Distortion of size distributions by condensation and evaporation in aerosol instruments

Pratim Biswas, Carol L. Jones, Richard C. Flagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Aerosols that contain volatile species or condensable vapors may be altered by changes in temperature, pressure, and vapor concentration. When such changes occur within aerosol sampling instruments, the measured size distribution can be distorted significantly. The distortion of particle size distributions in a number of commonly used aerosol instruments, including cascade impactors, both conventional and low pressure instruments, and optical particle counters, is explored both theoretically and experimentally in this paper. Ammonium sulfate aerosols in humid atmospheres have been used to test the instruments. In a low pressure impactor in which the pressure is intentionally reduced to facilitate the collection of small particles, a water containing particle may shrink due to evaporation as the pressure is reduced. However, if the sample flow is also accelerated to high velocities, aerodynamic cooling can lead to condensation of water vapor and particle growth. Either of these competing effects may lead to erroneous estimates of the particle size distribution. Optical particle counters generally use a recirculated sheath airflow. Pumps and electrical dissipation heat this air, leading to a temperature increase that shifts the vapor equilibrium, causing a decrease in particle size due to evaporation. Modifications have been made to avoid this distortion in measured size distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-246
Number of pages16
JournalAerosol Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Pollution


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