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Nat Commun. 2016 May 20;7:11594. doi: 10.1038/ncomms11594.

The effect of acid-base clustering and ions on the growth of atmospheric nano-particles.

Author information

Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, PO Box 64, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
Laboratory of Atmospheric Chemistry, Paul Scherrer Institute, 5232 Villigen, Switzerland.
Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, Goethe-University of Frankfurt, Altenhöferallee 1, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
CERN, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland.
Helsinki Institute of Physics, University of Helsinki, PO Box 64, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Applied Physics, University of Eastern Finland, PO Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland.
Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry (ACES) &Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden.
SIM, University of Lisbon and University of Beira Interior, 1749-016 Lisbon, Portugal.
Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland.
Institute for Ion Physics and Applied Physics, Technikerstraße 25, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, 1200 E. California Boulevard Pasadena, California 91125, USA.
School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.
Finnish Meteorological Institute, Atmospheric Research Centre of Eastern Finland, PO Box 1627, 70211 Kuopio, Finland.
Ionicon Analytik GmbH, Eduard-Bodem-Gasse 3, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
University of Vienna, Faculty of Physics, Boltzmanngasse 5, 1090 Vienna, Austria.
Finnish Meteorological Institute, PO Box 501, 00101 Helsinki, Finland.
Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, California, 92697 USA.
Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research, Permoserstrasse 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.
Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, Carnegie Mellon University, Doherty Hall 2116, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA.
Aerodyne Research Inc., Billerica, Massachusetts 01821-3976, USA.


The growth of freshly formed aerosol particles can be the bottleneck in their survival to cloud condensation nuclei. It is therefore crucial to understand how particles grow in the atmosphere. Insufficient experimental data has impeded a profound understanding of nano-particle growth under atmospheric conditions. Here we study nano-particle growth in the CLOUD (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoors Droplets) chamber, starting from the formation of molecular clusters. We present measured growth rates at sub-3 nm sizes with different atmospherically relevant concentrations of sulphuric acid, water, ammonia and dimethylamine. We find that atmospheric ions and small acid-base clusters, which are not generally accounted for in the measurement of sulphuric acid vapour, can participate in the growth process, leading to enhanced growth rates. The availability of compounds capable of stabilizing sulphuric acid clusters governs the magnitude of these effects and thus the exact growth mechanism. We bring these observations into a coherent framework and discuss their significance in the atmosphere.

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