Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry & Biochemistry

First Advisor

Jose-Luis Jimenez

Second Advisor

Steven S. Brown

Third Advisor

Eleanor Browne

Fourth Advisor

Paul J. Ziemann

Fifth Advisor

Alma Hodzic


Secondary organic aerosols (SOA) in the atmosphere play an important role in air quality, human health, and climate. However, the sources, formation pathways, and fate of SOA are poorly constrained. In this dissertation, I present development and application of the oxidation flow reactor (OFR) technique for studying SOA formation from OH, O3, and NO3 oxidation of ambient air. With a several-minute residence time and a portable design with no inlet, OFRs are particularly well-suited for this purpose.

I first introduce the OFR concept, and discuss several advances I have made in performing and interpreting OFR experiments. This includes estimating oxidant exposures, modeling the fate of low-volatility gases in the OFR (wall loss, condensation, and oxidation), and comparing SOA yields of single precursors in the OFR with yields measured in environmental chambers. When these experimental details are carefully considered, SOA formation in an OFR can be more reliably compared with ambient SOA formation processes.

I then present an overview of what OFR measurements have taught us about SOA formation in the atmosphere. I provide a comparison of SOA formation from OH, O3, and NO3 oxidation of ambient air in a wide variety of environments, from rural forests to urban air. In a rural forest, the SOA formation correlated with biogenic precursors (e.g., monoterpenes). In urban air, it correlated instead with reactive anthropogenic tracers (e.g., trimethylbenzene). In mixed-source regions, the SOA formation did not correlate well with any single precursor, but could be predicted by multilinear regression from several precursors. Despite these correlations, the concentrations of speciated ambient VOCs could only explain approximately 10-50% of the total SOA formed from OH oxidation. In contrast, ambient VOCs could explain all of the SOA formation observed from O3 and NO3 oxidation. Evidence suggests that lower-volatility gases (semivolatile and intermediate-volatility organic compounds; S/IVOCs) were present in ambient air and were the likely source of SOA formation that could not be explained by VOCs. These measurements show that S/IVOCs likely play an important intermediary role in ambient SOA formation in all of the sampled locations, from rural forests to urban air.