Liquid-liquid phase separation and morphology of internally mixed dicarboxylic acids/ammonium sulfate/water particles
Abstract. Knowledge of the physical state and morphology of internally mixed organic/inorganic aerosol particles is still largely uncertain. To obtain more detailed information on liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS) and morphology of the particles, we investigated complex mixtures of atmospherically relevant dicarboxylic acids containing 5, 6, and 7 carbon atoms (C5, C6 and C7) having oxygen-to-carbon atomic ratios (O:C) of 0.80, 0.67, and 0.57, respectively, mixed with ammonium sulfate (AS). With micrometer-sized particles of C5/AS/H2O, C6/AS/H2O and C7/AS/H2O as model systems deposited on a hydrophobically coated substrate, laboratory experiments were conducted for various organic-to-inorganic dry mass ratios (OIR) using optical microscopy and Raman spectroscopy. When exposed to cycles of relative humidity (RH), each system showed significantly different phase transitions. While the C5/AS/H2O particles showed no LLPS with OIR = 2:1, 1:1 and 1:4 down to 20% RH, the C6/AS/H2O and C7/AS/H2O particles exhibit LLPS upon drying at RH 50 to 85% and ~90%, respectively, via spinodal decomposition, growth of a second phase from the particle surface or nucleation-and-growth mechanisms depending on the OIR. This suggests that LLPS commonly occurs within the range of O:C < 0.7 in tropospheric organic/inorganic aerosols. To support the comparison and interpretation of the experimentally observed phase transitions, thermodynamic equilibrium calculations were performed with the AIOMFAC model. For the C7/AS/H2O and C6/AS/H2O systems, the calculated phase diagrams agree well with the observations while for the C5/AS/H2O system LLPS is predicted by the model at RH below 60% and higher AS concentration, but was not observed in the experiments. Both core-shell structures and partially engulfed structures were observed for the investigated particles, suggesting that such morphologies might also exist in tropospheric aerosols.