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New laboratories to foster world-leading research into air quality and climate change

Posted on 11 March 2014

The UK’s first dedicated laboratory building for atmospheric chemistry research will be officially opened at the University of York next week.

The Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories will allow researchers to tackle current and emerging atmospheric chemistry issues in an integrated way, enabling world-leading contributions to the science of air quality, ozone depletion and climate change.

Supported by a £1.25 million grant from the Wolfson Foundation and a major donation from a benefactor, the new laboratories bring together the world-leading research activities of the University of York and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

The new research building will be formally opened on Monday, 17 March by Professor A R Ravishankara from the Departments of Chemistry and Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.

Professor Ravishankara will also deliver a public lecture, ‘Ozone Layer Depletion and the Montreal Protocol: Can this protocol be pushed further?’ at the Ron Cooke Hub to mark the opening. In his lecture, he will describe the evolution of the science of the ozone layer over the past four decades and relate this to the international and national policy changes in limiting, curbing, and eliminating the emissions of ozone depleting substances.

The new laboratories will enable York's atmospheric chemistry research teams to be brought together for the first time in one building, and will house faculty staff, post-doctoral researchers, external research staff including from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and Defra, as well as postgraduates and undergraduates undertaking research projects.

Professor Alastair Lewis, from the University’s Department of Chemistry and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, led the development of the project.

Professor Lewis said: “As well as bringing together the atmospheric research teams from the Department of Chemistry, the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories will provide an experimental and modelling infrastructure for interdisciplinary research across the University. The shared workspace has been specifically designed to enhance science-to-policy translation and further increase our active engagement with UK businesses.”

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation, said: "The Wolfson Foundation promotes and supports excellence and we are delighted again to be able to support the University of York. The University's research in atmospheric chemistry is exceptionally strong. It is an area of great significance and yet, despite this, there is a relatively paucity of outstanding groups working in this field in the UK."

The laboratories include facilities for trace gas measurements and chemical metrology; studies of aerosol and gas phase processes; atmosphere-biosphere exchange, and computer modelling of chemical mechanisms and atmospheric transport.

Atmospheric chemists at York were recently awarded nearly £208,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to invest in new computing infrastructure to develop a ‘virtual air’ archive. This will allow them to perform retrospective analysis of stored samples of air.

The NERC funding forms of part of the Government’s Big Data investment which aims to allow the UK research community to take advantage of existing environmental data for science and impact.

In total, the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories have received nearly £1m in capital investments from research councils in the last year, including £570k for a sophisticated high accuracy mass spectrometer, the world’s first to be dedicated to environmental research.

Professor Ravishankara’s lecture ‘Ozone Layer Depletion and the Montreal Protocol: Can this protocol be pushed further?’ is at the Ron Cooke Hub auditorium on Monday, 17 March at 6pm. Entrance is by free ticket only. Visit www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/public-lectures/spring-2014/ozone-depletion/ for more information and to book. Alternatively email  publiclectures@york.ac.uk or phone 01904 324778.

Notes to editors:

  • The Wolfson Foundation (www.wolfson.org.uk) is a charity that was established in 1955. It supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science and medicine, health & disability, education and the arts & humanities. All funding is based on expert peer review. Over £750 million (£1.25 billion in real terms) has been awarded in grants to some 10,000 projects over the last 58 years.
  • NERC is the largest funder of environmental science in the UK. We invest £330m in cutting-edge research, training and knowledge transfer in the environmental sciences. Our scientists study and monitor the whole planet, from pole to pole, and from the deep Earth and oceans to the edge of space. We address and respond to critical issues such as environmental hazards, resource security and environmental change. Through collaboration with other science disciplines, with UK business and with policy-makers, we make sure our knowledge and skills support sustainable economic growth and public wellbeing - reducing risks to health, infrastructure, supply chains and our changing environment.
  • For more information on the University of York’s Department of Chemistry visit www.york.ac.uk/chemistry
  • For further information about public lectures at the University of York visit www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/public-lectures/

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