Articles | Volume 11, issue 5
Research article
22 May 2018
Research article |  | 22 May 2018

Exploring the applicability and limitations of selected optical scattering instruments for PM mass measurement

Jie Zhang, Joseph P. Marto, and James J. Schwab

Abstract. Two optical scattering instruments for particle mass measurement, the Thermo Personal Data RAM (PDR-1500) and the TSI Environmental DustTrak DRX (Model 8543) were evaluated by (1) using poly- and mono-disperse test aerosol in the laboratory, and (2) sampling ambient aerosol. The responses of these optical scattering instruments to different particle characteristics (size, composition, concentration) were compared with responses from reference instruments. A Mie scattering calculation was used to explain the dependence of the optical instruments' response to aerosol size and composition. Concurrently, the detection efficiency of one Alphasense Optical Particle Counter (OPC-N2) was evaluated in the laboratory as well. The relationship between aerosol mass concentration and optical scattering was determined to be strongly dependent on aerosol size and to a lesser extent on aerosol composition (as reflected in the refractive indices of the materials tested) based on ambient measurements. This confirms that there is no simple way to use optical scattering instruments over a wide range of conditions without adjustments based on knowledge of aerosol size and composition. In particular, a test period measuring ambient aerosol with optical scattering instruments and a mass based method (an Aerodyne Aerosol Mass Spectrometer) determined that roughly two thirds of the variance (R2 = 0.64) of the optical to mass signal ratio is explained by the aerosol mass median diameter alone. These observations and calculations help evaluate the applicability and limitations of these optical scattering instruments, and provide guidance to designing suitable applications for each instrument by considering aerosol sources and aerosol size.

Short summary
The performance of two kinds of optical instruments for aerosol mass measurements was explained by a Mie scattering theory. At the same time, the response of optical instruments for ambient aerosol with different size, chemical composition, and refractive index were also studied. These would help evaluate the applicability and limitations of these optical scattering instruments.