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Chemical Kinetics and Mechanisms of Unsaturated Organic Aerosol Oxidation


Understanding the heterogeneous oxidation of organic particulate matter ("aerosol") is an active area of current research in atmospheric and combustion chemistry. The chemical evolution of organic aerosol is complex and dynamic since it can undergo multiple oxidation reactions with gas phase oxidants to form a mixture of different generations of oxidation products that control the average aerosol mass and volatility. In many of these systems, hydrocarbon free radicals, formed by reaction with gas phase oxidants, play key roles as initiators, propagators and terminators of surface reactions. This dissertation presents a detailed study of the reaction kinetics and mechanisms of the heterogeneous oxidation of unsaturated organic aerosol, and aims to provide new molecular and mechanistic insights into the reaction pathways in heterogeneous organic aerosol oxidation.

The heterogeneous oxidation of unsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid C18H34O2, linoleic acid C18H32O2 and linolenic acid C18H30O2) aerosol by hydroxyl (OH) radicals is first studied in Chapter 2 to explore how surface OH addition reactions initiate chain reactions that rapidly transform the chemical composition of unsaturated organic aerosol. Oleic acid, linoleic acid and linolenic acid have the same linear C18 carbon backbone structure with one, two and three C=C double bonds, respectively. By studying carboxylic acids with different numbers of C=C double bonds, the role that multiple reactive sites plays in controlling reaction rates can be observed. The kinetic parameter of interest in these studies is the effective uptake coefficient, defined as the number of particle phase unsaturated fatty acid molecules reacted per OH-particle collision. The effective uptake coefficients for the unsaturated fatty acids are larger than unity, providing clear evidence for particle-phase secondary chain chemistry. The effective uptake coefficients for the unsaturated fatty acids decrease with increasing O2 concentration, indicating that O2 promotes chain termination in the unsaturated fatty acid reactions. The kinetics and products of squalene (a C30 branched alkene with 6 C=C double bonds) oxidation are compared to that of the unsaturated fatty acids in Chapters 3 and 4 to understand how molecular structure and chemical functionality influence reaction rates and mechanisms. The squalene effective uptake coefficient, which is also larger than one, is smaller than that of linoleic acid and linolenic acid despite the larger number of C=C double bonds in squalene. In contrast to the unsaturated fatty acids, the squalene effective uptake coefficient increases with O2 concentration, indicating that O2 promotes chain propagation in the squalene reaction. Elemental and product analysis of squalene aerosol shows that O2 promotes particle volatilization in the squalene reaction, suggesting that fragmentation reactions are important when O2 is present in the OH oxidation of branched unsaturated organic aerosol. In contrast, elemental and product analysis of linoleic acid aerosol shows that O2 does not influence the rate of particle volatilization in the linoleic acid reaction, suggesting that O2 does not alter the relative importance of fragmentation reactions in the OH oxidation of linear unsaturated organic aerosol.

Lastly, depending on the aerosol phase (e.g. solid and semi-solid) and the timescale for homogeneous mixing within the aerosol particle, the chemical composition may vary spatially within an aerosol particle. This necessitates the need for new techniques to characterize the interfacial chemical composition of aerosol particles. In the last portion of the dissertation, direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) is used to analyze the surface chemical composition of nanometer-sized organic aerosol particles in real time at atmospheric pressure. By introducing a stream of aerosol particles in between the DART ionization source and the atmospheric pressure inlet of the mass spectrometer, the aerosol particles are exposed to a thermal flow of helium or nitrogen gas containing some fraction of metastable helium atoms or nitrogen molecules. In this configuration, the molecular constituents of organic aerosol particles are desorbed, ionized and detected with reduced molecular ion fragmentation, allowing for compositional identification. The reaction of ozone with sub-micron oleic acid particles is also measured to demonstrate the ability of DART-MS to identify products and quantify reaction rates in a heterogeneous reaction.

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