The Spectroscopy of Molecules that Affect the Quality of Your Life
Few things affect your quality of life more than the air you breathe and the temperature of your immediate environment. Since more than 80% of the energy used in the industrialized world today is still derived from fossil fuels, these two quantities are not unrelated. Most organic molecules injected into the troposphere, whether from fuel or other sources, are degraded via oxidative processes involving free radical intermediates and may produce air pollution such as photochemical smog. Many of these same intermediates are also ones directly involved in the combustion (oxidation) of fossil fuels, which while producing energy and heat likewise may lead to atmospheric pollution.
My talk will first describe the fundamentals of spectroscopy and why even simple molecules can exhibit complex spectra. I will discuss how laser spectroscopy can be used to identify and characterize reactive chemical intermediates even though they are rapidly consumed by chemical reactions and their ambient concentrations are correspondingly quite low. The resulting spectra identify the molecules as unambiguously as fingerprints or DNA do for humans. While the talk will focus on some of the practical applications of molecular spectroscopy, in addition I hope to be able to convey some of its beauty and wonder.