Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2017

Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department

Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Aerosol science and technology enable continual advances in material synthesis and atmospheric pollutant control. Among these advances, one important frontier is characterizing the initial stages of particle formation by real time measurement of particles below 2 nm in size. Sub 2 nm particles play important roles by acting as seeds for particle growth, ultimately determining the final properties of the generated particles. Tailoring nanoparticle properties requires a thorough understanding and precise control of the particle formation processes, which in turn requires characterizing nanoparticle formation from the initial stages. The knowledge on particle formation in early stages can also be applied in quantum dot synthesis and material doping. This dissertation pursued two approaches in investigating incipient particle characterization in systems with aerosol formation and growth: (1) using a high-resolution differential mobility analyzer (DMA) to measure the size distributions of sub 2 nm particles generated from high-temperature aerosol reactors, and (2) analyzing the physical and chemical pathways of aerosol formation during combustion.

Part. 1. Particle size distributions reveal important information about particle formation dynamics. DMAs are widely utilized to measure particle size distributions. However, our knowledge of the initial stages of particle formation is incomplete, due to the Brownian broadening effects in conventional DMAs. The first part of this dissertation studied the applicability of high-resolution DMAs in characterizing sub 2 nm particles generated from high-temperature aerosol reactors, including a flame aerosol reactor (FLAR) and a furnace aerosol reactor (FUAR). Comparison against a conventional DMA (Nano DMA, Model 3085, TSI Inc.) demonstrated that the increased sheath flow rates and shortened residence time indeed greatly suppressed the diffusion broadening effect in a high-resolution DMA (half mini type). The incipient particle size distributions were discrete, suggesting the formation of stable clusters that may be intermediate phases between initial chemical reactions and downstream particle growth. The evolution of incipient cluster size distributions further provided information on the gaseous precursor reaction kinetics, which matched well with the data obtained through other techniques.

Part 2. The size distributions and their evolution measured by the DMAs help explain the physical pathways of aerosol formation. The chemical analysis of the incipient particles is an important counterpart to the existing characterization method. The chemical compositions of charged species were measured online with an atmospheric pressure interface time-of-flight mass spectrometer (APi-TOF). The tandem arrangement of the high-resolution DMA and the APi-TOF realized the simultaneous measurement of the mobility and the mass of combustion-generated natively charged particles, which enabled their chemical and physical formation pathways to be derived. The results showed that the initial stages of particle formation were strongly influenced by chemically ionized species during combustion, and that incipient particles composed of pure oxides did not exist. The effective densities of the incipient particles were much lower than those of bulk materials, due to their amorphous structures and different chemical compositions. Measuring incipient particles with high-resolution DMAs is limited because a DMA classifies charged particles only, while the charging characteristics of sub 2 nm particles are not well understood. The charge fraction of combustion-generated incipient particles was measured by coupling a charged particle remover and a condensation particle counter. A high charge fraction was observed, confirming the strong interaction among chemically ionized species and formed particles. The combustion system was modeled by using a unimodal aerosol dynamics model combined with Fuchs__ charging theory, and showed that the charging process indeed affected particle formation dynamics during combustion.


English (en)


Pratim Biswas

Committee Members

Richard Axelbaum, Rajan Chakrabarty, Brent Williams, Michel Attoui,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K7BV7F1F