In 2012 air pollutants were responsible of seven million human death worldwide, and among them particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less (PM 2.5) are the most hazardous because they are small enough to invade even the smallest airways and penetrate to the lungs. During the last decade the size, shape, composition, sources and effect of these particles on human health have been studied. However, the noxiousness of these particles not only relies on their chemical toxicity, but particle morphology and mechanical properties affect their thermodynamic behavior, which has notable impact on their biological activity. Therefore, correlating the physical, mechanical and chemical properties of PM 2.5 airborne pollutants should be the first step to characterize their interaction with other bodies but, unfortunately, such analysis has never been reported before. In this work, we present the first nanomechanical characterization of the most abundant and universal groups of PM 2.5 airborne pollutants and, by means of atomic force microscope (AFM) combined with other characterization tools, we observe that fluffy soot aggregates are the most sticky and unstable. Our experiments demonstrate that such particles show strong adhesiveness and aggregation, leading to a more diverse composition and compiling all possible toxic chemicals.
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