Elucidating the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons involved in soot inception

Can Shao*, Qi Wang, Wen Zhang*, Anthony Bennett, Yang Li, Junjun Guo, Hong G. Im, William L. Roberts, Angela Violi, S. Mani Sarathy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are the main precursors to soot particles in combustion systems. A lack of direct experimental evidence has led to controversial theoretical explanations for the transition from gas-phase species to organic soot clusters. This work focuses on sampling infant soot particles from well-defined flames followed by analysis using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry. We found that PAH molecules present in soot particles are all stabilomers. Kinetic Monte Carlo simulations and thermodynamic stability calculations further identify the detected PAHs as peri-condensed and without aliphatic chains. Van der Waals forces can easily link PAHs of such size and shape to form PAH dimers and larger clusters under the specified flame conditions. Our results provide direct experimental evidence that soot inception is initiated by a physical process under typical flame conditions. This work improves our understanding of aerosol particulates, which has implications for their environmental and climate change impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number223
JournalCommunications Chemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, Springer Nature Limited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


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