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uni'wissen 01(3)-2011_ENG

On the street we inhale exhaust from cars, in the office particles released from ink car- tridges, in the bathroom nanoparticles from hair spray and in the spring dust blown north from the Sahara. Each day we breathe in millions of dif- ferent particles floating around in the air. It is known that they can be harmful to our health, but how dangerous are they really? Not enough re- search has been done so far to say for certain. Thanks to a new research approach by Prof. Dr. Reto Gieré from the Department of Earth Scienc- es of the University of Freiburg, it is now possi- ble to determine what long-term consequences such airborne particles have on our health. Gieré is collaborating with a team of scientists from the fields of mineralogy, environmental medicine, and pharmacy, as well as from the German weather service. The team is systemati- cally characterizing individual dust particles that fly through the air every day and determining their mineralogical and chemical makeup with the help of microscopes and x-ray devices. Only then will it be possible to analyze with more pre- cision the type of particles we breathe in. “Our goal is to find out what the air we inhale in Freiburg and the Rhine Valley is composed of,” explains Gieré, “and to determine where all of these particles are blown in from.” Once the re- Satellite image of a storm that carried large amounts of desert dust from the Sahara to Europe on 18 July 2000. The dust plumes are easy to see, particularly over the cen- tral Mediterranean Sea and Sicily. Dust plumes like these can even deposit particles in Freiburg. Photo: NASA 5