Diesel engines are known to emit high number concentrations of nanoparticles (diameter < 50 nm), but the physical and chemical mechanisms by which they form are not understood. Information on chemical composition is lacking because the small size, low mass concentration, and potential for contamination of samples obtained by standard techniques make nanoparticles difficult to analyze. A nano-differential mobility analyzer was used to size-select nanoparticles (mass median diameter ∼25-60 nm) from diesel engine exhaust for subsequent chemical analysis by thermal desorption particle beam mass spectrometry. Mass spectra were used to identify and quantify nanoparticle components, and compound molecular weights and vapor pressures were estimated from calibrated desorption temperatures. Branched alkanes and alkyl-substituted cycloalkanes from unburned fuel and/or lubricating oil appear to contribute most of the diesel nanoparticle mass. The volatility of the organic fraction of the aerosol increases as the engine load decreases and as particle size increases. Sulfuric acid was also detected at estimated concentrations of a few percent of the total nanoparticle mass. The results are consistent with a mechanism of nanoparticle formation involving nucleation of sulfuric acid and water, followed by particle growth by condensation of organic species.