The potential mechanism of atmospheric new particle formation involving amino acids with multiple functional groups†
Amino acids are recognized as significant components of atmospheric aerosols. However, their potential role in atmospheric new particle formation (NPF) is poorly understood, especially aspartic acid (ASP), one of the most abundant amino acids in the atmosphere. It has not only two advantageous carboxylic acid groups but also one amino group, both of which are both effective groups enhancing NPF. Herein, the participation mechanism of ASP in the formation of new particle involving sulfuric acid (SA)–ammonia (A)-based system has been studied using the Density Functional Theory (DFT) combined with the Atmospheric Clusters Dynamic Code (ACDC). The results show that the addition of ASP molecules in the SA–A-based clusters provides a promotion on the interaction between SA and A molecules. Moreover, ACDC simulations indicate that ASP could present an obvious enhancement effect on SA–A-based cluster formation rates. Meanwhile, the enhancement strength R presents a positive dependence on [ASP] and a negative dependence on [SA] and [A]. Besides, the enhancement effect of ASP is compared with that of malonic acid (MOA) with two carboxylic acid groups (Chemosphere, 2018, 203, 26–33), and ASP presents a more obvious enhancement effect than MOA. The mechanism of NPF indicates that ASP could contribute to cluster formation as a “participator” which is different from the “catalytic” role of MOA at 238 K. These new insights are helpful to understand the mechanism of NPF involving organic compounds with multiple functional groups, especially the abundant amino acids, such as the ASP, in the urban/suburban areas with intensive human activities and industrial productions and therefore the abundant sources of amino acids. Furthermore, the NPF of the SA–A-based system involving amino acid should be considered when assessing the environmental risk of amino acid.