Observation of neutral sulfuric acid-amine containing clusters in laboratory and ambient measurements

J. Zhao, J. N. Smith, F. L. Eisele, M. Chen, C. Kuang, Peter H McMurry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Recent ab initio calculations showed that amines can enhance atmospheric sulfuric acid-water nucleation more effectively than ammonia, and this prediction has been substantiated in laboratory measurements. Laboratory studies have also shown that amines can effectively displace ammonia in several types of ammonium clusters. However, the roles of amines in cluster formation and growth at a microscopic molecular scale (from molecular sizes up to 2 nm) have not yet been well understood. Processes that must be understood include the incorporation of amines into sulfuric acid clusters and the formation of organic salts in freshly nucleated particles, which contributes significantly to particle growth rates. We report the first laboratory and ambient measurements of neutral sulfuric acid-amine clusters using the Cluster CIMS, a recently-developed mass spectrometer designed for measuring neutral clusters formed in the atmosphere during nucleation. An experimental technique, which we refer to as Semi-Ambient Signal Amplification (SASA), was employed. Sulfuric acid was added to ambient air, and the concentrations and composition of clusters in this mixture were analyzed by the Cluster CIMS. This experimental approach led to significantly higher cluster concentrations than are normally found in ambient air, thereby increasing signal-to-noise levels and allowing us to study reactions between gas phase species in ambient air and sulfuric acid containing clusters. Mass peaks corresponding to clusters containing four H2SO4 molecules and one amine molecule were clearly observed, with the most abundant sulfuric acid-amine clusters being those containing a C2- or C4-amine (i.e. amines with masses of 45 and 73 amu). Evidence for C3- and C5-amines (i.e. amines with masses of 59 and 87 amu) was also found, but their correlation with sulfuric acid tetramer was not as strong as was observed for the C2- and C4-amines. The formation mechanisms for those sulfuric acid-amine clusters were investigated by varying the residence time in the inlet. It was concluded that the amines react directly with neutral clusters and that ion-induced clustering of sulfuric acid cluster ions with amines was not a dominant process. Results from ambient measurements using the Cluster CIMS without addition of sulfuric acid have shown that the sulfuric acid-amine clusters were reasonably well correlated with sulfuric acid tetramer and consistent with the SASA experiments at the same Boulder sampling site. Also, clusters that contain C2- or C4-amines were more abundant and better correlated with sulfuric acid tetramer than other types of amine containing clusters. However, ambient measurements of sulfuric acid-amine clusters remain difficult and highly uncertain because their concentrations are only slightly above background levels, even during nucleation events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10823-10836
Number of pages14
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Observation of neutral sulfuric acid-amine containing clusters in laboratory and ambient measurements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this