Nanoscale interfacial gradients formed by the reactive uptake of OH radicals onto viscous aerosol surfaces†
A key but poorly understood chemical process is how gas phase uptake is governed by the relative mobility of molecules at an interface of an atmospheric aerosol. Citric acid (CA), a model system for oxygenated organic aerosol, is used to examine how changes in viscosity, due to changing water content, govern the reactive uptake of gas phase hydroxyl radicals (OH). By comparing the reaction kinetics measured when probing the outer aerosol surface layers with measurements of the bulk particle composition, the effective OH reaction probability is observed to be a complex and non-linear function of the relative humidity (RH). At RH < 50%, the reactive decay of CA is controlled by the viscosity of the particle, where the depletion of CA and the formation of reaction products occurs over a narrow region near the aerosol interface, on the order of 8 nm at 20% RH. At RH = 50% the reaction zone increases to the particle dimensions (i.e. ∼50 nm) and at RH > 50%, the aerosol becomes aqueous and well-mixed on the timescale of the heterogeneous reaction. These results imply that in the atmosphere, the formation and dissipation of interfacial chemical gradients could be significant in viscous and semisolid aerosol and play important roles altering gas-particle partitioning and aging mechanisms (i.e. bulk vs. interface).