Droplets can be sampled over a wide range of supersaturations in a short time.

An improved thermal-gradient cloud condensation nucleus spectrometer (CCNS) has been designed to provide several enhancements over prior thermal- gradient counters, including fast response and high-sensitivity detection covering a wide range of supersaturations. CCNSs are used in laboratory research on the relationships among aerosols, supersaturation of air, and the formation of clouds. The operational characteristics of prior counters are such that it takes long times to determine aerosol critical supersaturations. Hence, there is a need for a CCNS capable of rapid scanning through a wide range of supersaturations. The present improved CCNS satisfies this need.

Figure 1. In the Improved Thermal-Gradient CCNS, a gradient supersaturation field is established in the main chamber. The probe is moved along thewidth axis to sample droplets over a range of supersaturations.
The improved thermal-gradient CCNS (see Figure 1) incorporates the following notable features:

  • The main chamber is bounded on the top and bottom by parallel thick copper plates, which are joined by a thermally conductive vertical wall on one side and a thermally nonconductive wall on the opposite side.
  • To establish a temperature gradient needed to establish a supersaturation gradient, water at two different regulated temperatures is pumped through tubes along the edges of the copper plates at the thermally-nonconductive- wall side. Figure 2 presents an example of temperature and supersaturation gradients for one combination of regulated temperatures at the thermally-nonconductive-wall edges of the copper plates.
  • To enable measurement of the temperature gradient, ten thermocouples are cemented to the external surfaces of the copper plates (five on the top plate and five on the bottom plate), spaced at equal intervals along the width axis of the main chamber near the outlet end.
  • Pieces of filter paper or cotton felt are cemented onto the interior surfaces of the copper plates and, prior to each experimental run, are saturated with water to establish a supersaturation field inside the main chamber.
  • alt
    Figure 2. Straight-Line Fits to Temperature Readings of top- and bottom-plate thermocouples wereused to calculate the supersaturation as a function of position along the width axis of the chamber.
    A flow of monodisperse aerosol and a dilution flow of humid air are introduced into the main chamber at the inlet end. The inlet assembly is designed to offer improved (relative to prior such assemblies) laminar-flow performance within the main chamber. Dry aerosols are subjected to activation and growth in the supersaturation field.
  • After aerosol activation, at the outlet end of the main chamber, a polished stainless-steel probe is used to sample droplets into a laser particle counter. The probe features an improved design for efficient sampling. The counter has six channels with size bins in the range of 0.5- to 5.0-μm diameter.
  • To enable efficient sampling, the probe is scanned along the width axis of the main chamber (thereby effecting scanning along the temperature gradient and thereby, further, effecting scanning along the supersaturation gradient) by means of a computer-controlled translation stage.

This work was done by Ming-Taun Leu of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management


Mail Stop 202-233

4800 Oak Grove Drive

Pasadena, CA 91109-8099

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-44761, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

The U.S. Government does not endorse any commercial product, process, or activity identified on this web site.