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A nanoparticle is collection of tens to thousands of atoms approximately 1 to 100 nanometers in diameter. Nanoparticles that are naturally occurring (e.g., volcanic ash, forest fires) or are the incidental byproducts of combustion processes (e.g., welding, diesel engines) are usually physically and chemically heterogeneous and often termed ultrafine particles. Engineered nanoparticles are intentionally produced and designed with very specific properties related to shape, size, surface properties and chemistry. These properties are reflected in aerosols, colloids, or powders containing these nanomaterials. Engineered nanoparticles may be bought via commercial vendors or generated via experimental procedures by researchers in the laboratory. Examples of engineered nanomaterials include: carbon buckyballs or fullerenes; carbon nanotubes; metal oxide nanoparticles (e.g., titanium dioxide); and quantum dots, among many others.

The health effects of exposure to nanomaterials are not fully understood at this time. Until more definitive findings are made regarding the potential health risks of handling nanomaterials, researchers planning to work with nanomaterials must implement a combination of engineering controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment to minimize potential exposures to themselves and others.

For more information, see the Nanomaterials subtopic.