Jiayu Li, Pratim Biswas

  • Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory, Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA

Received: February 20, 2017
Revised: April 15, 2017
Accepted: April 16, 2017
Download Citation: ||https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2017.02.0085  

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Cite this article:

Li, J. and Biswas, P. (2017). Optical Characterization Studies of a Low-Cost Particle Sensor. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 17: 1691-1704. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2017.02.0085


  • Optical calibration study on low-cost particle sensors.
  • Size distribution and refractive index would influence the calibration factor.
  • A model for mass concentration and number concentration estimation was presented.


Compact low-cost sensors for measuring particulate matter (PM) concentrations are receiving significant attention as they can be used in larger numbers and in a distributed manner. Most low-cost particle sensors work on optical scattering measurements from the aerosol. To ensure accurate and reliable determination of PM mass concentrations, a relationship of the scattering signal to mass concentration should be established. The scattering signal depends on the aerosol size distributions and particle refractive index. A systematic calibration of a low-cost particle sensor (Sharp GP2Y1010AU0F) was carried out by both experimental and computational studies. Sodium chloride, silica, and sucrose aerosols were used as test cases with size distributions measured using a scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS). The mass concentration was estimated using the measured size distribution and density of the particles. Calculations of the scattered light intensity were done using these measured size distributions and known refractive index of the particles. The calculated scattered light intensity showed better linearity with the sensor signal compared to the mass concentration. To obtain a more accurate mass concentration estimation, a model was developed to determine a calibration factor (K). K is not universal for all aerosols, but depends on the size distribution and refractive index. To improve accuracy in estimation of mass concentration, an expression for K as a function of geometric mean diameter, geometric standard deviation, and refractive index is proposed. This approach not only provides a more accurate estimation of PM concentration, but also provides an estimate of the aerosol number concentration.

Keywords: Number concentration; Mass concentration; Sensor calibration; Calibration linearity

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