Students research the dangers of e-cigarettes

Caroline Buck, Staff Writer

While the dangerous health concerns posed by e-cigarettes have only recently gained nationwide attention, student researchers on campus have been observing the dangers of the devices for years. Jewel Cook ’20 and Ana Islas ’20 have been working on their research with guidance from Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Dabrina Dutcher and Associate Dean of Faculty Karen Castle for the past three years.

The research term is focusing on the presence of carbon monoxide caused by e-cigarettes, which poses an immense threat to the health of those who use these products and those around them. They are looking closely at the amount of carbon monoxide released when the e-fluid is vaporized.

The researchers are concentrating on the long-term effects of e-cigarette carbon monoxide. Nevertheless, their findings are still very alarming for current users. “If someone was exposed to the carbon monoxide levels that we saw at the max power, continuously without stopping for eight hours, the exposure to CO could be deadly,” Cook said. 

Their primary research test uses diode laser spectroscopy, a method of measuring the concentration of gas, such as carbon monoxide, through the use of diode lasers. This work requires two people: one needed to puff the e-cigarette and the other to record the measurements. Earlier in the semester, the team began testing concentration levels with a store-bought carbon monoxide detector, and they were surprised to find such high quantities.

It is necessary to test each level of power of charge, as it impacts the amount of carbon monoxide released by the device. Extreme quantities of carbon monoxide may cause headaches, vomiting, dizziness and, in extreme cases, death. While the levels of the toxic gas produced by e-cigarettes are not high enough to kill someone instantly, the long-term build-up of this exposure presents an immense danger to one’s health.

Cook and Islas hope to gather as much data as possible to continue their research after they graduate. In fact, Cook, who became involved in the project at the start of her junior year, traveled to Pittsburgh last year to present the team’s early findings at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ annual meeting.

“I was really interested in doing research throughout my time at Bucknell and I really wanted to do something relevant that could potentially make a difference. Since electronic cigarettes were becoming so popular it seemed like the perfect project for me to join,” Cook said. With the recent uptick of the health concerns associated with e-cigarettes, Cook and Islas’ research is even more relevant on campus, and an important field for all students to learn more about. 

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