The use of transmission electron microscopy with scanning mobility particle size spectrometry for an enhanced understanding of the physical characteristics of aerosol particles generated with a flow tube reactor

Emma C. Tackman, Devon N. Higgins, Devan E. Kerecman, Emily Jean E. Ott, Murray V. Johnston, Miriam Arak Freedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Aerosol particles are found throughout the atmosphere with considerable variety in morphological characteristics and chemical composition. Identifying and characterizing these particle attributes is a significant step toward improving our understanding of atmospheric chemistry. Many methods exist for measuring the size and spreading of Aitken mode particles, but there are few studies rigorously comparing the results generated between approaches in this field. Here, we compare two methods for assessing aerosol particles–scanning mobility particle size spectrometry (SMPS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Aitken mode particles consisting of salt seed particles and seed particles coated with α-pinene secondary organic material were produced in a flow tube reactor. The same populations of particles were analyzed using both techniques to facilitate direct comparison. For ammonium sulfate particles impacted onto carbon and Si TEM substrates, diameters increased by +0% to +30% when compared to the suspended electrical mobility diameters, an unexpectedly wide range for a single component system. Coated particles had unpredictable diameter differences, sometimes evaluated at larger and sometimes smaller sizes after impaction when compared to the corresponding SMPS electrical mobility diameter, from −34% to +60%. While all particles were generally round in shape, variation in particle morphology was also observed in coated samples. Between 0% and 98% of particles displayed obvious phase separation suggesting more population-level diversity than expected from these particle generation processes. Characterizing the differences between TEM and SMPS results better elucidates the role of a substrate where present and shows nonequivalence in particle size distributions obtained from different instruments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-295
Number of pages17
JournalAerosol Science and Technology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Pollution

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