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Classical nucleation theory is unable to explain the ubiquity of nucleation events observed in the atmosphere. This shows a need for an empirical determination of the nucleation rate. Here we present a novel inverse modeling procedure to determine particle nucleation and growth rates based on consecutive measurements of the aerosol size distribution. The particle growth rate is determined by regression analysis of the measured change in the aerosol size distribution over time, taking into account the effects of processes such as coagulation, deposition and/or dilution. This allows the growth rate to be determined with a higher time-resolution than can be deduced from inspecting contour plots ("banana-plots''). Knowing the growth rate as a function of time enables the evaluation of the time of nucleation of measured particles of a certain size. The nucleation rate is then obtained by integrating the particle losses from time of measurement to time of nucleation. The regression analysis can also be used to determine or verify the optimum value of other parameters of interest, such as the wall loss or coagulation rate constants. As an example, the method is applied to smog chamber measurements. This program offers a powerful interpretive tool to study empirical aerosol population dynamics in general, and nucleation and growth in particular.