Thomas C. Preston, James F. Davies and Kevin R. Wilson
A new method for measuring diffusion in the condensed phase of single aerosol particles is proposed and demonstrated. The technique is based on the frequency-dependent response of a binary particle to oscillations in the vapour phase of one of its chemical components. We discuss how this physical situation allows for what would typically be a non-linear boundary value problem to be approximately reduced to a linear boundary value problem. For the case of aqueous aerosol particles, we investigate the accuracy of the closed-form analytical solution to this linear problem through a comparison with the numerical solution of the full problem. Then, using experimentally measured whispering gallery modes to track the frequency-dependent response of aqueous particles to relative humidity oscillations, we determine diffusion coefficients as a function of water activity. The measured diffusion coefficients are compared to previously reported values found using the two common experiments: (i) the analysis of the sorption/desorption of water from a particle after a step-wise change to the surrounding relative humidity and (ii) the isotopic exchange of water between a particle and the vapour phase. The technique presented here has two main strengths: first, when compared to the sorption/desorption experiment, it does not require the numerical evaluation of a boundary value problem during the fitting process as a closed-form expression is available. Second, when compared to the isotope exchange experiment, it does not require the use of labeled molecules. Therefore, the frequency-dependent experiment retains the advantages of these two commonly used methods but does not suffer from their drawbacks.