Comparison of different characterization methods for nanoparticle dispersions before and after aerosolization
A well-known and accepted aerosol measurement technique, the scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), is applied to characterize colloidally dispersed nanoparticles. To achieve a transfer from dispersed particles to aerosolized particles, a newly developed nebulizer (N) is used that, unlike commonly used atomizers, produces significantly smaller droplets and therefore reduces the problem of the formation of residual particles. The capabilities of this new instrument combination (N + SMPS) for the analysis of dispersions were investigated, using three different dispersions, i.e. gold–PVP nanoparticles (∼20 nm), silver–PVP nanoparticles (∼70 nm) and their 1 : 1 (m : m) mixture. The results are compared to scanning electron microscopy (SEM) measurements and two frequently applied techniques for characterizing colloidal systems: Dynamic light scattering (DLS) and analytical disc centrifugation (ADC). The differences, advantages and disadvantages of each method are discussed, especially with respect to the size resolution of the techniques and their ability to distinguish the particle sizes of the mixed dispersion. While DLS is, as expected, unable to resolve the binary dispersion, SEM, ADC and SMPS are able to give quantitative information on the two particle sizes. However, while the high-resolving ADC is limited due to the dependency on a predefined density of the investigated system, the transfer of dispersed particles into an aerosol and subsequent analysis with SMPS are an adequate way to characterize binary systems, independent of the density of concerned particles, but matching the high resolution of the ADC. We show that it is possible to use the well-established aerosol measurement technique (N + SMPS) in colloid science with all its advantages concerning size resolution and accuracy.