Exploring the Nanostructures Accessible to an Organic Surfactant Atmospheric Aerosol Proxy

Adam Milsom, Adam M. Squires, Isabel Quant, Nicholas J. Terrill, Steven Huband, Ben Woden, Edna R. Cabrera-Martinez, Christian Pfrang

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6 Citations (SciVal)


The composition of atmospheric aerosols varies with time, season, location, and environment. This affects key aerosol properties such as hygroscopicity and reactivity, influencing the aerosol's impact on the climate and air quality. The organic fraction of atmospheric aerosol emissions often contains surfactant material, such as fatty acids. These molecules are known to form three-dimensional nanostructures in contact with water. Different nanostructures have marked differences in viscosity and diffusivity that are properties whose understanding is essential when considering an aerosol's atmospheric impact. We have explored a range of nanostructures accessible to the organic surfactant oleic acid (commonly found in cooking emissions), simulating variation that is likely to happen in the atmosphere. This was achieved by changing the amount of water, aqueous phase salinity and by addition of other commonly coemitted compounds: sugars and stearic acid (the saturated analogue of oleic acid). The nanostructure was observed by both synchrotron and laboratory small/wide angle X-ray scattering (SAXS/WAXS) and found to be sensitive to the proxy composition. Additionally, the spacing between repeat units in these nanostructures was water content dependent (i.e., an increase from 41 to 54 Å in inverse hexagonal phase d-spacing when increasing the water content from 30 to 50 wt %), suggesting incorporation of water within the nanostructure. A significant decrease in mixture viscosity was also observed with increasing water content from ∼104 to ∼102 Pa s when increasing the water content from 30 to 60 wt %. Time-resolved SAXS experiments on levitated droplets of this proxy confirm the phase changes observed in bulk phase mixtures and demonstrate that coexistent nanostructures can form in droplets. Aerosol compositional and subsequent nanostructural changes could affect aerosol processes, leading to an impact on the climate and urban air pollution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7331-7341
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number40
Early online date28 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 13 Oct 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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