Microbes are ubiquitous in the built environment and present as a unique ecological component of importance for indoor air quality. One major influence of microbial activities on indoor air quality is through the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Although a variety of microbial VOCs (mVOCs) have been identified in laboratory studies, compounds exclusively of microbial origin hardly exist. It is still an open question to what extent the VOCs in indoor environments, especially those so-called mVOCs, can be attributed to microbial activities.
Here I propose to deploy a proton-transfer-reaction time-of-flight mass spectrometer (PTR-ToF-MS) for temporally and spatially resolved measurements of VOC composition in residential environment. The goal is to characterize the microbial contribution to the VOC composition in living environment, as compared to contributions from human occupants, outdoor air, and other sources. Statistical methods will be applied to the acquired full mass spectral matrix to resolve fingerprint mass spectra of key indoor VOC sources. The hypothesis is that the various key VOC sources have distinct mass spectral features and time and spatial variation. This work will be advised primarily by Professor Allen Goldstein and secondarily by Professor William Nazaroff at the University of California, Berkeley.
I’m honored that the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation decided to fund my project and look forward to starting the project in March 2016. I believe that this would be a great opportunity for me to extend my research area from outdoor atmospheric chemistry to microbial ecology and air chemistry indoors.