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3. What are the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles?

    The SCENIHR opinion states:

    3.4 Nanoparticles: Physical and Chemical Properties

    The principal parameters of nanoparticles are their shape (including aspect ratios where appropriate), size, and the morphological sub-structure of the substance. Nanoparticles are presented as an aerosol (mostly solid or liquid phase in air), a suspension (mostly solid in liquids) or an emulsion (two liquid phases). In the presence of chemical agents (surfactants), the surface and interfacial properties may be modified. Indirectly such agents can stabilise against coagulation or aggregation by conserving particle charge and by modifying the outmost layer of the particle. Depending on the growth history and the lifetime of a nanoparticle, very complex compositions, possibly with complex mixtures of adsorbates, have to be expected. In the typical history of a combustion nanoparticle, for example, many different agents are prone to condensation on the particle while it cools down and is exposed to different ambient atmospheres. Complex surface chemical processes are to be expected and have been identified only for a small number of particulate model systems. At the nanoparticle - liquid interface, polyelectrolytes have been utilised to modify surface properties and the interactions between particles and their environment. They have been used in a wide range of technologies, including adhesion, lubrication, stabilization, and controlled flocculation of colloidal dispersions (Liufu et al 2004).

    At some point between the Angstrom level and the micrometre scale, the simple picture of a nanoparticle as a ball or droplet changes. Both physical and chemical properties are derived from atomic and molecular origin in a complex way. For example the electronic and optical properties and the chemical reactivity of small clusters are completely different from the better known property of each component in the bulk or at extended surfaces. Complex quantum mechanical models are required to predict the evolution of such properties with particle size, and typically very well defined conditions are needed to compare experiments and theoretical predictions.

    3.4.1 Nanoparticle - Nanoparticle Interaction

    At the nanoscale, particle-particle interactions are either dominated by weak Van der Waals forces, stronger polar and electrostatic interactions or covalent interactions. Depending on the viscosity and polarisability of the fluid, particle aggregation is determined by the interparticle interaction. By the modification of the surface layer, the tendency of a colloid to coagulate can be enhanced or hindered. For nanoparticles suspended in air, charges can be accumulated by physical processes such as glow discharge or photoemission. In liquids, particle charge can be stabilised by electrochemical processes at surfaces. The details of nanoparticle - nanoparticle interaction forces and nanoparticle – fluid interactions are of key importance to describe physical and chemical processes, and the temporal evolution of free nanoparticles. They remain difficult to characterise due to the small amount of molecules involved in the surface active layer. Both surface energy, charge and solvation are relevant parameters to be considered. Due to the crucial role of the nanoparticle – nanoparticle interaction and the nanoparticle – fluid interaction, the term free nanoparticle can be easily misunderstood. The interaction forces, either attractive or repulsive, crucially determine the fate of individual and collective nanoparticles. This interaction between nanoparticles resulting in aggregates and/or agglomerates may influence on their behaviour. In gas suspensions, aggregation is crucially determined by the size and diffusion, and coagulation typically occurs faster than in the liquid phase as the sticking coefficient is closer to unity than in liquids.

    Source & ©: SCENIHR  The appropriateness of existing methodologies to assess the potential risks associated with engineered and adventitious products of nanotechnologies (2006),
    3.4 Nanoparticles: Physical and Chemical Properties, p. 13

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