EH&S HomeEH&S Home
About UsResearch Laboratory SafetyMaintentance, Renocation & Construction SafetyEnvironmental ProgramsStanford EH&S Home Page

What are Nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are defined as materials with at least one external dimension in the size range from approximately 1-100 nanometers. Nanoparticles are objects with all three external dimensions at the nanoscale1. Nanoparticles that are naturally occurring (e.g., volcanic ash, soot from forest fires) or are the incidental byproducts of combustion processes (e.g., welding, diesel engines) are usually physically and chemically heterogeneous and often termed ultrafine particles. Engineered nanoparticles are intentionally produced and designed with very specific properties related to shape, size, surface properties and chemistry. These properties are reflected in aerosols, colloids, or powders. Often, the behavior of nanomaterials may depend more on surface area than particle composition itself. Relative-surface area is one of the principal factors that enhance its reactivity, strength and electrical properties.

Engineered nanoparticles may be bought from commercial vendors or generated via experimental procedures by researchers in the laboratory (e.g., CNTs can be produced by laser ablation, HiPCO (high-pressure carbon monoxide, arc discharge, and chemical vapor deposition (CVD)). Examples of engineered nanomaterials include: carbon buckeyballs or fullerenes; carbon nanotubes; metal or metal oxide nanoparticles (e.g., gold, titanium dioxide); quantum dots, among many others.


1 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology: Managing the Health and Safety Concerns Associated with Engineered Nanomaterials (March 2009).


Back to General Principles and Practices for Working Safely with Engineered Nanomaterials