Visualization and characterization of engineered nanoparticles in complex environmental and food matrices using atmospheric scanning electron microscopy

P. Luo, A. Dudkiewicz, S. Park, A.B. Boxall, I. Morrison, Peter John O'Toole, K. Tiede, E. Boyes

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Imaging and characterization of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in water, soils, sediment and food matrices is very important for research into the risks of ENPs to consumers and the environment. However, these analyses pose a significant challenge as most existing techniques require some form of sample manipulation prior to imaging and characterization, which can result in changes in the ENPs in a sample and in the introduction of analytical artefacts. This study therefore explored the application of a newly designed instrument, the atmospheric scanning electron microscope (ASEM), which allows the direct characterization of ENPs in liquid matrices and which therefore overcomes some of the limitations associated with existing imaging methods. ASEM was used to characterize the size distribution of a range of ENPs in a selection of environmental and food matrices, including supernatant of natural sediment, test medium used in ecotoxicology studies, bovine serum albumin and tomato soup under atmospheric conditions. The obtained imaging results were compared to results obtained using conventional imaging by transmission electron microscope (TEM) and SEM as well as to size distribution data derived from nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA). ASEM analysis was found to be a complementary technique to existing methods that is able to visualize ENPs in complex liquid matrices and to provide ENP size information without extensive sample preparation. ASEM images can detect ENPs in liquids down to 30 nm and to a level of 1 mg L (9×10 particles mL, 50 nm Au ENPs). The results indicate ASEM is a highly complementary method to existing approaches for analyzing ENPs in complex media and that its use will allow those studying to study ENP behavior in situ, something that is currently extremely challenging to do. © 2013 The Authors. Journal of Microscopy © 2013 Royal Microscopical Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-41
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Microscopy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013

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© 2013 The Authors Journal of Microscopy © 2013 Royal Microscopical Society.

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