However, little is known which particles may be harmful. Part of the problem is determining exactly what a nanoparticle is.
A new analysis by an international team of researchers from the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT), based at Duke University, argues for a new look at the way nanoparticles are selected when studying the potential impacts on human health and the environment. They have found that while many small particles are considered to be "nano," these materials often do not meet full definition of having special properties that make them different from conventional materials.
Under the prevailing definition, a particle is deemed nano if its diameter is between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) – about 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair – and if it has properties that significantly differ from its naturally occurring, or bulk, counterpart.
The special properties of nanoparticles come from their high surface-area-to-volume ratio. They also have a considerably higher percentage of atoms on their surface compared to bulk particles, which can make them more reactive. These man-made materials can be found in a vast array of consumer products, including paints and sunscreens, as well as in water treatment plants and drug delivery systems.
For most of this decade, discussions of nanoparticles have tended to focus more on their size than their properties. However, after reviewing the scientific literature, the Duke-led team believes that the old definition is not specific enough. A definition that focuses on properties is critical, they say, to help scientists determine which particular nanoparticles are the most likely to represent a threat to the environment or human health.
Generally speaking, it is the very smallest particles (less than 30 nanometers) that should receive the most attention in studying the environmental and human health impacts of nanomaterials, according to Mark Wiesner, a Duke professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the federally funded CEINT.
"There are an infinite number of potential new man-made nanoparticles, so we need to find a way to narrow our efforts to those that have the greatest likelihood of having the unique properties with unique effects," Wiesner said.
"A key question to be answered is whether or not a particular nanoparticle has toxic or hazardous properties that are truly different from identical particles in their bulk form," Wiesner continued. "This question has not been answered. To do so, we need to be speaking the same language when assessing any unique properties of these novel materials."
The results of Wiesner's analysis were published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The study was supported by CEINT, which is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and Environmental Protection Agency.
Specifically, the researchers found that nanoparticles approaching the 100 nm end of the size spectrum tend to have fewer special properties when compared to their bulk counterparts. Furthermore, they found that nanoparticles smaller than 30 nm tend to exhibit the unique properties that should command increased scrutiny, Wiesner said.
"Many nanoparticles smaller than 30 nanometers undergo drastic changes in their crystalline structure that enhance how the atoms on their surface interact with the environment," Wiesner said.
For example, because of the increased surface-area-to-volume ratio, nanoparticles can be highly reactive with other chemicals in the environment and can also disrupt certain activities within cells.
"While there have been reports of nanoparticle toxicity increasing as the size decreases, it is still uncertain whether this increase in reactivity is harmful to the environment or human safety," Wiesner said. "To settle this issue, toxicological studies should contrast particles that exhibit novel size-dependant properties, particularly concerning their surface reactivity, and those particles that do not exhibit these properties."
Other members of the research team include Melanie Auffan, Duke; Jerome Rose and Jean-Yves Bottero, Aix-Marseille Universite, France; Gregory Lowry, Carnegie Mellon University; and Jean-Pierre Jolivet, Laboratoire de Chimie de la Matiere Condensee de Paris, France.
Richard Merritt | EurekAlert!
From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | University of California - Riverside
Study explains strength gap between graphene, carbon fiber
20.10.2016 | Rice University
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy