Exploring Aerosols

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John H. Seinfeld

John H. Seinfeld is a prominent chemist known for his groundbreaking work in atmospheric chemistry, specifically concerning aerosols. While his work has largely gone unnoticed by the general public, it's still nonetheless proven vital in our understanding of our climate.


Aerosols are small particles suspended in air that float around the atmosphere all around the world. While physically they may be small, their impact is anything but.

Natural Sources

Natural aerosols include volcanic ash, dust, sea salt, and natural emissions from wildfires. Natural aerosols don't do much by themselves, but they start getting dangerous when combined with man-made ones.

Artificial Sources

Man-made aerosols come from sources such as vehicle emissions, indsutrial emissions, and agricultural activities. Not only do they majorly contribute to pollution in cities by reducing air quality, but they also have the potential to change a region's climate.

Formation - Hydrocarbons and Primary Aerosols

Seinfeld's research is primarily concerned with aerosol formation. The process starts with hydrocarbons, fundamental components of natural gasses and petroleum. Hydrocarbons are oxidized and react with primary aerosols (dust, soot, etc.) to expand in size.

Formation - Secondary Aerosols

The reaction of hydrocarbons with primary aerosols and other hydrocarbons eventually causes them to condense and form larger secondary aerosols, such as HNO3 and H2SO4, shown to the right. Combined, these particles can have a number of effects on our health and climate.


Aerosols impact climate in both negative and positive ways. Some aerosols like black carbon (or soot) absorb sunlight, creating a warming effect, while others scatter and reflect light, creating a cooling effect. In addition, aerosols provide more particles for water to collect on in the sky, causing erratic and sometimes disastrous rainstorms in coastal regions.

Future Research

Today, Seinfeld's research is broadly aimed at studying the organic fraction of aerosols and creating more detailed models on aerosol-atmosphere interactions. While more "sciencey" topics like aerosols may be intimidating to some, they're still important to understand our ever-changing climate, which is why we made this web-presentation. Thanks for stopping by!