When scientists at the University of Toronto relied on technology from a Tampa-based spectrometer manufacturer to power research on the atmospheric chemistry of indoor environments, it not only illustrated The Corridor’s global reach, but also helped to advance an important field of study.
Tampa’s StellarNet is a manufacturer and global provider of revolutionary, cost-effective spectrometer technology for clients in multiple industries, including government, academia and business. Founded in 1991 by industry expert Will Pierce, StellarNet emerged out of a humble manufacturing outfit in Pierce’s basement (which doubled as the location for his band’s Wednesday night jam sessions).
Today, nearly 30 years later, its fiber-optic spectrometers are among the most in-demand on the market. Used in the field of spectroscopy, these scientific instruments measure properties of light as they relate to the electromagnetic spectrum, including wavelength, frequency and energy.
“There are thousands of uses for this type of technology – night vision, radiometry, measuring water quality, even creating tinted windows to prevent the sharing of classified data,” said StellarNet application scientist David Parrino. “Our customers come to us with problems and we solve them through spectroscopy.”
In the case of professor Jon Abbatt, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellow Chen Wang from the department of chemistry at the University of Toronto, the problem was better understanding the factors that control our chemical exposure in indoor environments and how it compares to the outdoor environment. As they explained in an article published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, “The mainstream atmospheric chemistry community has traditionally paid much less attention to the chemistry of indoor environments than to outdoor settings, largely leaving this domain to the building science and persistent organic pollutant communities.”
Now, with research conducted in the early 2000s showing most people spending up to 90% of their time indoors, they and other researchers are beginning to shift their focus indoors. As the University of Toronto researchers pointed out, outdoor air quality is often blamed for negative health outcomes, yet humans do most of their breathing indoors.
Abbatt and Wang used StellarNet’s Black-Comet UV-VIS Spectrometer to measure the “interplay of molecules moving between surfaces, the gas phase and particles” in the atmosphere. In comparing the metrics between indoor and outdoor environments, they found concentration of ultraviolet (UV) light to be one of the major discrepancies. Researchers discovered a significantly lower concentration of UV light indoors – where aside from ambient light from nearby windows, most environments rely on artificial light from fluorescent and halogen light bulbs – compared to UV light outdoors originating from the sun.
The issue for indoor environments is that UV light from the sun is necessary to degrade chemical compounds that create foul odors by breaking them down into individual molecules and rendering the compounds inert. As Parrino described, that process called photolysis is why people lay clothing, carpets or other items outside to “air out” on a sunny day.
However, there’s rarely enough sunlight shining into a building to facilitate this same photo-chemical reaction, as Abbatt and Wang found, which implies humans may be more susceptible to inhaling or absorbing through their skin higher concentrations of chemicals and other pollutants while indoors. Their research opens the door for further investigation into indoor air quality and factors affecting it, as well as solutions to combat harmful concentrations of chemicals in the air we breathe. Using light to research the air we breathe and the compounds we smell and touch is just one example of the power of spectroscopy. As the field continues to evolve, companies in The Corridor like StellarNet will have even more opportunities to shed light on new scientific discoveries here and around the globe.