Novel Instrument to Characterize Inhalable Particles


Available for Licensing

IP Status

US Utility Patent: US 9482620 B2


​John A Volckens
Kimberly R. Anderson
Mwangi T Ndonga
David H Leith

At A Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a novel instrument for characterizing particles in an aerosol.  The portable inhalable particle spectrometer (PIPS) sampler is capable of measuring the concentration and size distribution of inhalable aerosols from 10 to 100 μm in aerodynamic diameter.  Substantial differences exist in deposition to the oral, nasal, pharyngeal and laryngeal regions for various particle sizes; thus, the health effects of varying particle sizes can be substantially different.  As a high prevalence of occupational illnesses are related to inhalable-particle exposure, this device aims to help identify occupational risks in an effort to protect works with potential of developing these avoidable health effects.

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Licensing Director

Jillian Lang

Reference No.: 15-028


Accurate measurement of inhalable aerosol hazards has confounded occupational health professionals since the realization that particle size plays a primary role in determining aerosol penetration into (and deposition within) the human respiratory tract.  Knowledge of particle size not only determines whether a particle can enter the body and where it will deposit (oronasal vs. tracheobronchial vs. pulmonary regions) but also influences the process of hazard recognition, evaluation, and control. For example, knowing the size distribution of an aerosol hazard can reveal its source: submicron particles (<1 μm) tend to arise from vapor condensation or combustion processes, whereas, supermicron particles (>1 μm) are typically generated from abrasive, mechanical processes. Furthermore, the design and use of proper workplace control technologies (filtration, cyclone separation, ventilation) are strongly dependent on knowledge of particle size.

Despite these facts, the field of occupational health lacks the technology to determine the size distribution of inhalable aerosol hazards in the workplace. Indeed, industrial hygienists currently have no means to characterize workplace aerosol size distributions above 15 microns, even though the current ACGIH/ISO criterion for inhalable aerosol extends to 100 microns in particle diameter.  Many practicing professionals suspect that such particles present a significant respiratory hazard in their workplaces.  Yet, the same professionals lack tools to characterize such hazards – a limitation that substantially hampers their ability to protect workers at risk.  Inhalable aerosols hazards are present in virtually every NORA sector: organic dusts in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; carbonaceous and mineral dusts in construction; metal and metalworking fluid aerosols in manufacturing; and coal dust in mining, to name just a few.

  • No devices currently exist that are capable of size-selective sampling for particles larger than 20 μm in aerodynamic diameter. This device extends aerosol measurement capability up to 100 μm in diameter
  • Numerous occupations wherein workers are exposed to organic dusts (e.g. agriculture, forestry, etc.), carbonaceous and mineral dusts (e.g. construction, coal mining, etc.), manufacturing aerosols (metalworking, textiles, etc.) and many others
  • Exposure assessment and industrial hygiene fields

James Sipich, Christian L’Orange, Kimberly Anderson, Christopher Limbach, John Volckens & Azer Yalin (2022) A direct-reading particle sizer with elemental composition analysis for large inhalable particles, Aerosol Science and Technology, 56:3, 223-233, DOI: 10.1080/02786826.2021.2002255

K.R. Anderson, D. Leith, M. Ndonga & J. Volckens (2015) Novel Instrument to Separate Large Inhalable Particles, Aerosol Science and Technology, 49:12, 1195-1209, DOI: 10.1080/02786826.2015.1112874

Last updated: May 2022

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