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Atmospheric Measurement Techniques An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 23 Oct 2018

Research article | 23 Oct 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Atmospheric Measurement Techniques (AMT).

Ultrasonic Nebulization for the Elemental Analysis of Microgram-Level Samples with Offline Aerosol Mass Spectrometry

Rachel E. O'Brien1, Kelsey J. Ridley2, Manjula R. Canagaratna3, John T. Jayne3, Philip L. Croteau3, Douglas R. Worsnop3, Sri Hapsari Budisulistiorini4,a, Jason D. Surratt4, Christopher L. Follett5, Daniel J. Repeta5, and Jesse H. Kroll2 Rachel E. O'Brien et al.
  • 1Department of Chemistry, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 23185, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  • 3Center for Aerosol and Cloud Chemistry, Aerodyne Research Inc., Billerica, Massachusetts 01821, USA
  • 4Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA
  • 5Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02540, USA
  • anow at: Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 638789, Singapore

Abstract. The elemental composition of organic material in environmental samples – including atmospheric organic aerosol, dissolved organic matter, and other complex mixtures – provides insights into their sources and environmental processing. However, standard analytical techniques for measuring elemental ratios typically require large sample sizes (milligrams of material or more). Here we characterize a method for measuring elemental ratios in environmental samples, requiring only micrograms of material, using a Small Volume Nebulizer (SVN). The technique uses ultrasonic nebulization of samples to generate aerosol particles (100–300nm diameter), which are then analyzed using an aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS). We demonstrate that the technique generates aerosol from complex organic mixtures with minimal changes to the elemental composition of the organic and that quantification is possible using internal standards (e.g., NH415NO3). Sample volumes of 2–4uL with total solution concentrations of at least 0.2–g/L form sufficient particle mass for elemental ratio measurement by the AMS, despite only a small fraction (~0.1%) of the sample forming fine particles while the remainder end up as larger droplets. The method was applied to aerosol filter extracts from the field and laboratory, as well as to dissolved organic matter (DOM) from the North Pacific Ocean. In the case of aerosol particles, the mass spectra and elemental ratios from the SVN-AMS agree with those from online AMS sampling; similarly, for DOM, the elemental ratios determined from the SVN-AMS agree with those determined using combustion analysis. The SVN-AMS provides a platform for the rapid quantitative analysis of the elemental composition of complex organic mixtures and non-refractory inorganic salts from microgram samples with applications that include analysis of aerosol extracts, and terrestrial and atmospheric dissolved organic matter.

Rachel E. O'Brien et al.
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Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
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Rachel E. O'Brien et al.
Rachel E. O'Brien et al.
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Short summary
Analysis of the elemental composition of organic mixtures can provide insights into the sources and aging of environmental samples. Here we describe a method that allows characterization of this type of material using micro-grams of material by a combination of a small volume ultrasonic nebulizer and an aerosol mass spectrometer. This technique enables rapid analysis of complex organic mixtures using approximately an order of magnitude less sample than standard analyses.
Analysis of the elemental composition of organic mixtures can provide insights into the sources...