The atmosphere contains a large variety of particles in suspension (aerosols) that differ in chemical composition as well as in size distribution depending on the region of the atmosphere, the meteorological conditions and the anthropogenic activity. Their dimensions range from a few nanometers to tens of micrometers and their atmospheric life time can be as long as several weeks so that they can impact the global as well as the regional climates.The knowledge of the chemical composition of aerosols is of great importance due to their potential adverse effects on the environment and human health. For instance, despite the strong decrease in industrial emission of metallic particles, lead-enriched aerosol particles are still emitted so that fallout represents the main source of lead pollution in soils. Routes of exposure for humans occur either by inhalation or through consumption of contaminated foods. The physico-chemical composition of aerosols must be known at the level of the single particle to assess impact. Due to the small size of typical aerosol particles, the challenge is physico-chemical characterization of aerosols at the micron scale.
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