Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2020

Author's School

McKelvey School of Engineering

Author's Department

Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) is ubiquitous in both indoor and outdoor air and is generally detrimental to human health. PM composed of particles with aerodynamic diameters less than 2.5 um (PM2.5) are related to adverse health outcomes including heart disease and respiratory disease. Fundamentally, particle physical properties such as size and hygroscopicity are dictated by chemical composition, which can be highly complex, particularly for organic aerosol (OA). In both outdoor and indoor air, OA is composed substantially of intermediately volatile and semivolatile organic compounds (I/SVOCs), which exist in both gas and particle phases under typical atmospheric conditions. The distribution of these compounds between the two phases can change rapidly depending on conditions like temperature, relative humidity, and concentrations of surrounding particles and gases. The chemical complexity and rapidly-changing dynamics of I/SVOCs in OA necessitates improved instrumentation to speciate complex mixtures of I/SVOCs in both gas and particle phases at fast time scales relative to phase partitioning dynamics.The Thermal desorption Aerosol Gas Chromatograph (TAG), which performs in-situ ambient collection and molecular-level speciation of organics at hourly time resolution, is uniquely suited to meet these challenges. The TAG system has been modified in various ways to collect and analyze different targeted molecules in both the gas and particle phases. In addition to speciated organics, the impactor-based collection and thermal desorption (ICTD) system developed for the original TAG features unique thermal decomposition data, which provides information on thermally labile organic and inorganic fragments. These data have been used in laboratory and field studies to evaluate different species not normally analyzable by gas chromatography. However, the ICTD cell is not suitable for gas-phase quantification.This dissertation addresses two major research themes: laboratory and field measurements to improve understanding of I/SVOCs in indoor and outdoor air, and development of improved I/SVOC measurement techniques. Within the first theme, atmospheric aging of I/SVOCs from biomass burning plumes was characterized in controlled laboratory studies with an oxidation flow reactor using molecular speciation and thermal decomposition data from the ICTD-TAG. I/SVOCs in indoor air were investigated under different natural ventilation (window opening) conditions using the ICTD-TAG in two field studies, and phase partitioning dynamics of indoor-measured I/SVOCs were examined in targeted experiments conducted in the field. Within the second theme, a denuder-based gas trap (GT) was developed and incorporated in parallel into the ICTD-TAG. Following initial GT testing in field studies, the design was modified and characterized through standard calibrations. Simple laboratory studies demonstrate that the GT-ICTD-TAG effectively measures changes in particle-phase fractions.


English (en)


Brent Williams

Committee Members

Pratim Biswas, Rajan Chakrabarty, Nathan Kreisberg, Glenn Morrison,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/3mev-bc90