A new sensor has recently been developed for the purpose of detecting and monitoring mercury levels in our atmosphere.

Researchers at the University of Miami (UM), who conducted the study, suggest that the latest laser-based sensor is highly sensitive and accurately measures mercury exposure to humans on a global scale.

Anthony Hynes from UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, who is also the co-author of the study, revealed that the mercury measurement method is called sequential two-photon laser induced fluorescence (2P-LIF). The approach uses a couple of different laser beams that excite mercury atoms then monitor the blue shifted atomic fluorescence.

The researchers also compared the latest instrument with current mercury measuring tools and claimed that the new sensor measures ambient mercury very quickly in comparison to other mercury measuring instruments. The latest instrument can measure mercury in the atmosphere in just 10 seconds, while other instruments can take up to 2.5 minutes to make such calculations.

The study also shows that the latest instrument can also differentiate between elemental and oxidized mercury, which is when the atom of mercury is joined to one or more additional elements and is more proficiently placed in our environment.

"Our instrument has the potential to greatly enhance our understanding of the atmospheric cycling of mercury and increase understanding of the global impact of mercury on human health," said Hynes.

Various environment protection agencies are focusing on how to limit emissions of mercury, which is a dangerous air pollutant. The latest instrument may be helpful in measuring mercury levels in the atmosphere and assisting agencies in order to understand the global cycling of atmospheric mercury.

Mercury is normally deposited to the ground via rainfall and ends up in high levels in mammals and fish. Humans' direct exposure to mercury usually happens when a person consumes fish with a high concentration of methyl mercury.

Consumption of methyl mercury can cause medical issues in humans. Methyl mercury can impair neurological developments in children, infants and fetuses. Exposure in the womb, which can occur when a mother consumes fish or shellfish that has methyl mercury, can affect an unborn baby's nervous system and brain.

Methyl mercury poisoning can also happen when a person consumes meat from animals that were fed with grains contaminated with methyl mercury.

Mercury is used in various manufacturing processes such as those of fluorescent lights, latex paints, batteries and more. In the modern world, mercury has become a common air and water pollutant.

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