The only optical techniques suitable for continuous monitoring of dispersed microcontaminants are single particle methods embodying imaging, light scattering, or light extinction. Ensemble optical techniques (where more than one particle is observed simultaneously and particle size information is measured from bulk scattering characteristics) are unsuitable. The reason that ensemble methods are not applicable to microcontamination measurements is quite simple: In these applications, the probability of more than one particle being present in an illuminated field is vanishingly small. Ensemble methods are applicable to particle products in the form of slurries or suspensions but not to dispersed particle populations observed individually as rare events.
Automated sizing of microcontaminants is most often accomplished using light scattering or extinction. Extinction is enhanced by absorption. For automatic monitoring, an imaging system is useful in defining a particle's position but not an effective sizing tool. Scattering is the removal of light from a beam via reflection, refraction, and diffraction. An extinction process is the inverse of scattering where one monitors the transmitted beam and measures the light lost. Extinction and scattering are equal in the absence of absorption.
It is well known that the amount of scattering or extinction by a particle is a function of its size, refractive index, and the wavelength of light being utilized. Theory also reveals that the refractive index of the medium suspending the particle can be equally important. Since most particle sizing instruments are calibrated via a fixed size versus signal relationship, the response variations with varying media index is a complicating factor increasing the uncertainty of any measurement.
Fundamentally, for homogeneous media the relevant factors determining the amount of extinction or scattering by a small particle are the ratio of the refractive index of the particle to that of the suspending medium and the wavelength of illumination. Historically, the index ratio is referred to as the relative refractive index, but it is more descriptive to adopt the terminology index contrast. Liquids generally have refractive indices between 1.3 and 1.5 which are much closer to that of most solids (potential liquid contaminants) than measurements in air, resulting in much lower index contrasts - even less than unity for some liquid suspended solid contaminants. The interplay of refractive index contrast and particle size analysis in liquids have been explored rigorously with the aid of Mie theory. The study of refractive index influences on extinction measurements can be described.
Download Refractive Index Effects on Particle Size Measurement in Liquid Media by Optical Extinction for discussion on the extinction process, light extinction in homogenous high index media, and a comparison of light scattering and extinction optical methodology.