Tuesday, 1 July 2014

University showcases research at the Royal Society Summer ScienceExhibition

Dr Edwin Hirst and Dr Richard Greenaway 
from the University’s Centre for Atmospheric 
and Instrumentation Research building the 
instrument that will go on NASA’s aircraft
Imagine sitting in a jet air-liner looking out of the window and trying to count and measure individual particles as small as bacteria in the clouds as they fly by at hundreds of miles an hour…

This is what Aerosol Ice Interface Transition Spectrometer (AIITS) does and it is on show this week (1-6 July) at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition  - which showcases the most exciting and cutting-edge UK science and technology.

The AIITS mounted on the NASA aircraft
In order to help understand the processes that are taking place in our climate system, scientists need to have detailed information about the sizes, shapes and abundance of the microscopic particles (ice crystals, droplets, dusts, etc.) that are present in the atmosphere. These particles are measured in situ by flying an instrument through the atmosphere and AIITS is one such instrument.

As the particles enter the instrument, they pass through a beam of light - scattering the light into complex scatter patterns. The scatter pattern depends on the shape, size and orientation of the particles and is like a thumbprint which can be used to classify or even identify the particles.

Light scatter patterns from various particles in the atmosphere
Led by Professor Paul Kaye, Director of Research in the University’s Science and Technology Research Institute, researchers from the Centre for Atmospheric and Instrumentation Research (CAIR) will be demonstrating some of their airborne particle analysis instruments as part of the ‘Tropical Storms' exhibit.

Tropical storms in the West Pacific play a crucial role in the Earth's climate system. Starting above some of the warmest waters, they carry sufficient energy to punch through the boundary that separates the troposphere, the lowest layer in the atmosphere, from the stratosphere above. In doing so, they reach as high as 20km and carry air up from the Earth’s surface. Chemicals in the air reaching the stratosphere can lead to ozone depletion.

The exhibit is based on an atmospheric research campaign headed up by the University of Cambridge and involving the University of Hertfordshire and also NASA, USA.

The week-long Exhibition starts today (Tuesday 1 July) and is arguably the most prestigious of its type in the UK, attracting over 10,000 visitors; including secondary school students, policy makers, MPs, leaders of industry, and representatives from funding agencies.  For more information, visit the Royal Society’s Exhibition website.

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