What is Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions. Nanoscale is usually defined as smaller than a one tenth of a micrometer in at least one dimension, though this term is sometimes also used for materials smaller than one micrometer.
On 18 October 2011, the European Commission adopted the following definition of a nanomaterial:
A natural, incidental or manufactured material containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50% or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1 nm – 100 nm. In specific cases and where warranted by concerns for the environment, health, safety or competitiveness the number size distribution threshold of 50% may be replaced by a threshold between 1 and 50%.
An important aspect of nanotechnology is the vastly increased ratio of surface area to volume present in many nanoscale materials, which makes possible new quantum mechanical effects. One example is the “quantum size effect” where the electronic properties of solids are altered with great reductions in particle size. This effect does not come into play by going from macro to micro dimensions. However, it becomes pronounced when the nanometer size range is reached. A certain number of physical properties also alter with the change from macroscopic systems. Novel mechanical properties of nanomaterials are a subject of nanomechanics research. Catalytic activities also reveal new behaviour in the interaction with biomaterials.
Materials referred to as “nanomaterials” generally fall into two categories: “Fullerenes and carbon forms”, and “Nanoparticles and colloids”.
1.1 Fullerenes and carbon forms
A fullerene is any molecule composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid or tube. Spherical fullerenes are also called buckyballs, and they resemble the balls used in association football. Cylindrical ones are called carbon nanotubes or buckytubes. Fullerenes are similar in structure to graphite, which is composed of stacked graphene sheets of linked hexagonal rings; but they may also contain pentagonal (or sometimes heptagonal) rings.
The first fullerene to be discovered, and the family’s namesake, buckminsterfullerene (C60), was prepared in 1985 by Richard Smalley, Robert Curl, James Heath, Sean O’Brien, and Harold Kroto at Rice University. The name was homage to Buckminster Fuller, whose geodesic domes it resembles. The structure was also identified some five years earlier by Sumio Iijima, from an electron microscope image, where it formed the core of a “bucky onion.” Fullerenes have since been found to occur in nature. More recently, fullerenes have been detected in outer space. According to astronomer Letizia Stanghellini, “It’s possible that buckyballs from outer space provided seeds for life on Earth.”
The discovery of fullerenes greatly expanded the number of known carbon allotropes, which until recently were limited to graphite, diamond, and amorphous carbon such as soot and charcoal. Buckyballs and buckytubes have been the subject of intense research, both for their unique chemistry and for their technological applications, especially in materials science, electronics, and nanotechnology.
1.1.1 Naming of Fullerene
Buckminsterfullerene (C60) was named after Richard Buckminster Fuller, a noted architectural modeler who popularized the geodesic dome. Since buckminsterfullerenes have a shape similar to that sort of dome, the name was thought appropriate. As the discovery of the fullerene family came after buckminsterfullerene, the shortened name ‘fullerene’ is used to refer to the family of fullerenes. The suffix “ene” indicates that each C atom is covalently bonded to three others (instead of the maximum of four), a situation that classically would correspond to the existence of bonds involving two pairs of electrons (“double bonds”).
1.1.2 Types of fullerene
- buckyball clusters: smallest member is C20 (unsaturated version of dodecahedrane) and the most common is C60;
- nanotubes: hollow tubes of very small dimensions, having single or multiple walls; potential applications in electronics industry;
- megatubes: larger in diameter than nanotubes and prepared with walls of different thickness; potentially used for the transport of a variety of molecules of different sizes;
- polymers: chain, two-dimensional and three-dimensional polymers are formed under high-pressure high-temperature conditions; single-strand polymers are formed using the Atom Transfer Radical Addition Polymerization (ATRAP) route;
- nano”onions”: spherical particles based on multiple carbon layers surrounding a buckyball core; proposed for lubricants;
- linked “ball-and-chain” dimers: two buckyballs linked by a carbon chain;
- fullerene rings.
1.2 Nanoparticles and colloids
In nanotechnology, a particle is defined as a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties. Particles are further classified according to size: in terms of diameter, coarse particles cover a range between 10,000 and 2,500 nanometers. Fine particles are sized between 2,500 and 100 nanometers. Ultrafine particles, or nanoparticles are sized between 100 and 1 nanometers.
Nanoparticles may or may not exhibit size-related properties that differ significantly from those observed in fine particles or bulk materials. Although the size of most molecules would fit into the above outline, individual molecules are usually not referred to as nanoparticles.
Nanoclusters have at least one dimension between 1 and 10 nanometers and a narrow size distribution. Nanopowders are agglomerates of ultrafine particles, nanoparticles, or nanoclusters. Nanometer-sized single crystals, or single-domain ultrafine particles, are often referred to as nanocrystals.
126.96.36.199 Properties of Nanoparticles
Nanoparticles are of great scientific interest as they are effectively a bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures. A bulk material should have constant physical properties regardless of its size, but at the nano-scale size-dependent properties are often observed. Thus, the properties of materials change as their size approaches the nanoscale and as the percentage of atoms at the surface of a material becomes significant. For bulk materials larger than one micrometer (or micron), the percentage of atoms at the surface is insignificant in relation to the number of atoms in the bulk of the material.
The interesting and sometimes unexpected properties of nanoparticles are therefore largely due to the large surface area of the material, which dominates the contributions made by the small bulk of the material.
