Analysing Nanomaterials in Complex Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Chemical and Process Engineering


Context of research

Engineered nanoparticles are finding applications in various and numerous fields from healthcare to energy generation. The resulting increase in human exposure to these types of nanomaterials has led to concerns regarding the risk to health, necessitating the full characterisation of relevant nanoparticle systems under representative conditions which may permit safety assessment following correlative or evaluative studies.

Depending upon the application area, nanomaterials may be dispersed in complex environments. This can complicate analysis and understanding of the resulting system, with the requirement of new, innovative and correlative approaches to be developed.

Aims and objectives

The purpose of this project is to develop methods to identify and quantify the structure and dispersion of nanomaterials in complex matrices. The project will utilise advanced characterisation techniques in the analysis of dispersed nanoparticles. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) using the recently installed FEI Titan Themis Cubed at Leeds will enable imaging and nanoscale chemical analysis of nanoparticles frozen in relevant suspensions. This representative sample preparation, in conjunction with correlation to larger length scales and to bulk metrics, will permit measurement and lead to understanding of nanomaterial properties under realistic conditions.

Potential applications and benefits

This research will result in greater understanding of nanomaterials dispersed in complex environments, with analysis protocols developed for the extended use of analytical electron microscopy with correlation to bulk techniques. The applicability of the latest electron microscopy techniques will be assessed (e.g. analytical cryogenic scanning electron microscopy, liquid cell TEM), which will provide further guidance as to the applicability of these techniques for other systems.

Further benefits may be gained by nanoparticle manufacturers (including academic research groups) and related industries. The understanding of the nanomaterial systems that will be gained, in addition to the development and implementation of the characterisation methodology, will aid in reducing safety concerns regarding nanomaterials for the general public. This research fits within the EPSRC themes of 'Manufacturing the Future' and 'Physical Sciences', specifically in the research areas of 'Analytical Science' and 'Particle Technology'.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1787177 Studentship EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Martha Alice Ilett
Description - The work has demonstrated the first use of analytical scanning transmission electron microscopy in the examination of nanoparticles captured in a layer of vitreous ice.
- The work has identified sample preparation derived artefacts, both in terms of nanoparticle suspension preparation causing changes to pH and transmission electron microscopy specimen preparation.
Exploitation Route -The works findings are already implemented by other members in the wider research group and also has application in other microscopy groups and the outcomes are relevant to those studying nanoparticles
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology