SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - When we hear the word "aerosol" a spray can like this often comes to mind. But in the scientific world it refers to a solid particle in the atmosphere.
Graduate student Matt Ruppel is collecting and analyzing aerosols by pulling outside air particles into this instrument in UCSD's chemistry lab.
Circulating in the atmosphere, aerosols can be organic or man-made.
"It can be anything like dust or emissions from your car or sea spray," he explained.
Researchers are fascinated by these floating particles because they hold the key to understanding climate change.
Scripps scientists are tracking aerosols in both pristine and polluted regions, charting travel patterns to determine how their movement impacts climate change.
"Aerosols impact climate both through direct interaction in sunlight as well as helping to form clouds," Ruppel said.
An exhibit at Birch Aquarium simulates how aerosols form clusters in the atmosphere.
"Understanding particles is really important not only for climate but for health," Ruppel said. "Smog is a result of particles in the air and this is a huge health issue."
"We have to be really careful of what we put into our atmosphere because it really impacts all of us everywhere," Birch Aquarium Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth said.