Guanidine: A Highly Efficient Stabilizer in Atmospheric New-Particle Formation

The role of a strong organobase, guanidine, in sulfuric acid-driven new-particle formation is studied using state-of-the-art quantum chemical methods and molecular cluster formation simulations. Cluster formation mechanisms at the molecular level are resolved, and theoretical results on cluster stability are confirmed with mass spectrometer measurements. New-particle formation from guanidine and sulfuric acid molecules occurs without thermodynamic barriers under studied conditions, and clusters are growing close to a 1:1 composition of acid and base. Evaporation rates of the most stable clusters are extremely low, which can be explained by the proton transfers and symmetrical cluster structures. We compare the ability of guanidine and dimethylamine to enhance sulfuric acid-driven particle formation and show that more than 2000-fold concentration of dimethylamine is needed to yield as efficient particle formation as in the case of guanidine. At similar conditions, guanidine yields 8 orders of magnitude higher particle formation rates compared to dimethylamine. Highly basic compounds such as guanidine may explain experimentally observed particle formation events at low precursor vapor concentrations, whereas less basic and more abundant bases such as ammonia and amines are likely to explain measurements at high concentrations.