Articles | Volume 7, issue 7
Research article
18 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 18 Jul 2014

Characterisation of organic contaminants in the CLOUD chamber at CERN

R. Schnitzhofer, A. Metzger, M. Breitenlechner, W. Jud, M. Heinritzi, L.-P. De Menezes, J. Duplissy, R. Guida, S. Haider, J. Kirkby, S. Mathot, P. Minginette, A. Onnela, H. Walther, A. Wasem, A. Hansel, and the CLOUD Team

Abstract. The CLOUD experiment (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) investigates the nucleation of new particles and how this process is influenced by galactic cosmic rays in an electropolished, stainless-steel environmental chamber at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). Since volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can act as precursor gases for nucleation and growth of particles, great efforts have been made to keep their unwanted background levels as low as possible and to quantify them. In order to be able to measure a great set of VOCs simultaneously in the low parts per trillion (pptv) range, proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) was used. Initially the total VOC background concentration strongly correlated with ozone in the chamber and ranged from 0.1 to 7 parts per billion (ppbv). Plastic used as sealing material in the ozone generator was found to be a major VOC source. Especially oxygen-containing VOCs were generated together with ozone. These parts were replaced by stainless steel after CLOUD3, which strongly reduced the total VOC background. An additional ozone-induced VOC source is surface-assisted reactions at the electropolished stainless steel walls. The change in relative humidity (RH) from very dry to humid conditions increases background VOCs released from the chamber walls. This effect is especially pronounced when the RH is increased for the first time in a campaign. Also the dead volume of inlet tubes for trace gases that were not continuously flushed was found to be a short but strong VOC contamination source. For lower ozone levels (below 100 ppbv) the total VOC contamination was usually below 1 ppbv and therewith considerably cleaner than a comparable Teflon chamber. On average about 75% of the total VOCs come from only five exact masses (tentatively assigned as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetone, formic acid, and acetic acid), which have a rather high vapour pressure and are therefore not important for nucleation and growth of particles.