Spatially resolved chemical imaging of individual atmospheric particles using nanoscale imaging mass spectrometry: insight into particle origin and chemistry
Knowledge of the spatially resolved composition of atmospheric particles is essential for differentiating between their surface versus bulk chemistry and understanding particle reactivity and the potential environmental impact. We demonstrate the application of nanometer-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (CAMECA NanoSIMS 50 ion probe) for 3D chemical imaging of individual atmospheric particles without any sample pre-treatment, such as sectioning of particles. Use of NanoSIMS depth profile analysis enables elemental mapping of particles with nanometer spatial resolution over a broad range of particle sizes. We have used this technique to probe the spatially resolved composition of ambient particles collected during a field campaign in Mexico City. Particles collected during this campaign have been extensively characterized in the past using other particle analysis techniques and hence offer a unique opportunity for exploring the utility of depth-resolved chemical imaging in ambient particle research. Particles examined in this study include those collected during a pollution episode related to urban waste incineration as well as background particles from the same location before the episode. Particles from the pollution episode show substantial intra-particle compositional variability typical of particles resulting from multiple emission sources. In contrast, the background particles have relatively homogeneous compositions with enhanced presence of nitrogen, oxygen, and chlorine at the particle surface. The observed surface enhancement of nitrogen and oxygen species is consistent with the presence of surface nitrates resulting from gas–particle heterogeneous interactions and is indicative of atmospheric ageing of the particles. The results presented here illustrate 3D characterization of ambient particles for insight into their chemical history.