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J Chromatogr A. 2011 Jul 8;1218(27):4219-25. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2010.12.076. Epub 2010 Dec 23.

Characterization of silver nanoparticles using flow-field flow fractionation interfaced to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

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Environmental Laboratory, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, 3909 Halls Ferry Rd., Vicksburg, MS 39180, USA.


The ability to detect and identify the physiochemical form of contaminants in the environment is important for degradation, fate and transport, and toxicity studies. This is particularly true of nanomaterials that exist as discrete particles rather than dissolved or sorbed contaminant molecules in the environment. Nanoparticles will tend to agglomerate or dissolve, based on solution chemistry, which will drastically affect their environmental properties. The current study investigates the use of field flow fractionation (FFF) interfaced to inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) as a sensitive and selective method for detection and characterization of silver nanoparticles. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is used to verify the morphology and primary particle size and size distribution of precisely engineered silver nanoparticles. Subsequently, the hydrodynamic size measurements by FFF are compared to dynamic light scattering (DLS) to verify the accuracy of the size determination. Additionally, the sensitivity of the ICP-MS detector is demonstrated by fractionation of μg/L concentrations of mixed silver nanoparticle standards. The technique has been applied to nanoparticle suspensions prior to use in toxicity studies, and post-exposure biological tissue analysis. Silver nanoparticles extracted from tissues of the sediment-dwelling, freshwater oligochaete Lumbriculus variegatus increased in size from approximately 31-46nm, indicating a significant change in the nanoparticle characteristics during exposure.

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