Nanoparticles are between 1 and 100 billionths of a meter in size.
What are nanoparticles and nanotechnology?
Nanotechnology uses matter at sizes between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers. “Nano” means one billionth, so a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology involves imaging, measuring, modeling, and working with matter at this scale. The diameter of a human hair is about 100,000 times bigger than a nanometer, and a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
Nanomaterials have unique optical, electrical, and magnetic properties. The small size of these materials make them promising and challenging with which to work. However, their characteristics may be different from those of larger particles with the same chemical composition.
Some nanomaterials occur naturally. Nanoparticles can be created through sea spray and erosion, for example. Another natural example is photosynthesis, which converts solar power into chemical energy in plants. Products that use nanotechnology and engineered nanomaterials include toothpaste, cosmetics, eyeglasses, sunscreen, tennis rackets, computer displays and hardware, stain-resistant cushions, and coatings.
Potential fields for using nanotechnology in the future include optics, electronics, medical imaging and treatment, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, energy, and environmental cleanup.
There is concern about the interaction of nanoparticles with human health and their effects on the environment. The risk of pollution from nanoparticles and associated health problems to those involved in manufacturing these materials, as well as to consumers using these products, is unknown. Scientists are concerned about the possible health risks of inhaled nanoparticles and nanoparticles absorbed through the skin.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more research is needed on the human health risks associated with exposure from commercially engineering nanomaterials, as well as risks associated with consumer use of products containing nanoparticles.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Fact Sheet for Nanotechnology under the Toxic Substances Control Act (Environmental Protection Agency)
FAQs: Nanotechnology (National Nanotechnology Initiative)
Nanomaterials. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Nanotechnology (Food and Drug Administration)
Nanotechnology (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
Nanotechnology home page (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Since You Asked: Nanotechnology and NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)
Last Updated: August 8, 2013