19. 10. 2018

Spread of dust in atmosphere brings about many risks, including dangers to health or nature. These risks often depend on composition of dust in a given location. Scientists from the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics and the Institute of Geology have, therefore, created an electronic Atlas of Dust Particles, the first application focused on information on individual components of atmospheric dust.

One of the co-authors, Martina Havelcová, who leads the Department of Biochemistry of the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics, spoke about the risks in a greater detail. “Both organic and inorganic particles from local sources, as well as dust from far-away fires, volcanic eruptions, or military operations, get mixed up before they fall to ground. The sources of the atmospheric contamination, however, are largely unknown,” explained Havelcová.

According to her, science faces the task of improving identification of individual particles with dimensions of several micrometres up to hundreds of micrometres and learning to distinguish their structure, composition, and – perhaps most importantly – their source. With this in mind, the science team that deals with questions of identification of dust particles and sources of atmospheric contamination has prepared the web application Atlas of Dust Particles (http://dustparticleatlas.gli.cas.cz/).

“Both experts and laypersons are able to look up information of dust composition in any area they are interested in, view microscopic photographs, and gain other knowledge from detailed analyses. The current database of the samples in the atlas will be continuously updated,” said another co-author of the atlas, Tomáš Hrstka from the Institute of Geology of the CAS. He elaborated that the team has given a great attention to methodology and development of new approaches for analysis of dust particles with help of automatized microscopes and artificial intelligence.

A mixture of mineral particles, pine pollen, and other plant remains

Dust as a natural threat

Josef Stemberk, director of the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics, mentioned that the Atlas of Dust Particles has been created with support of Strategie AV21 as a part of the Natural Threats research programme. “Dust with a negative influence on human health is currently a pressing topic not only in Prague but in all big cities. This is the reason why we have included the research of dust particles into the Natural Threats programme in particular,” the director explained.

Atmospheric dust will also be the topic of the seminar Dust Particles (Prachové částice), which will take place on Monday, October 22, 2018 from 1:30 PM to 5 PM in the main building of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Národní 3, Prague 1). Its programme (in Czech) can be found here.

Main photo: Particles of gelatinized plant tissue from coal

Prepared by: Milan Pohl, Department of Media Communication of the Head Office of the CAS, based on materials provided by the Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS
Photo: Institute of Rock Structure and Mechanics of the CAS