Probing the micro-rheological properties of aerosol particles using optical tweezers

Rory M. Power, Jonathan P. Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


The use of optical trapping techniques to manipulate probe particles for performing micro-rheological measurements on a surrounding fluid is well-established. Here, we review recent advances made in the use of optical trapping to probe the rheological properties of trapped particles themselves. In particular, we review observations of the continuous transition from liquid to solid-like viscosity of sub-picolitre supersaturated solution aerosol droplets using optical trapping techniques. Direct measurements of the viscosity of the particle bulk are derived from the damped oscillations in shape following coalescence of two particles, a consequence of the interplay between viscous and surface forces and the capillary driven relaxation of the approximately spheroidal composite particle. Holographic optical tweezers provide a facile method for the manipulation of arrays of particles allowing coalescence to be controllably induced between two micron-sized aerosol particles. The optical forces, while sufficiently strong to confine the composite particle, are several orders of magnitude weaker than the capillary forces driving relaxation. Light, elastically back-scattered by the particle, is recorded with sub-100ns resolution allowing measurements of fast relaxation (low viscosity) dynamics, while the brightfield image can be used to monitor the shape relaxation extending to times in excess of 1000s. For the slowest relaxation dynamics studied (particles with the highest viscosity) the presence and line shape of whispering gallery modes in the cavity enhanced Raman spectrum can be used to infer the relaxation time while serving the dual purpose of allowing the droplet size and refractive index to be measured with accuracies of ±0.025% and ±0.1%, respectively. The time constant for the damped relaxation can be used to infer the bulk viscosity, spanning from the dilute solution limit to a value approaching that of a glass, typically considered to be >10 12Pas, whilst the frequencies of the normal modes of the oscillations of the particle can be used to infer surface properties. We will review the use of optical tweezers for studying the viscosity of aerosol particles and discuss the potential use of this micro-rheological tool for probing the fundamental concepts of phase, thermodynamic equilibrium and metastability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number074601
JournalReports on progress in Physics
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014


  • aerosol
  • coalescence
  • optical tweezers
  • surface tension
  • viscosity


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