Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Mark A. Young

Second Advisor

Vicki H. Grassian

First Committee Member

Paul D. Kleiber

Second Committee Member

Alexei V. Tivanski

Third Committee Member

Scott K. Shaw


A great deal of attention has been paid to brown carbon aerosol in the troposphere because it can both scatter and absorb solar radiation, thus affecting the Earth’s climate. However, knowledge of the optical and chemical properties of brown carbon aerosol is still limited. In this thesis, we have investigated different aspects of the optical and physicochemical properties of various brown carbon aerosol samples of potential atmospheric importance.

First, reactions involving the di-carbonyl species methylglyoxal (MG) have been previously suggested as an important pathway for the production of secondary organic aerosol (SOA) in the atmosphere. Reaction in an aqueous inorganic salt solution, such as ammonium sulfate (AS), leads to the formation of light-absorbing brown carbon (BrC) product. In this thesis work, we employed a variety of experimental approaches to investigate the optical and physicochemical properties of BrC aerosol generated from this AS-MG reaction (BrC (AS/MG)). Optical properties of the dried BrC (AS/MG) aerosol particles were studied by Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) extinction spectroscopy in the mid-infrared region, cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) at 403 nm in the visible, and by measuring the light scattering phase function and polarization profiles at two different visible wavelengths, 532 and 402 nm. In addition, we used UV−vis spectroscopy to measure the mass absorption coefficient (MAC) of the solution-phase reaction products. The different optical properties were measured as a function of reaction time for a period of up to 22 days. The UV-vis absorption spectra showed a clear increase in measured MAC in the visible and near UV as the solution aged. However, analysis of the light scattering data showed no significant differences between AS and BrC aerosol in the derived refractive indices at either 532 or 402 nm, even for the longest reaction times. The FTIR extinction spectra was modeled in a Mie theory simulation to derive the complex refractive index in the mid-IR range (7000-800 cm−1); the results showed no significant changes in either the real or the imaginary parts of the refractive indices for BrC (AS/MG) aerosol particles when compared to unreacted AS aerosol. From the CRDS extinction data, the optical constants for BrC (AS/MG) particles at 403 nm were also determined through a Mie theory based analysis. The retrieved real index of refraction at 403 nm is n = 1.551 ± 0.005, with an imaginary index value of k = 0.000 ± 0.002; these values do not appear to change significantly with aging time over the course of 22 days and are not markedly different from the AS aerosol values. The small imaginary index value suggests that BrC (AS/MG) aerosol formed from this pathway may not significantly contribute to warming. In addition, CRDS measurements of the BrC (AS/MG) aerosol extinction at 403 nm as a function of particle size show a significant deviation from Mie theory simulations for particles with diameters of ≳500 nm, probably as a result of non-spherical particle shape effects. We also employed atomic force microscopy (AFM)-based IR spectroscopy to investigate the morphology and chemical composition of single SOA particles. AFM analysis of the particle morphology shows that a significant fraction of BrC (AS/MG) particles with diameters of ≳500 nm are non-spherical in shape, consistent with our observed breakdown in the applicability of Mie theory for larger particles. In addition to these measurements, we have characterized additional physicochemical properties of the BrC (AS/MG) aerosol particles including hygroscopic growth using a tandem-differential mobility analyzer. Compared to AS, BrC aerosol particles are found to have lower deliquescence relative humidity (DRH), efflorescence relative humidity (ERH), and hygroscopic growth at the same relative humidity values.

Second, we investigated the optical properties of the water soluble products of limonene BrC generated from ozonolysis of d-limonene with further aging by AS. Optical constants for the dried limonene BrC aerosol product were measured at 403 nm by CRDS over the course of 9 days of aging. While the fresh limonene BrC aerosol showed a significant non-zero absorption index, the aged samples showed absorption index values consistent with zero. This result was somewhat unexpected because UV-vis absorption spectra of the bulk reaction solution showed a continued increase in absorption as the solution aged. One possible explanation for this result is that there could be an increase in the fraction of volatile chromophores as the solution ages, that are then removed in the aerosol drying process.

Third, we investigated optical properties and chemical compositions of several humic substance (HS) reference samples including humic acid (HA) and fulvic acid (FA) standards by CRDS, UV-vis spectroscopy, elemental analysis, and 13C NMR spectroscopy. Measurements of the optical properties of HS is important in atmospheric science, because it is thought that HS samples have similar optical properties to organic materials, such as HUmic-Like Substances (HULIS), that exist in clouds, fogs, rainwater, and atmospheric aerosol. The humic acid aerosol samples generally showed higher absorption index values than the fulvic acid aerosol samples. We also found a correlation between the absorption index and chemical composition, with the value for k generally increasing with both increasing carbon-to-oxygen atomic ratio and sample aromaticity. In addition, we compared our measured optical constants for the HS aerosol samples with results from previous studies of field collected HULIS. The absorption index values for the fulvic acid aerosol samples give a better match than the humic acid samples when compared to the results from the field collected samples.

Overall, these studies provide new details of the optical and physicochemical properties of a class of brown carbon organic aerosol which may have important implications for atmospheric chemistry and climate.


atmospheric aerosol, atmospheric chemistry, brown carbon, cavity ring-down spectroscopy, optical constants, refractive index


xviii, 171 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 154-171).


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Copyright © 2018 Deokhyeon Kwon

Available for download on Saturday, August 31, 2019

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