New Centre at U of T to study air quality: Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research

Friday, January 11, 2008 1:27:03 AM

Research News

By Liam Mitchell

With the opening of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR) on September 20, 2007, the University of Toronto stands at the forefront of research on air quality in Canada.

Led by Professor Greg Evans, the Centre’s director, SOCAAR draws together researchers from the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, and the Faculty of Medicine.

SOCAAR is an interdisciplinary focal point for investigating poor air quality and its affect on human health and the environment. The work aims to understand how aerosols – also referred to as particulates – enter the atmosphere, from where they are derived, how they are transformed and how it can affect a person’s wellbeing.

One of the key research components is the Concentrated Ambient Particle Exposure Facility, which is based in the Gage Occupational and Environmental Health Building on College Street. “The facility provides an opportunity for researchers to understand the effect of inhaling particulates on human health”, explains Bruce Urch, Ph.D. candidate in Institute of Medical Science and Centre for Environment’s collaborative Environment and Health Program. Over the course of a two-hour study, subjects wear a mask that feeds air similar in quality to that found in urban centres around the world. Studies have shown an impact on respiratory and circulatory functions in the body over the course of exposure. The exposure facility, which became operational in early-November, 2007, will be utilized in a number of experiments; chief among them is a long-term study on ambient particle health effects in collaboration with Harvard University’s School of Public Health. The facility is unique in Canada, and one of only a few in North America.

The Centre is also home to the Field Measurement Facility, which is equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation capable of characterizing aerosols according to size and composition. Housed in the Wallberg Building at the corner of St. George and College Streets, it can monitor air quality on campus. SOCAAR also owns a mobile sampling unit known as MAPLE (Mobile Analysis of Particulates in the Environment) and also uses The Aerosol Chemistry Facility in the Department of Chemistry, Lash Miller Building.

“There are a number of people throughout the University who are researching the urban environment, be it in geography, policy development, in public health. Central to their concerns is air pollution and its effects, and this is where SOCAAR can provide important contributions,” says Evans.

SOCAAR was established through $3,000,000 in grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, and a consortium of other academic, government and corporate partners.

For more information on SOCAAR, please visit its new website:

Liam Mitchell is Manager of External Relations, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry.