Oligomer Formation in Evaporating Aqueous Glyoxal and Methyl Glyoxal Solutions

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Glyoxal and methyl glyoxal are common secondary atmospheric pollutants, formed from aromatic and terpene precursors. Both compounds are extremely water-soluble due to dihydrate formation and partition into cloudwater. In this work, FTIR-ATR and mass measurements indicate that both compounds remain primarily in the condensed phase due to oligomer formation when aqueous solution droplets are evaporated, regardless of concentration (≥1 mM) or, for glyoxal, droplet evaporation rate. FTIR spectral analyses suggest that oligomer formation is triggered by conversion from dihydrate to monohydrate forms, which are still nonvolatile but contain reactive carbonyl groups. Methyl glyoxal hemiacetal formation is observed by changes in the C−O/CO stretch peak area ratio. The formation of glyoxal oligomers is detected by a dramatic shift of the C−O stretching peak toward low frequencies. Glyoxal oligomer peaks at 1070 cm-1, 950 cm-1, and 980 cm-1 are assigned to free C−OH stretch, dioxolane-linked C−OC asymmetric stretch, and tentatively to non-dioxolane-linked C−OC stretches, respectively. Acids have little effect on glyoxal oligomer formation; however, base interrupts oligomer formation by catalyzing glyoxal hydration and disproportionation to glycolic acid. Since glyoxal and methyl glyoxal are commonly found in cloudwater and are expected to remain largely in the aerosol phase when cloud droplets evaporate, this process may be a source of secondary organic aerosol by cloud processing.