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Organic Compounds' Impact On Indoor Surfaces Studied
February 12, 2019

As a scientist, one of the areas University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) Distinguished Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Vicki Grassian studies is how organic compounds from things like perfume, foodstuffs, fabrics and soaps coat indoor surfaces—windows, countertops, walls and floors. The filmy phenomenon found so commonly in our homes and workplaces can impact the air we breathe and the health we enjoy. Yet the details of how these compounds interact with indoor surfaces on the microscopic level are not fully understood.

Figure depicts how organic compounds land on indoor surfaces, resulting in molecular interactions. Credit: Graphic courtesy of the RSC’s "Chemical Science."

“People spend almost 90% of their time indoors in industrialized nations, so it is important to have an understanding of all of the molecular processes that occur in the indoor environment. The role that indoor surfaces play is one area that needs further attention,” stated Prof. Grassian. “Understanding what is in the air we breathe is important to everyone but especially important for people with compromised pulmonary systems, including those with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

According to information, using vibrational spectroscopy, atomistic computer simulations and kinetic modeling, Prof. Grassian and her co-workers applied more “elbow grease” to the interfacial science by experimenting with glass and limonene—the chemical that gives citrus fruit its scent, as in air fresheners, and makes it a solvent, as in household cleaners. The results of their research are published in a recent issue of “Chemical Science,” the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) peer-reviewed flagship journal.

Currently, according to Prof. Grassian, the air we breathe in indoor environments is poorly understood. It is known, however, that organic compounds in our homes and workplaces can stick and unstick from surfaces through adsorption and desorption. Adsorption is the process in which molecules from the air stick to a surface and desorption occurs when molecules on a surface go back into the air.

“Thick coatings can form on different surfaces—including glass—which can then undergo chemistry which can lead to the emission of other gases,” said Prof. Grassian, who also holds posts at the Jacobs School of Engineering and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “This research focuses on the details of the interaction prevalent among organic compounds found in indoor environments and glass. Overall, we are interested in unraveling the processes at the molecular scale on the role of surfaces in indoor environments and ultimately using these details in air quality models.”

This material is based on the work supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The contents of this study do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation does not endorse the purchase of the commercial products used in this report.

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