Towards the identification of molecular constituents associated with the surfaces of isoprene-derived secondary organic aerosol (SOA) particles
Secondary organic aerosol (SOA) particle formation ranks among the least understood chemical processes in the atmosphere, rooted in part in the lack of knowledge about chemical composition and structure at the particle surface, and little availability of reference compounds needed for benchmarking and chemical identification in pure and homogenous form. Here, we synthesize and characterize SOA particle constituents consisting of the isoprene oxidation products α-, δ-, and cis- and trans-β-IEPOX (isoprene epoxide), as well as syn- and anti-2-methyltetraol. Paying particular attention to their phase state (condensed vs. vapor), we carry out a surface-specific and orientationally selective chemical analysis by vibrational sum frequency generation (SFG) spectroscopy of these compounds in contact with a fused silica window. Comparison to the vibrational SFG spectra of synthetic isoprene-derived SOA particle material prepared at the Harvard Environmental Chamber yields a plausible match with trans-β-IEPOX, suggesting it is an abundant species on their surfaces, while the other species studied here, if present, appear to be SFG inactive and thus likely to be localized in a centrosymmetric environment, e.g., the particle bulk. No match is found for authentic SOA particle material collected at the site of the Amazonian Aerosol Characterization Experiment (AMAZE-08) with the surface SFG spectra of the compounds surveyed here, yet we cannot rule out this mismatch being attributable to differences in molecular orientation. The implications of our findings for SOA formation are discussed in the context of condensational particle growth and reactivity.