With every breath, we inhale a cocktail of several million tiny, invisible particles composed of such things as the Earth’s crustal matter, viruses, engine exhaust, tobacco smoke, automotive tire and brake dust, and even fecal matter. Because chronic exposure to some of these ubiquitous particles leads to heart disease, neurodevelopmental impairment in children, pulmonary disease and cancer, airborne particles are a core concern for human well-being, and the subject of regulatory efforts by local and national governments worldwide. We inform these efforts by measuring the physical properties, chemical makeup, and health effects of inhaled particle pollutants, and studying how these pollutants are formed, dispersed, and transformed in the atmosphere. We do so through laboratory experiments, field observations, and mathematical simulation.
Accounting for human behavior, we aim to identify effective regulatory levers that can protect public health. For example, in our US FDA-funded work we are identifying product design and operating parameters that can be regulated to govern nicotine emissions from electronic cigarettes (ECIGs), while minimizing emissions of other common toxicants such as formaldehyde. It turns out that current regulations aimed at limiting nicotine exposure may unwittingly encourage ECIG users to adopt use patterns that actually increase exposure to harmful chemicals, and circumvent the intended nicotine control. With our transdisciplinary approaches, we are developing the means to predict such outcomes even before proposed regulations are promulgated. Our thematic foci are tobacco control, urban and indoor air pollution, and atmospheric particle behavior.
About the Lab
The Lab is home to an interdisciplinary research group with backgrounds in aerosol dynamics, chemistry, combustion, instrumentation, and controls. We produce policy-relevant science with thematic focuses on tobacco control, urban and indoor air pollution, and atmospheric particle dynamics and collaborate widely with research groups at AUB and around the world. Several novel instruments for tobacco control research have been developed at the lab, including waterpipe and electronic cigarette smoking topography devices, an in-situ real-time sampling device for waterpipe smoke analysis, and a smoking robot that can mimic human puffing behavior in millisecond detail. These instruments are used by researchers in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the USA.
Operating in a 200 m2 space of the Irani Oxy Building located on the lower campus of AUB, the lab is equipped with a variety of particle sampling, sizing, and generation instruments, gasoline and diesel engine setups, an oxidation flow reactor to simulate atmospheric photochemistry, and environmentally controlled Teflon® chambers of various sizes. The lab has access to GC-MS, HPLC-MS, and ICP-MS instruments in shared AUB facilities and benefits from close proximity to machine and electronics shops.
The Aerosol Research Lab was founded in 2002 by Professor Alan Shihadeh, and has since benefitted from research awards from the US National Institutes of Health, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Research for International Tobacco Control (IDRC), and the Lebanese Council for Scientific Research, totaling approximately $4 million in support since 2007. In September 2013, the lab became the physical sciences and technology arm of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, a US FDA Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science.