“Engineered nanomaterials and nanotechnology–enabled products pose potential risks to humans and to the environment across their full life cycles, from manufacturing to consumer use and recycling or disposal,” according to the Material Measurement Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Indeed new research confirms that nanomaterials used in personal care products are detrimental to sea life.
Starting from scratch
To better address this issue, the NIST is posting validated testing protocols to a new site meant as a resource for EHS researchers. Each procedure is set up to be a recipe for success and includes not only the how-to on running the test but also spells out what equipment and chemicals are required.
"These measurements are difficult because of the small size involved," program director Debra Kaiser explains on nanowerk.com. "Very few new instruments have been developed for this. People are adapting existing instruments and methods for the job, but often those instruments are being operated close to their limits and the methods were developed for chemicals or bulk materials and not for nanomaterials."
User generated content
To date, the site links to 13 protocols. The institute hopes to develop the site, with scientific community input, into an open-source style resource bank. “The nano-EHS protocols offered by the NIST site…could form the basis for consensus-based, formal test methods,” notes the nanowerk item.
The NIST anticipates that scientists using the protocol for published findings will cite the relevant protocol and its corresponding DOI. And, researchers are invited to suggest further testing protocols by email: email@example.com.
An unmet need
Advancing nanotechnology and emerging science on the perils of the engineered materials make testing standards all the more crucial.
When working on such a delicate scale every little thing counts. So the NIST tests detail possible causes of error. "Often, if you do something seemingly trivial—use a different size pipette, for example—you get a different result. Our goal is to help people get data they can reproduce, data they can trust," says Kaiser.
Like the science that goes into engineering nano ingredients for personal care, the protocols themselves are a work in progress: "For example, NIST offers a reference material for measuring the size of gold nanoparticles in solution, and we report six different sizes depending on the instrument you use. We do it that way because different instruments sense different aspects of a nanoparticle's dimensions. An electron microscope is telling you something different than a dynamic light scattering instrument, and the researcher needs to understand that," Kaiser affirms.