Interview transcript:

My name is Demetrios Pagonis, I am a chemist at CU Boulder, and I’ve been researching indoor air quality for the last two years. The ARTISTIC campaign was a six week field study at the University of Colorado Art Museum, ARTISTIC stands for the ART museum STudy of Indoor Chemistry, and we took a wide range of instruments that measure indoor air quality to the museum and sampled the air there continuously for six weeks.

Our main science questions at ARTISTIC were: How do humans influence the chemistry of the indoor environment? We’re also curious what sorts of chemistry occurs indoors. Part of how we designed the study was just allowing that second question – what chemistry happens indoors – to be open ended, and so we measured as much of the chemistry as we could so that we could start to unravel the reactions that were taking place indoors.

The museum is a unique indoor space because they have really tightly controlled temperature and humidity inside of the building. This is done for the sake of the art, it’s good for the air to stay at constant temperature and not have fast changes in humidity, it helps preserve the artwork in the building. And so, really this is a much simpler environment from the perspective of chemistry than a lot of other buildings. That was part of why we chose the museum: we’re still getting started in our research of the chemistry of the indoor environment and so starting with a simpler case eliminates a lot of the variability that we might find in other places. It simplifies our work.

One interesting finding [from the ARTISTIC campaign] is that when people used chemical products indoors, one example is the paint that was used to paint the walls of the art gallery, the emissions that came out of those volatile chemical products actually had a very strong tendency to deposit to indoor surfaces. For some of the compounds, more than half of what got emitted never made it outside. It stuck to another surface of the building before it could be ventilated.

The species that controlled the indoor air chemistry of the museum were ozone, and nitrogen oxides, or “NOx”. These are pollutants that are generally emitted outdoors and found outdoors, and yet were brought into the indoor environment. These compounds react with each other quickly, and the relative amount of each one that comes inside really plays a significant role in determining the other chemistry that happens indoors. What we saw is that it was actually the outdoor air quality and the amounts of ozone and the amounts of NOx that really defined what the indoor air chemistry would be inside the museum.

One of the biggest conclusions from the ARTISTIC campaign is how much people and our indoor activities impact indoor air quality, from the emissions on our breath, the emissions that come from our activities and the chemical products that we use; these things all change the chemistry of indoor spaces. These emissions also react with outdoor pollutants that get brought indoors, which leads to additional chemistry.


Learn more about the ARTISTIC field campaign: