Nanomaterials can be found today in many products. However, precise methods, reference materials and data are often unavailable for the characterisation of the substances. BAM’s “Nanoplattform” provides important reference standards and increases safety.
Nanomaterials play an important role in an increasing number of areas in industry, society and medicine. The particles, only a few millionths of a millimetre in size, can be used to specifically improve the properties of products: they can promote the absorption of active pharmaceutical substances in the body, make water roll off surfaces and clothing, can be used as pigments in paints and sunscreens, improve the properties of cosmetics, be used as contrast agents for imaging procedures in medicine and as sensor materials in bioanalytics. Nanoparticles can also be found in printer inks, powders for 3D printing and RFID chips.
"With reliable reference products science and industry can benefit from the advantages of nanotechnology."
Companies that manufacture or use nanomaterials in the European Union have had to register them with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) since January 2020. The aim is to protect people and the environment from potential hazards posed by the particles.
Characterisation of nanoparticles is very complex
Registration requires comprehensive chemical, physical and toxicological characterisation of the substances. “This responsibility brings many small and medium-sized enterprises near their capability limits because measurement of nanomaterials is technically highly complex,” explains Harald Bresch, environmental physicist at BAM. “Our new Nanoplattform should remedy this problem and in future provide measurement methods, data and reference materials.”
BAM is one of the leading research institutes in Germany that deal with the characterisation of nanomaterials. Its expertise includes measurements using all relevant methods from scanning electron microscopy to particle tracking analysis and mass spectrometry. BAM’s new Nanoplattform will provide specific work instructions and laboratory procedures for the characterisation of such materials because standard measurement methods must be frequently extended or modified at the nanoscale. In the future, companies will be able to retrieve these instructions from BAM’s server and use the standardised procedures to characterise their nanomaterials in-house, or they can simply commission BAM with this task. These standardised procedures are compatible with national and international standards as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) test guidelines or even have been specially created for OECD. They can thus be more reliable and consistent.
Reference data to train artificial intelligence
At the same time, BAM generates data sets from its own measurements on nanomaterials which are linked to specific measuring instruments and methods. These data sets are recorded in an electronic laboratory book and can be retrieved from BAM’s server for experiments in the fields of medicine, toxicology or environmental sciences. This will save valuable time and resources and ensure reproducibility. In the future, reference data will also be used to train and improve programmes using artificial intelligence.
Nanoplattform will soon be able to provide its first reference material: iron oxide nanocubes, whose special feature is that they can be used for the calibration of electron microscopes. “Such reliably characterised reference products make data from studies and interlaboratory tests more robust and comparable,” explains Harald Bresch. “Overall, this project should enable broad areas of science and industry to benefit from the advantages of nanotechnology while at the same time protecting people and the environment from potential hazards.”