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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Inorganic nanoparticles and the environment: risks vs. benefits

ICREA Prof and ICN Group Leader Victor Puntes and colleagues publish article on the environmental risks and benefits of inorganic nanoparticles in Investigación y Ciencia

The latest issue of Investigación y Ciencia (the Spanish version of Scientific American) features an article on inorganic nanoparticles and the environment, written by ICREA Professor Victor Puntes and Dr Cecilia López, of ICN, and Prof Antoni Sanchez, of the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. The article is entitled "Nanoparticulas inorganicas: Riesgos y beneficios medioambientales" (Inorganic nanoparticles: environmental risks and benefits).

In the piece, the authors describe the broad utility of various types of inorganic nanoparticles for in situ environmental clean-up applications such as pollutant capture and waste treatment. They emphasise three fundamental characteristics of nanoparticles (relative to larger particles) that explain this functionality: a proportionally larger surface area and a greater angle of exposure of the surface atoms (both of which enable greater chemical reactivity), and high mobility (which facilitates transport and use in liquid-based applications).

Puntes, López and Sanchez then illustrate several examples of naturally occurring nanoparticles (geological, biological, etc.), underscoring that in order to ascertain the environmental effects of synthetic nanoparticles, researchers must first have a better grasp on how natural nanoparticles react with ecosystems and organisms.

Lastly, in response to growing concerns—justified or otherwise—over the possible toxicity of engineered nanoparticles, the researchers stress the need for balanced, multidisciplinary studies to weigh the potential environmental risks of these particles against their promising benefits. One critical factor that they highlight is that the physical and chemical fate of a given nanoparticle depends on the specific biological environment in which it is located.

To access the article ""Nanoparticulas inorganicas: Riesgos y beneficios medioambientales"" (in Spanish), click here.