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Vicky Wallace
21/07/2017
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UOW researcher awarded for mass spectrometry work

Levitated droplets help to understand aerosol chemistry

University of Wollongong’s Associate Professor Adam Trevitt from the Laser Chemistry Laboratory has been presented the 2017 Michael Guilhaus Research Award by the Australian and New Zealand Society for Mass Spectrometry (ANZSMS).

Professor Trevitt was selected as the recipient of the $10,000 award for his innovative research in the field of mass spectrometry, in particular using mass spectrometry to understand the surface oxidation of lipids, atmospheric aerosol and terpenes.

“In the context of atmospheric chemistry, understanding the chemistry of aerosol droplets is a real challenge. At the droplet surface, molecules like ozone arrive and can either bounce off or settle onto the surface and become involved in chemical reactions,” Professor Trevitt said.

“It is the interface that mediates the properties of the droplet. Does the droplet grow or shrink? Does is solidify or liquefy? Does it change colour? The chemistry and physics of aerosol affects air quality as well local and global climates – but it is notoriously difficult to model and predict.”

In response to these challenges, Professor Trevitt and his team within the faculty of Science Medicine and Health (SMAH) are studying the fundamental chemistry of droplets by developing new experimental platforms that trap and electrodynamically levitate single droplets.

“The advantage of this strategy is that we can control the size, chemistry and environment of the droplet and then probe the evolving chemistry of this system. Our laser techniques are crucial to this, as we can detect chemical transformations non-destructively.

“Because my students are able to trap so effectively, we can levitate a single droplet for days. The current record is 14 days!”

Professor Trevitt intends to use his award to improve the experiment’s detection capabilities.

“Refining our electrode design will allow better control and monitoring of the droplet environment.”

The award honours the work of Professor Michael Guilhaus, a pioneer of modern mass spectrometry instrumentation development, and an advocate of early career researchers in Australia.

Professor Guilhaus worked at the University of Wollongong briefly before taking a position at the University of NSW. He passed away prematurely in 2009.

“I met Professor Guilhaus at several conferences and although I never worked with him directly, I know his work well. His advancements in the area of orthogonal extraction time-of-flight mass spectrometry are legendary, and this technology is used in many high resolution mass spectrometers including several at UOW,” Professor Trevitt said.

The award was presented to Professor Trevitt during the 26th biennial ANZSMS conference, in Adelaide from 16-20 July, 2017.

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