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Molecular self-organization in surfactant atmospheric aerosol proxies

Milsom, A. ORCID:, Squires, A. M. ORCID:, Ward, A. D. ORCID: and Pfrang, C. ORCID: (2023) Molecular self-organization in surfactant atmospheric aerosol proxies. Accounts of Chemical Research, 56 (19). pp. 2555-2568. ISSN 1520-4898

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1021/acs.accounts.3c00194


Aerosols are ubiquitous in the atmosphere. Outdoors, they take part in the climate system via cloud droplet formation, and they contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution, impacting human health and man-made environmental change. In the indoor environment, aerosols are formed by common activities such as cooking and cleaning. People can spend up to ca. 90% of their time indoors, especially in the western world. Therefore, there is a need to understand how indoor aerosols are processed in addition to outdoor aerosols. Surfactants make significant contributions to aerosol emissions, with sources ranging from cooking to sea spray. These molecules alter the cloud droplet formation potential by changing the surface tension of aqueous droplets and thus increasing their ability to grow. They can also coat solid surfaces such as windows (“window grime”) and dust particles. Such surface films are more important indoors due to the higher surface-to-volume ratio compared to the outdoor environment, increasing the likelihood of surface film–pollutant interactions. A common cooking and marine emission, oleic acid, is known to self-organize into a range of 3-D nanostructures. These nanostructures are highly viscous and as such can impact the kinetics of aerosol and film aging (i.e., water uptake and oxidation). There is still a discrepancy between the longer atmospheric lifetime of oleic acid compared with laboratory experiment-based predictions. We have created a body of experimental and modeling work focusing on the novel proposition of surfactant self-organization in the atmosphere. Self-organized proxies were studied as nanometer-to-micrometer films, levitated droplets, and bulk mixtures. This access to a wide range of geometries and scales has resulted in the following main conclusions: (i) an atmospherically abundant surfactant can self-organize into a range of viscous nanostructures in the presence of other compounds commonly encountered in atmospheric aerosols; (ii) surfactant self-organization significantly reduces the reactivity of the organic phase, increasing the chemical lifetime of these surfactant molecules and other particle constituents; (iii) while self-assembly was found over a wide range of conditions and compositions, the specific, observed nanostructure is highly sensitive to mixture composition; and (iv) a “crust” of product material forms on the surface of reacting particles and films, limiting the diffusion of reactive gases to the particle or film bulk and subsequent reactivity. These findings suggest that hazardous, reactive materials may be protected in aerosol matrixes underneath a highly viscous shell, thus extending the atmospheric residence times of otherwise short-lived species.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy > Department of Chemistry
ID Code:113366
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Medicine, General Chemistry
Publisher:American Chemical Society


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