Articles | Volume 16, issue 21
Research article
03 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 03 Nov 2016

Unexpectedly acidic nanoparticles formed in dimethylamine–ammonia–sulfuric-acid nucleation experiments at CLOUD

Michael J. Lawler, Paul M. Winkler, Jaeseok Kim, Lars Ahlm, Jasmin Tröstl, Arnaud P. Praplan, Siegfried Schobesberger, Andreas Kürten, Jasper Kirkby, Federico Bianchi, Jonathan Duplissy, Armin Hansel, Tuija Jokinen, Helmi Keskinen, Katrianne Lehtipalo, Markus Leiminger, Tuukka Petäjä, Matti Rissanen, Linda Rondo, Mario Simon, Mikko Sipilä, Christina Williamson, Daniela Wimmer, Ilona Riipinen, Annele Virtanen, and James N. Smith

Abstract. New particle formation driven by acid–base chemistry was initiated in the CLOUD chamber at CERN by introducing atmospherically relevant levels of gas-phase sulfuric acid and dimethylamine (DMA). Ammonia was also present in the chamber as a gas-phase contaminant from earlier experiments. The composition of particles with volume median diameters (VMDs) as small as 10 nm was measured by the Thermal Desorption Chemical Ionization Mass Spectrometer (TDCIMS). Particulate ammonium-to-dimethylaminium ratios were higher than the gas-phase ammonia-to-DMA ratios, suggesting preferential uptake of ammonia over DMA for the collected 10–30 nm VMD particles. This behavior is not consistent with present nanoparticle physicochemical models, which predict a higher dimethylaminium fraction when NH3 and DMA are present at similar gas-phase concentrations. Despite the presence in the gas phase of at least 100 times higher base concentrations than sulfuric acid, the recently formed particles always had measured base : acid ratios lower than 1 : 1. The lowest base fractions were found in particles below 15 nm VMD, with a strong size-dependent composition gradient. The reasons for the very acidic composition remain uncertain, but a plausible explanation is that the particles did not reach thermodynamic equilibrium with respect to the bases due to rapid heterogeneous conversion of SO2 to sulfate. These results indicate that sulfuric acid does not require stabilization by ammonium or dimethylaminium as acid–base pairs in particles as small as 10 nm.

Short summary
We present chemical observations of newly formed particles as small as ~ 10 nm from new particle formation experiments using sulfuric acid, dimethylamine, ammonia, and water vapor as gas phase reactants. The nanoparticles were more acidic than expected based on thermodynamic expectations, particularly at the smallest measured sizes. The results suggest rapid surface conversion of SO2 to sulfate and show a marked composition change between 10 and 15 nm, possibly indicating a phase change.
Final-revised paper