Ultrafine particles in the environment: University of Bayreuth involved in new Bavarian project network
With a research project on the chemical analysis of ultrafine particles, the University of Bayreuth is participating in the new project network „BayUFP – Measurement, Characterization and Evaluation of Ultrafine Particles“ funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection. The sub-project is headed by Prof. Dr. Anke Nölscher, Junior Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry. The Ministry of the Environment has approved funding totalling around € 635,000 for this over the next three years.
In recent years, many countries have succeeded in reducing the levels of particulate matter in the environment and improving the quality of the air we breathe. However, it is still largely unclear how the smallest components of fine dust act, the so-called ultrafine particles (UFP). UFP have a diameter of less than 100 nanometers (0.0001 millimeters) and are not visible to the naked eye. In the Bavarian project network BayUFP, the sources, chemical constituents, and health effects of ultrafine particles in the environment are to be systematically researched for the first time.
Bavaria’s Minister of the Environment Thorsten Glauber today gave the go-ahead for the network, in which five research partners have joined forces: the University of Bayreuth (UBT), Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), Würzburg University Hospital, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (LMU), and LMU Hospital. The network is coordinated by FAU. Environment Minister Glauber: „Ultrafine particles are a new field of scientific research. Bavaria is a pioneer and is pushing ahead with research into ultrafine particles. We are seeking to find out how much ultrafine particles are actually present in the air and how they act. To solve these questions, we have an important partner in the University of Bayreuth.“
The Bayreuth subproject focuses on the chemical composition of ultrafine particles. From this, information can be derived about the origin, age, and source of the particles, as well as about their distribution in the environment. At the same time, the chemical composition of the particles plays a major role in determining whether and how they influence human health. To determine the chemical composition of ultrafine particles in the air, they must first be separated from the other atmospheric components – for example, gases or larger particles. They are then collected to be subsequently available for chemical analysis. A particular technical challenge here is the low mass of the particles.
The aim of the Bayreuth research team is to optimize the individual steps in the separation, collection, and analysis of ultrafine particles in their interrelation to each other. On this basis, a method is to be developed that combines two measuring devices: a permanently installed module that analyzes ultrafine dust samples with high precision and provides corresponding reference values, and a mobile module matched to it that will be used to collect samples at different locations in Bavaria. „The samples, which are representative of different locations, will enable us to assign characteristic chemical fingerprints to the ultrafine particles. On this basis, we will obtain information on the formation of these particles and their distribution in the air, and on potential site-related health risks,“ says project leader Prof. Dr. Anke Nölscher.
The Bayreuth research team is working closely with Helmholtz Zentrum München within the network. On the campus of the University of Bayreuth, interdisciplinary contacts already exist with other fine dust projects. These include, in particular, the Bayreuth research work contributing to the Bavarian Research Network BayÖkotox, founded in 2020, and deals with the effects of traffic-related particulate matter on plants and animals. „The projects funded by the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment will enable us to establish a broad range of research competencies on fine dust-related environmental and health issues at the University of Bayreuth,“ says Nölscher.
Prof Dr. Anke Nölscher
Junior Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry
University of Bayreuth
Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-5723