Crystal nucleation initiated by transient ion-surface interactions at aerosol interfaces

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Science Advances  19 Jul 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700425
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700425


Particle collisions are a common occurrence in the atmosphere, but no empirical observations exist to fully predict the potential effects of these collisions on air quality and climate projections. The current consensus of heterogeneous crystal nucleation pathways relevant to the atmosphere dictates that collisions with amorphous particles have no effect on the crystallization relative humidity (RH) of aqueous inorganic aerosols because there is no stabilizing ion-surface interaction to facilitate the formation of crystal nuclei. In contrast to this view of heterogeneous nucleation, we report laboratory observations demonstrating that collisions with hydrophobic amorphous organic aerosols induced crystallization of aqueous inorganic microdroplets at high RH, the effect of which was correlated with destabilizing water-mediated ion-specific surface interactions. These same organic aerosols did not induce crystallization once internally mixed in the droplet, pointing toward a previously unconsidered transient ion-specific crystal nucleation pathway that can promote aerosol crystallization via particle collisions.

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