Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Research article
26 Jan 2012
Research article |  | 26 Jan 2012

Development and characterization of a single particle laser ablation mass spectrometer (SPLAM) for organic aerosol studies

F. Gaie-Levrel, S. Perrier, E. Perraudin, C. Stoll, N. Grand, and M. Schwell

Abstract. A single particle instrument was developed for real-time analysis of organic aerosol. This instrument, named Single Particle Laser Ablation Mass Spectrometry (SPLAM), samples particles using an aerodynamic lens system for which the theoretical performances were calculated. At the outlet of this system, particle detection and sizing are realized by using two continuous diode lasers operating at λ = 403 nm. Polystyrene Latex (PSL), sodium chloride (NaCl) and dioctylphtalate (DOP) particles were used to characterize and calibrate optical detection of SPLAM. The optical detection limit (DL) and detection efficiency (DE) were determined using size-selected DOP particles. The DE ranges from 0.1 to 90% for 100 and 350 nm DOP particles respectively and the SPLAM instrument is able to detect and size-resolve particles as small as 110–120 nm. During optical detection, particle scattered light from the two diode lasers, is detected by two photomultipliers and the detected signals are used to trigger UV excimer laser (λ = 248 nm) used for one-step laser desorption ionization (LDI) of individual aerosol particles. The formed ions are analyzed by a 1 m linear time-of-flight mass spectrometer in order to access to the chemical composition of individual particles. The TOF-MS detection limit for gaseous aromatic compounds was determined to be 0.85 × 10−15 kg (∼4 × 103 molecules). DOP particles were also used to test the overall operation of the instrument. The analysis of a secondary organic aerosol, formed in a smog chamber by the ozonolysis of indene, is presented as a first application of the instrument. Single particle mass spectra were obtained with an effective hit rate of 8%. Some of these mass spectra were found to be very different from one particle to another possibly reflecting chemical differences within the investigated indene SOA particles. Our study shows that an exhaustive statistical analysis, over hundreds of particles, and adapted reference mass spectra are further needed to understand the chemical meaning of single particle mass spectra of chemically complex submicrometer-sized organic aerosols.