Today, nanoparticles are found everywhere and are all around us. These tiny particles have found their way into products ranging from sunscreen, food packaging, medicines, clothing and paints, and they are constantly finding their way into new areas. The potential risks of nanoparticle exposure, intentional as well as unintentional, have however not yet been fully evaluated, which has brought increased attention to nanotoxicology.

The relatively new scientific area of nanotechnology takes advantage of the fact that material properties change as the dimensions shrink from macroscale to nanoscale. The desired properties of engineered nanomaterials are exploited in many different areas, and they are constantly finding their way into new applications. Not only is the usage and spread of nanomaterials increasing, but nanosized objects can also arise as a side effect of processes such as combustion and mechanical wear. 

The result is an expanding release and spread of nanomaterials into our immediate surroundings as well as the environment. This results in increasing nanoparticle exposure. These desirable new material properties, however, are followed by unknown aspects. It is often unknown quite how these particles will interact and behave throughout their life cycle. Large amounts of effort and resources are now focused on nanotoxicology in order to assess the effects of intentional as well as unintentional nanomaterial exposure and to ensure that this is safe for both humans and the environment.

Characterization of nanoparticle interaction with the surrounding environment

In the nanosafety assessment, it is vital to get an understanding of how the nanoparticles behave in the context to which they are exposed. They need to be studied in relevant biological environments where the interaction between the nanoparticles and the molecules that they meet throughout their lifecycle can be monitored. The nature of the interaction with the surrounding environment depends on the nanoparticle material, size, surface charge and functionalization, as well as the surrounding context – such as, for example, the pH. When released, the nanoparticle will start to adsorb organic and inorganic material, creating a new interface, a so-called corona or biocorona, and thereby giving a new identity to the surroundings. These types of interactions between nanoparticles and the surrounding environment can be studied with QSense® QCM-D – for example, in this study where the biodurability of nanoparticles in the human digestive system was evaluated. This blogpost also reviews several examples of the interaction with nanoparticles in relevant contexts. The effect of nanoparticles on lipid membranes has also been successfully studied with Langmuir troughs.