Dimeric accretion products have been observed both in atmospheric aerosol particles and in the gas phase. With their low volatilities, they are key contributors to the formation of new aerosol particles, acting as seeds for more volatile organic vapors to partition onto. Many particle-phase accretion products have been identified as esters. Various gas- and particle-phase formation pathways have been suggested for them, yet evidence remains inconclusive. In contrast, peroxide accretion products have been shown to form via gas-phase peroxy radical (RO2) cross reactions. Here, we show that these reactions can also be a major source of esters and other types of accretion products. We studied α-pinene ozonolysis using state-of-the-art chemical ionization mass spectrometry together with different isotopic labeling approaches and quantum chemical calculations, finding strong evidence for fast radical isomerization before accretion. Specifically, this isomerization seems to happen within the intermediate complex of two alkoxy (RO) radicals, which generally determines the branching of all RO2-RO2 reactions. Accretion products are formed when the radicals in the complex recombine. We found that RO with suitable structures can undergo extremely rapid C-C β scissions before recombination, often resulting in ester products. We also found evidence of this previously overlooked RO2-RO2 reaction pathway forming alkyl accretion products and speculate that some earlier peroxide identifications may in fact be hemiacetals or ethers. Our findings help answer several outstanding questions on the sources of accretion products in organic aerosol and bridge our knowledge of the gas phase formation and particle phase detection of accretion products. As esters are inherently more stable than peroxides, this also impacts their further reactivity in the aerosol.
Publication forum classification
- Publication forum level 3
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry