Virtual impaction in compressible flows with pressure recovery

Stephanie M Eilts, Tomoya Tamadate, Mckenna E. Relling, Ian A Marabella, Christopher J. Hogan, Bernard A. Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Virtual impactors have been utilized towards classifying and increasing aerosol concentrations in sampling and measurement systems for half a century; in an ideal virtual impactor, sampled particles larger than a critical diameter (known as the cutsize) are directed inertially into a small fraction of the sample flow, known as the minor flow. Concentrating submicrometer particles with virtual impactors while maintaining near-atmospheric pressure downstream in the minor flow remains a challenge, due the low mass-to-drag ratios of these particles. Increased inertial behavior for small mass-to-drag ratio particles can be overcome by increasing flow velocities; however, in most prior work with virtual impaction of submicrometer particles, pressure recovery (keeping the aerosol outlet pressure similar to the inlet pressure) in the receiving tube at high sample flow rates was not investigated. Here, we describe the development and testing of virtual impactors functioning with flow velocities near the sonic limit, capable of submicrometer particle concentration, and with near-complete pressure recovery in the minor flow. We specifically designed, built, and tested two round-nozzle virtual impactors (denoted as VI-1 and VI-2) and evaluated their performances using fluorescent polystyrene latex particles and uranine-doped oleic acid particles with varying particle diameter. The results show that both virtual impactors, operating with 12 L per minute sample flow and a 10:1 sample flow-to-minor flow ratio, have submicrometer cutsizes (∼700 nm and 200 nm for VI-1 and VI-2, respectively) and near-complete pressure recovery. However, significant particle losses were observed in VI-2 with larger particle diameters. To understand such losses and particle trajectories in compressible flow virtual impactors, we also carried out computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations coupled with particle trajectory simulations. Importantly, trajectory calculations incorporated a recently developed drag model capable of predicting particle drag coefficients in a wide Mach number and Knudsen number (and hence Reynolds number) range. Trajectory calculations yielded cutsizes and large particle penetration curves in good agreement with experiments, indicating that large particle losses are due to overfocusing (radial inertial motion leading to deposition) within the nozzle and major flow chamber. Overfocusing always leads to an upper size limit in any virtual impactor system, but it is of greater concern in higher velocity systems. In addition to comparing simulations to measurements sampling at atmospheric pressure, we used trajectory calculations to examine compressible flow virtual impactor performance with variable sampling flow pressure and varying the driving pressure in the major flow. Such simulations reveal that sub-atmospheric pressure sampling leads to a reduced penetration “window” for virtual impaction, such that although it is possible for virtual impactor operation in reduced pressure environments, virtual impactors are applicable to a decreasing range of sizes at low pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106076
JournalJournal of Aerosol Science
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Aerosol Devices Inc, and the Office of Naval Research ( MURI Grant N00014-20-1-2682 ). The codes utilized in particle trajectory calculations are available at: .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


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