188.8.131.52 Synthesis of Nanoparticles
There are several methods for creating nanoparticles, including both attrition and pyrolysis. In attrition, macro or micro scale particles are ground in a ball mill, a planetary ball mill, or other size reducing mechanism. The resulting particles are air classified to recover nanoparticles. In pyrolysis, a vaporous precursor (liquid or gas) is forced through an orifice at high pressure and burned. The resulting solid is air classified to recover oxide particles from by-product gases. Pyrolysis often results in aggregates and agglomerates rather than single primary particles.
Nanoparticles can also be formed using radiation chemistry and wet chemical technique.
The sol-gel process is a wet-chemical technique (also known as chemical solution deposition) widely used recently in the fields of materials science and ceramic engineering. Such methods are used primarily for the fabrication of materials (typically a metal oxide) starting from a chemical solution (sol, short for solution) which acts as the precursor for an integrated network (or gel) of either discrete particles or network polymers.
The term colloid is used primarily to describe a broad range of solid–liquid (and/or liquid–liquid) mixtures, all of which contain distinct solid (and/or liquid) particles which are dispersed to various degrees in a liquid medium. The term is specific to the size of the individual particles, which are larger than atomic dimensions but small enough to exhibit Brownian motion. If the particles are large enough, then their dynamic behavior in any given period of time in suspension would be governed by forces of gravity and sedimentation. But if they are small enough to be colloids, then their irregular motion in suspension can be attributed to the collective bombardment of a myriad of thermally agitated molecules in the liquid suspending medium, as described originally by Albert Einstein in his dissertation. Einstein proved the existence of water molecules by concluding that this erratic particle behavior could adequately be described using the theory of Brownian motion, with sedimentation being a possible long-term result. This critical size range (or particle diameter) typically ranges from nanometers (10−9 m) to micrometers (10−6 m).
1.2.3 Characterization of Nanoparticles
Nanoparticle characterization is necessary to establish understanding and control of nanoparticle synthesis and applications. Characterization is done by using a variety of different techniques, mainly drawn from materials science. Common techniques are electron microscopy (TEM, SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), dynamic light scattering (DLS), x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), powder X-ray diffraction (XRD), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF), ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, dual polarisation interferometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
Whilst the theory has been known for over a century (see Robert Brown), the technology for Nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) allows direct tracking of the Brownian motion and this method therefore allows the sizing of individual nanoparticles in solution.
1.2.4 Nanoparticle Safety
Nanoparticles present possible dangers, both medically and environmentally. Most of these are due to the high surface to volume ratio, which can make the particles very reactive or catalytic. They are also able to pass through cell membranes in organisms, and their interactions with biological systems are relatively unknown. A recent study looking at the effects of ZnO nanoparticles on human immune cells has found varying levels of susceptibility to cytotoxicity.
2. Characterization of Nanomaterials
The first observations and size measurements of nano-particles were made during the first decade of the 20th century. They are mostly associated with the name of Zsigmondy who made detailed studies of gold sols and other nanomaterials with sizes down to 10 nm and less. He published a book in 1914. He used an ultramicroscope that employs a dark field method for seeing particles with sizes much less than light wavelength.
There are traditional techniques developed during 20th century in Interface and Colloid Science for characterizing nanomaterials. These are widely used for first generation passive nanomaterials specified in the next section.
These methods include several different techniques for characterizing particle size distribution. This characterization is imperative because many materials that are expected to be nano-sized are actually aggregated in solutions. Some of methods are based on light scattering. Other apply ultrasound, such as ultrasound attenuation spectroscopy for testing concentrated nano-dispersions and microemulsions.
There is also a group of traditional techniques for characterizing surface charge or zeta potential of nano-particles in solutions. This information is required for proper system stabilzation, preventing its aggregation or flocculation. These methods include microelectrophoresis, electrophoretic light scattering and electroacoustics. The last one, for instance colloid vibration current method is suitable for characterizing concentrated systems.
3. Nanomaterials Safety
Nanomaterials behave differently than other similarly-sized particles. It is therefore necessary to develop specialized approaches to testing and monitoring their effects on human health and on the environment. The OECD Chemicals Committee has established the Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials to address this issue and to study the practices of OECD member countries in regards to nanomaterial safety.
While nanomaterials and nanotechnologies are expected to yield numerous health and health care advances, such as more targeted methods of delivering drugs, new cancer therapies, and methods of early detection of diseases, they also may have unwanted effects. Increased rate of absorption is the main concern associated with manufactured nanoparticles.
When materials are made into nanoparticles, their surface area to volume ratio increase. The greater specific surface area (surface area per unit weight) may lead to increased rate of absorption through the skin, lungs, or digestive tract and may cause unwanted effects to the lungs as well as other organs. However, the particles must be absorbed in sufficient quantities in order to pose health risks.
As the use of nanomaterials increases worldwide, concerns for worker and user safety are mounting. To address such concerns, the Swedish Karolinska Institute conducted a study in which various nanoparticles were introduced to human lung epithelial cells. The results, released in 2008, showed that iron oxide nanoparticles caused little DNA damage and were non-toxic. Zinc oxide nanoparticles were slightly worse. Titanium dioxide caused only DNA damage. Carbon nanotubes caused DNA damage at low levels. Copper oxide was found to be the worst offender, and was the only nanomaterial identified by the researchers as a clear health risk.