Free molecular collision cross section calculation methods for nanoparticles and complex ions with energy accommodation

Carlos Larriba, Christopher J. Hogan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


The structures of nanoparticles, macromolecules, and molecular clusters in gas phase environments are often studied via measurement of collision cross sections. To directly compare structure models to measurements, it is hence necessary to have computational techniques available to calculate the collision cross sections of structural models under conditions matching measurements. However, presently available collision cross section methods contain the underlying assumption that collision between gas molecules and structures are completely elastic (gas molecule translational energy conserving) and specular, while experimental evidence suggests that in the most commonly used background gases for measurements, air and molecular nitrogen, gas molecule reemission is largely inelastic (with exchange of energy between vibrational, rotational, and translational modes) and should be treated as diffuse in computations with fixed structural models. In this work, we describe computational techniques to predict the free molecular collision cross sections for fixed structural models of gas phase entities where inelastic and non-specular gas molecule reemission rules can be invoked, and the long range ion-induced dipole (polarization) potential between gas molecules and a charged entity can be considered. Specifically, two calculation procedures are described detail: a diffuse hard sphere scattering (DHSS) method, in which structures are modeled as hard spheres and collision cross sections are calculated for rectilinear trajectories of gas molecules, and a diffuse trajectory method (DTM), in which the assumption of rectilinear trajectories is relaxed and the ion-induced dipole potential is considered. Collision cross section calculations using the DHSS and DTM methods are performed on spheres, models of quasifractal aggregates of varying fractal dimension, and fullerene like structures. Techniques to accelerate DTM calculations by assessing the contribution of grazing gas molecule collisions (gas molecules with altered trajectories by the potential interaction) without tracking grazing trajectories are further discussed. The presented calculation techniques should enable more accurate collision cross section predictions under experimentally relevant conditions than pre-existing approaches, and should enhance the ability of collision cross section measurement schemes to discern the structures of gas phase entities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-363
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
StatePublished - Oct 15 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSF Grant CHE-1011810 . C.L. also acknowledges support from the Ramon Areces Foundation.


  • Collision cross section
  • Free molecular drag
  • Hard sphere scattering
  • Induced dipole
  • Ion mobility
  • Trajectory method

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