It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it

November 16, 2001

Chimney sweeps are not the only people who make a living out of soot. Some scientists have devoted careers to studying soot, which turns out to be a somewhat mysterious substance.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory is developing a process to make "designer soot," a task that--considering the ubiquity of this gritty, grimy material--isn't as easy as one might think.

The soot produced under controlled conditions in NIST's spray combustion facility is part of an effort to develop metrology for this material. Today, the physical and chemical properties of soot cannot be measured with certainty, a concern to both industry and government regulators.

NIST is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the monitoring of air quality and the understanding of how airborne particulate matter (such as soot) may affect human health. NIST's role includes the development of standard materials that can be used to calibrate analytical instruments that measure particulate matter.

Researchers under the direction of chemist Cary Presser (301-975-2612) plan to control fuel type and combustion conditions so that an easily reproducible "designer soot" recipe can be developed.

Potential applications for this research extend beyond atmospheric science and environmental monitoring. For example, a greater understanding of the chemistry behind carbon particulate formation would be very useful to persons working in fire research (including NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory, which does extensive studies of soot properties, behavior and impacts) and nanotechnology.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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