Current Projects:

1 – “Probing the Surfaces of Atmospheric Organic Particles and the Implications for Climate Change, Air Quality, Visibility and Bioavailabilty”

Atmospheric organic particles are rarely uniform in composition.  That is, the molecules that initiated the formation of the particle may have different functional groups and volatilities from those on its surface.  This composition difference can arise for a variety of reasons:  their phase, which affects mixing and condensed-phase chemistry; their growth from gas-phase partitioning into the particles; their uptake and loss of water as they move through the atmosphere; and the atmospheric chemistry and photochemistry that continues to occur at their surfaces as they age.

The goal of this research is to examine the surface layers of well-defined model particle systems in the laboratory using a variety of analytical techniques and determine how this surface differs from the particle core.  Comparison of the surface composition with the bulk or average composition will provide insights on how organic particles reduce visibility, how efficiently they lead to cloud formation, and how they interact with biological systems.

DART-MS source


“New insights into atmospherically relevant reaction systems using direct analysis in real time-mass spectrometry (DART-MS)”, Y. Zhao et al., AMTD (2016) link





EESI-MS Source


“Analysis of secondary organic aerosols in air using extractive electrospray ionization mass spectrometry”, L. Doezema et al., RSC Adv. (2012) link




2 – “Developing the Molecular Underpinning for Mechanisms of Growth of Secondary Organic Aerosol (SOA) Particles in Air”

This project seeks to investigate the mechanism behind particle growth via reactions between compounds commonly found in the atmosphere.  One reaction system is that between amines and dicarboxylic acids (diacids).  The reaction is examined using a Knudsen cell coupled to a quadrupole mass spectrometer.  The gas phase amine reacts with the solid diacid and from there, an uptake coefficient can be estimated.  Experiments show an interesting odd-even carbon effect towards their reaction with amines, with odd carbon diacids exhibiting larger uptake coefficients.  The reason for this is the formation of an ionic liquid layer resulting from the amine reacting with the odd carbon diacids, which was confirmed from laboratory synthesized 1:1 or 1:2 mixtures of the diacid:amines solutions.

Knudsen cell


“Kinetics, mechanisms and ionic liquids in the uptake of n-butylamine onto low molecular weight dicarboxylic acids”, M. Fairhurst et al., PCCP (2017) link




Another project focuses on the growth mechanism of secondary organic aerosol particles formed from the ozonolysis of alkenes (i.e. trans-3-hexene), terpenes (C10H16) and sesquiterpenes (C15H24) using our aerosol flow reactors. Information from the size-dependent chemical composition of the produced particles either collected onto filters and analyzed by ESI-MS, or measured in real-time by DART-MS provide insights into the identity of species responsible for the growth versus the nucleation of those particles. Additionally, the phase state of SOA particles, which will govern the mechanism by which they will grow in the atmosphere, is examined following the evaporation by ATR-FTIR of a spectroscopically unique chemical tracer incorporated during ozonolysis.

ESI-MS spectra from a-cedrene/O3 SOA


“Phase, composition, and growth mechanism for secondary organic aerosol from the ozonolysis of α-cedrene”, Y. Zhao et al., ACP (2016) link


3 – “Probing Mechanisms of New Particle Formation and Growth:  A Combined Experimental, Theoretical and Modeling Approach”

Using custom flow reactors we study the reaction of atmospherically relevant gases and how they lead to the formation of new particles. One system that we are currently studying involves the reaction between methane sulfonic acid (MSA) + amines + water and the influence of additional species (oxalic acid, NH3, etc.).


The role of oxalic acid in new particle formation from methanesulfonic acid, methylamine, and water, K. D. Arquero et al., EST (2017) link



“Proton transfer in mixed clusters of methanesulfonic acid, amines, and oxalic acid: Implications for Atmospheric particles formation”, J. Xu et al., J. Phys. Chem. A (2017) link




4 – “SusCHEM:  Atmospheric Fates of Neonicotinoids and Their Role in Food Security and Agricultural Sustainability”

Neonicotinoid are a relatively new class of pesticides and represent one-third of the total world insecticide markets. They have been proposed to be at least in part responsible for bee colony collapse syndrome, and as a result restrictions are in place in Europe on some of these compounds (imidacloprid for example). While there some some understanding of their chemistry and photochemistry in aqueous solutions, relatively little is known about their reactions on solid substrates such as seeds. Neonicotinoids fall into three classes, including nitroguanidines (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin, dinotefuran), cyanamidines (thiacloprid, acetamiprid) and nitromethylenes (nitenpyram). This project seeks to study the photochemistry of these compounds on solid substrates using attenuated total reflectance FTIR, DART-MS and ESI-MS.


“Photochemistry of thin solid films of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on surfaces”, K. Z. Aregahegn et al., EST (2017) link