Atomic Force Microscopy Identifying Fuel Pyrolysis Products and Directing the Synthesis of Analytical Standards

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Here we present a new method that integrates atomic force microscopy (AFM) with analytical tools such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with diode-array ultraviolet-visible (UV) absorbance, and mass spectrometry (MS) along with synthetic chemistry. This allows the detection, identification, and quantification of novel polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in complex molecular mixtures. This multidisciplinary methodology is employed to characterize the supercritical pyrolysis products of n-decane, a model fuel. The pyrolysis experiments result in a complex mixture of both unsubstituted as well as highly methylated PAH. We demonstrate the AFM-driven discovery of a novel compound, benz[l]indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene, with the chemical structure assignment serving as input for the chemical synthesis of such molecule. The synthesis is verified by AFM, and the synthesized compound is used as a reference standard in analytical measurements, establishing the first-ever unequivocal identification and quantification of this PAH as a fuel product. Moreover, the high-resolution AFM analysis detected several five- to eight-ring PAH, which represents novel fuel pyrolysis and/or combustion products. This work provides a route to develop new analytical standards by symbiotically using AFM, chemical synthesis, and modern analytical tools.