What are nanoparticles?
There is no accepted international definition of a nanoparticle, but one given in the new PAS71 document developed in the UK is: "A particle having one or more dimensions of the order of 100nm or less".
There is a note associated with this definition: "Novel properties that differentiate nanoparticles from the bulk material typically develop at a critical length scale of under 100nm".
The "novel properties" mentioned are entirely dependent on the fact that at the nano-scale, the physics of nanoparticles mean that their properties are different from the properties of the bulk material.
This makes the size of particles or the scale of its features the most important attribute of nanoparticles.
What is different about a nanoparticle?
There is no strict dividing line between nanoparticles and non-nanoparticles. The size at which materials display different properties to the bulk material is material dependant and can certainly be claimed for many materials much larger in size than 100nm.
Definitions certainly become more difficult for materials that are a very long way from being a sphere, such as carbon nanotubes for example. One of the aims for these materials is to grow them into long tubes, certainly not ‘nano’ in length, but as they have a diameter in the order of 3nm for a single walled tube, they have properties that distinguish them from other allotropes of carbon, and hence can be described as ‘nanomaterials’.
This sort of nanomaterial has led to the extension of the idea of nanomaterials being considered as such if any one of their structural features are on a scale of less than 100nm, that cause their properties to be different from that of the bulk material.
Manufacturing methods for nanoparticles
Many of these nanomaterials are made directly as dry powders, and it is a common myth that these powders will stay in the same state when stored. In fact, they will rapidly aggregate through a solid bridging mechanism in as little as a few seconds. Whether these aggregates are detrimental will depend entirely on the application of the nanomaterial.
If the nanoparticles need to be kept separate, then they must be prepared and stored in a liquid medium designed to facilitate sufficient interparticle repulsion forces to prevent aggregation.