Nanomaterial Usage in Research Guidance

What are Nanotechnology, Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials? These terms are used to describe matter at the nanoscale and typically refer to materials with one or more dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers (nm).

Engineered nanomaterials may exhibit unique properties that are related to their physical size, structure, shape, and chemical composition. These unique physical properties may require additional safety considerations.

Nanomaterials are found in a wide variety of research applications and consumer products.


Due to the unique nature of research involving nanomaterials, each PI is encouraged to discuss their project directly with EH&S in order to perform a formal hazard assessment.

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Health and physical hazards of nanomaterials

The unique properties of nanomaterials which make them useful also bring about unique hazards.

  • Nanomaterials may enter the body primarily through inhalation, ingestion and through skin (dermal) contact.
  • As a result of their small size, nanoparticles and other nano-objects can reach parts of biological systems which are not normally vulnerable to exposure of larger particles.
  • Smaller particle sizes mean larger surface areas which have increased reaction rates, potentially increasing fire and explosion risks.

Assessing the Hazards

Existing occupational exposure limits for a substance may not provide adequate protection from nanoparticles due to characteristics like increased surface area. With so many unknowns, users should minimize exposure by using available hazard control measures and best practices.

Hazard assessment considerations should include:

  • Identifying and describing processes and job tasks where workers may be exposed to nanomaterials
  • Determining the physical state of the nanomaterials such as dust, powder, spray, or droplets
  • Determining routes of exposure (i.e., inhalation, skin contact or ingestion) of particulates, slurries, suspensions or solutions of nanomaterials
  • Determining most effective controls measures available to limit worker exposure

Controlling the Hazards

Engineering Controls (i.e. fume hoods, BSCs, glove boxes) are the preferred methods to reduce exposure to any hazard. If these controls cannot adequately reduce the exposure to nanomaterials, personal protective equipment must be used. Disposable N95 or half/full face elastomeric respiratory protection might be recommended depending on the material, particle size distribution, task and duration. Please contact Environmental and Occupational Health at with respiratory protection questions.

Additional Information