Inventive materials: nanoparticles

Nanoparticles have great potential, but concern over their safety continues

The term ‘nanoparticles’ covers a diverse range of chemical and other entities. They can be metallic, mineral, polymer-based or a combination of materials and can be of natural or synthetic origin. They have multiple uses: as catalysts, drug delivery mechanisms, dyes, sunscreens, filters and much more.

Nanoparticles are strong but light, so they have been used in tennis rackets. They have also been added to socks to stop them smelling of sweaty feet. Concerns over the safety of nanoparticles have arguably stopped them being used to their full potential, but large-scale studies have begun to investigate how they interact with biological systems. The main worry is the potentially harmful effects of breathing in nanoparticles. Nanoparticles often behave unexpectedly, so more research is needed before we can say what’s safe and what’s not.

Lead image:

Annie Cavanagh/Wellcome Images CC BY

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Nanoscience’ in June 2005 and reviewed and updated in August 2014.

Ecology and environment, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development