How Dangerous are Nanoparticles?

Tjarko Rahlf, Benjamin Nöke

project report

It is often said that the future belongs to nanoparticles, however, many people are afraid of nanoproducts. Are they dangerous? The internet provides little useful information and some rather peculiar and unhelpful articles, such as "Nanoparticles can be harmless like icing sugar but also insidious like asbestos". Little is known about the effect of nanoparticles on our health and therefore we chose this topic for our project.

As we do not want to (and must not) do animal testing, we decided to conduct our experiments with paramecia, which are unicellular organisms. Our goal was to distinguish dangerous and harmless nanoparticles using paramecia. Better knowledge of the risks is essential for the responsible use of nanotechnology in everyday life.

We put paramecia into solutions of carbon nanotubes, 80 nm gold nanoparticles, 200-300 nm SiO2 nanospheres and soot. We also produced our own nanoparticles and conducted experiments with nanoparticles from commonly available products.

Our experiments showed that nanoparticles tend to agglutinate, which eliminates their risk to paramecia. The paramecia died in only two experiments, where there is a possibility that the toxicity may have arisen from other chemicals rather than the nanoparticles.

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