of particles in the atmosphere. The reason for this uncertainty is rooted in something really important to NIST: there are no real methods for calibrations. You can calibrate any CO2 measurement using one of our Standard Reference Materials for CO2 in air, but there's no such thing as a bottle of standard aerosol or a standard aerosol generator. That's really at the heart of what we're trying to do: make a black material that simulates carbon that you can put into an aerosol and know it will come out the same way every time. It's a real materials chemistry project."
The agency is working with the National Research Council of Canada and Environment Canada on the project.
*C.D. Zangmeister, J.G. Radney, L.T. Dockery, J.T. Young, X. Ma, R. You and M.R. Zachariah., The packing density of rigid aggregates is independent of scale. PNAS Early Edition. Published online June 9, 2014. doi:10.1073/pnas.1403768111.
**0.36 is also very close to the reported values for compacted silicon dioxide monomers (ceramics industry) and pharmaceutical powders made from "microscale random aggregates."
Michael Baum | Eurek Alert!
NASA's SDO sees partial eclipse in space
29.05.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier
29.05.2017 | University of Strathclyde
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.
Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences
29.05.2017 | Life Sciences
29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy