The Thornton group uses a combination of laboratory-based experiments, field measurements, and computational studies to help develop a detailed understanding of the chemical and physical processes occurring in the atmosphere to to assess the potential for current and future human activities to cause global atmospheric change. Research in our group utilizes state-of-the-art analytical techniques based on mass spectrometry and spectroscopy to study the physical chemistry of atmospheric phenomena. A motivation is to understand at a molecular level the interplay between human activities and the natural variations of the earth-ocean-atmosphere system.
Our ability to predict and understand the local and global consequences of this interplay depends on our understanding of the oxidative chemistry which links these facets together. Specific questions that guide our research include: What reactions control the rate of ozone production in the urban, rural, and remote regions of the troposphere? Do we understand the oxidation of hydrocarbons in the remote regions of the troposphere? What are the impacts of aerosols on the gas-phase composition of the troposphere? What are the chemical parameters which control the formation and lifetime of atmospheric aerosol?
At the core of our laboratory and field studies is the development of new mass spectrometric techniques to measure key free radical reservoir species such as organic hydroperoxides and inorganic and organic nitrates, as well as a suite of oxygenated hydrocarbons. In the laboratory, we are using this instrumentation to study the gas-phase chemistry of organic peroxy radicals, the kinetics of gas-aerosol interactions, and the chemical processing of aerosols under atmospheric conditions. In the field, we are working to deploy new technologies from both ground and aircraft-based platforms in a range of environs from the urban area to the remote marine boundary layer. Our goal in this regard is to obtain accurate and precise continuous observations on seasonal and annual timescales of key gas phase species, such as those mentioned above, as well as targeted measurements of specific compounds found in particulate matter.