The journal of physical chemistry. A

Hygroscopic influence on the semisolid-to-liquid transition of secondary organic materials.

PMID 25397730


The effect of relative humidity (RH) on the rebound of particles composed of isoprene, α-pinene, and toluene secondary organic materials (SOMs) was studied. A three-arm impaction apparatus was used to study rebound from 5 to 95% RH at 298 K. Calibration experiments using sucrose particles of variable but known viscosities showed that the transition from rebounding to adhering particles occurred for a change in viscosity from 100 to 1 Pa s, corresponding to a transition from semisolid to liquid material. The experimentally determined rebound fractions of the studied SOMs were compared with results from a model of the rebound processes of hard particles, taking into account the particle kinetic energy, van der Waals forces, and RH-dependent capillary forces. For low RH values, the hard-particle model explained the diameter-dependent rebound behavior for all studied SOMs. For elevated RH, however, the experimental observations deviated from the model predictions. On the basis of the calibration experiments using sucrose particles as well as a comparison between the observations and the predictions of the hard-particle model, the interpretation is made that a semisolid-to-liquid transition occurred at elevated RH. Material softening, increased adhesion, or a combination of the two implied the action of additional modes of energy relaxation that were not included in the hard-particle model. The RH threshold for the semisolid-to-liquid phase transition was 40% RH for isoprene SOM, 70% for toluene SOM, and 70% for α-pinene SOM. A correlation between the rebound fraction and the hygroscopic growth factor G was demonstrated, implying that absorbed water volume was a dominant governing factor of the semisolid-to-liquid transition for the studied classes of SOM. Simple heuristic rules based on G of 1.15 for the semisolid-to-liquid phase transition could be used for prognostication of the SOM phase in modeling applications at 298 K. With respect to atmospheric processes, the findings of this study suggest that both the chemical composition and the RH influence the phase state of organic particles. The findings can explain reports of solid organic particles for terpene-dominant conditions of a boreal forest at low RH compared to reports of liquid organic particles for isoprene-dominant tropical forests at high RH.