In this work, the charging state of atmospheric nanoparticles was estimated through simultaneous measurements of aerosol size distribution and air ions mobility distribution with the aim to elucidate the formation mechanisms of atmospheric aerosols. The measurements were performed as a part of the QUEST 2 campaign at a boreal forest station in Finland. The overlapping part of the measurement ranges of the particle size spectrometers and air ion mobility spectrometers in the mass diameter interval of 2.6-40 nm was used to assess the percentage of charged particles (charging probability). This parameter was obtained as the slope of the linear regression line on the scatterplot of the measured concentrations of total (neutral+charged) and charged particles for the same diameter interval. Charging probabilities as a function of particle diameter were calculated for different days and were compared with the steady state charging probabilities of the particles in the bipolar ion atmosphere. For the smallest particles detectable by the particle size spectrometers (2.6-5 nm), the high percentages of negatively charged particles were found during the nanometer particle concentration bursts. These values considerably exceeded the values for the steady charging state and it was concluded that negative cluster ions preferably act as condensation nuclei. This effect was found to be the highest in the case of comparatively weak nucleation bursts of nanoparticles, when the rate of the homogeneous nucleation and the concentration of freshly nucleated particles were low. The nucleation burst days were classified according to the concentration of the generated smallest detectable new particles (weak and strong bursts). Approximately the same classification was obtained based on the charge asymmetry on particles with respect to the charge sign (polarity). The probabilities of negative and positive charge on the particles with the diameter of 5-20 nm were found to be nearly equal and they approximately agree with the values corresponding to the steady state charge distribution for negative particles known from lab experiments. It means that the steady charging state was reached during the growing time of particles up to 5 nm. The natural charging state of particles with a diameter between 2.5 and 4.5 nm was estimated by means of a special DMPS setup. Results were found to be in good correlation with the data by the particle size spectrometers and air ion mobility spectrometers. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.