Southern California Particle Center

Science Wednesday: OnAir – Cracking The Da Vinci Color Code

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Constaninos Sioutas, Ph.D. typically conducts air pollution research on polluted highway roadsides or near running diesel engines. But a recent project lured him to a much more refined location— face to face with Leonardo da Vinci’s, The Last Supper.

Sioutas is a co-director of the Southern California Particle Center, a consortium of universities researching air pollution. The Center is funded by a multimillion-dollar EPA grant. Sioutas’ current research focuses on exposure to mobile air pollution sources and their potential toxicity, begging the question—what in the world does he have to do with da Vinci?

I got the chance to ask him in person when I traveled to his laboratory in October. As it turns out, over years of conducting air pollution research through EPA grants, Sioutas developed several new scientific instruments for capturing air particles and measuring their properties. One of these instruments, a Personal Cascade Impactor Sampler separates airborne particles by size and allows for analysis of the particles’ toxic content.

After developing this new technology, Sioutas started to think outside the box. What if this instrument could be used to understand how exposure to air and particle settling would affect the color longevity of a painting such as, say, The Last Supper?

image of DaVinci's Last Supper and Sioutas

Sioutas traveled to Milan to present a research proposal to The Last Supper’s curator, Dr. Alberto Artioli, asking just that question. He proposed to use his Impactor to take a series of measurements both inside and outside the legendary Refettorio, where the mural is on display.

Dr. Artioli was “positively impressed” and accepted Sioutas’ proposal. One goal of the project will be to determine the sources of particles settling on the painting, down to such diminutive possibilities as erosion from visitors’ shoes and clothing fibers, in addition to outdoor sources like traffic exhaust.

“It is really an amazing experience,” Sioutas said, beaming, “getting to apply these instruments for such a different task.” According to the project proposal, the study will draw conclusions about “the degradation risks to the Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.”

Read more about the EPA-funded research for developing the Personal Cascade Impactor Sampler at http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.abstractDetail/abstract/5835

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development. Her “OnAir” Science Wednesday posts chronicle EPA-funded research on clean air.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: OnAir – Scientist Wins Two Major 2009 Awards in Two Fields

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

During my October visit to Southern California, I caught up with Dr. Williams Hinds at UCLA.

Hinds, an EPA STAR grantee and researcher at the Southern California Particle Center, received two national awards in 2009 in different fields of research.

Now an Emeritus Professor at UCLA, where he has taught and researched for the past 27 years, Hinds has spent a long career focused primarily on air pollution exposure research.

Arantza Eiguren, an analytical chemist who works closely with Hinds on an EPA funded project noted that he has trained some of the most influential aerosol scientists of our time.

“And, he wrote one of the best books there is on aerosols,” she said in reference to his 1999 text, Aerosol Technology: Properties, Behavior, And Measurement of Airborne Particles, 2nd Ed.

image of UCLA Professor HindsHinds received the Donald E. Cummings Memorial Award from the American Industrial Hygiene Association in June, 2009. The award is a tribute to Donald E. Cummings, the Association’s third president and is given for outstanding contributions to the knowledge and practice of the profession of industrial hygiene.

Just a few months later, Hinds received word of winning the David Sinclair Award from the American Association for Aerosol Research (AAAR). The award recognizes excellence in aerosol research and technology.

AAAR emphasized the breadth of Hinds’ contributions. “Hinds’ academic career includes extensive peer reviewed publications, research grants, and membership on technical and standard setting committees,” the award announcement read.

I chatted with Hinds just one day after he was notified of the second award. His delight in both accomplishments was evident.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: OnAir – Veteran Chemists Form Lasting Bond

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

On a recent visit to the Southern California Particle Center, amidst the cold sterility of lab equipment and the drone of machinery, a feeling of warmth was palpable. I was there to discuss organic chemistry and toxicology and learn about chemical processes, but couldn’t help noticing something else.

As director John Froines and lead investigator Art Cho discussed their latest scientific findings, references to their strong friendship and deep appreciation of working together repeatedly crept into the conversation. When asked separately about personal investments in the Particle Center, each immediately referenced the other.

image of Art Cho speaking“John and I can sit and talk. He’s also an organic chemist… so we can talk in a common language,” Cho said of the pair’s hours-long daily conversations about chemistry and science.

The Particle Center is an air pollution research consortium funded by a multi-million dollar EPA grant. Scientists at the Center are encouraged to work collaboratively to address questions about air pollution exposure that have real world significance, especially in Los Angeles, where the Center is based.

But to these scientists, their work is more than a just a job. Over and over, each emphasized the personal satisfaction gained through years of intellectual partnership.

image of John Friones sitting and speaking“Art Cho is 81. I’m 70. Do you realize the joy that we have, two of us old chemistry codgers, being able to do the science in a multidisciplinary way?” Froines asked, rhetorically.

Cho echoed the sentiment, expressing his enthusiasm with an inescapable air of academia.

“I’m having fun, as it were,” he mused.

At 81, Cho is still working as a full time lead investigator in his UCLA labs. When the subject of potential retirement was broached, Froines jumped in on Cho’s behalf without hesitation,

“Don’t you even…” he warned with a grin, “…that word is forbidden!”

Whoever said research science was an antisocial career path has clearly not met these chemistry vets. As I proceed on my travels, I’ll continue sharing stories of the cast of characters that study the air we breathe.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.