Resolving detailed molecular structures in complex organic mixtures and modeling their secondary organic aerosol formation

Kevin A.S. Goodman-Rendall, Yang R. Zhuang, Aviv Amirav, Arthur W.H. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Characterization of unresolved complex mixtures (UCMs) remains an ongoing challenge towards developing detailed and accurate inputs for modeling secondary organic aerosol (SOA) formation. Traditional techniques based on gas chromatography/electron impact-mass spectrometry induce excessive fragmentation, making it difficult to speciate and quantify isomers precisely. The goal of this study is to identify individual organic isomers by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with supersonic molecular beam (SMB-GC/MS, also known as GC/MS with Cold EI) and to incorporate speciated isomers into an SOA model that accounts for the specific structures elucidated. Two samples containing atmospherically relevant UCMs are analyzed. The relative isomer distributions exhibit remarkably consistent trends across a wide range of carbon numbers. Constitutional isomers of different alkanes are speciated and individually quantified as linear, branched - for the first time by position of branching - multiply branched, or unsaturated - by degree of ring substitution and number of rings. Relative amounts of exact molecular structures are used as input parameters in an SOA box model to study the effects of molecular structures on SOA yields and volatility evolution. Highly substituted cyclic, mono-substituted cyclic, and linear species have the highest SOA yields while branched alkanes formed the least SOA. The rate of functionalization of a representative UCM is found to be in agreement with current volatility basis set (VBS) parameterizations based on detailed knowledge of composition and known oxidation mechanisms, confirming the validity of VBS parameters currently used in air quality models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-285
Number of pages10
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Aerosol formation from complex mixtures
  • Cold EI
  • Kinetic modeling
  • Structural elucidation
  • Supersonic molecular beam


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