Abstract. New particle formation (NPF) is considered as an important mechanism for gas-to-particle transformation, and gaseous sulfuric acid is believed as a curcial precursor. Up to now few field-based studies on nucleation mechanisms and the role of sulfuric acid were conducted in China. In this study, simultaneously measurements of particle number size distributions and gaseous sulfuric acid concentrations were performed from July to September in 2008. Totally, 22 new particle formation events were observed during the entire 85 campaign days. The results show that the condensation sink of pre-existing particles is one of the limiting factors to determine the occurrence of nucleation events in Beijing. The concentrations of gaseous sulfuric acid show good correlations with freshly nucleated particles (N3–6) and formation rates (J3 and J1.5). The power-law relationship between H2SO4 concentration and N3–6 or J was adopted to explore the nucleation mechanism. The exponents range from 1 to 5. More than half of the NPF events exhibit an exponent larger than 2.5. For these cases, the thermodynamic process works better than the activation or kinetic nucleation theories to explain the nucleation events in urban atmosphere of Beijing.