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What Is a Nanopowder?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A nanopowder is an extremely fine powder produced on the nano scale for applications in industry and research. Production methods can include grinding and heat treatment to produce extremely tiny particles of materials like metals. Companies that produce nanopowders may offer a general line of generic products as well as specialty powders for particular applications. Many have catalogs available for potential customers and may also sell through distributors who put out nanopowders and products that include them.

Operating on the nanoscale means that a nanopowder is measured in nanometers, a very small unit of measurement. This requires a high degree of manufacturing precision to control conditions and yield powders of the correct size and composition. While nanotechnology is often considered a modern invention, archaeologists have shown that earlier human cultures were able to produce and work with these products. Certain ceramic glazes, for example, show evidence of nanopowders used to achieve very specific glazing effects that would not have otherwise been possible.

In research applications, a nanopowder can be used in a variety of projects. Researchers may want to learn more about the properties of a given material at the nano scale, and could also use powders in the production of experimental products and components. Some research facilities have the capacity to make nanopowders for research, while others need to order from a scientific supplier that specializes in this activity.

In industry, there are numerous uses for these ultrafine powders. Targeted drug delivery can rely on a nanopowder carrier, for example, and these compounds are used in solid fuels, conducting pastes, and specialized paints and glazes. Finished coatings with metallic effects are often made with the assistance of nanopowders. They are also used as catalysts in industrial processes. Research and development teams may explore new applications for these products, putting research to immediate practical use.

Safety precautions for working with nanopowders can vary, depending on the application and the material. Workers may need respirators to avoid accidental inhalation, or may need to exercise caution because of toxins present in the powders or compounds made with them. Work environments typically need to be very clean to limit contamination and may need to include features like separate ventilation and filtration systems for additional safety. Experimental products made with nanopowder components are subject to safety testing, particularly if they will be used in food or pharmaceutical products where there might be a threat to human health.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By miriam98 — On Oct 13, 2011

@hamje32 - I agree, that’s a surprising discovery.

While I welcome the use of nanopowders in technology, I wonder about their potential for misuse if they get into the wrong hands.

Since these powders are nearly invisible, for example, do you think it’s possible that terrorists could use them? I think the article makes clear that delivery of drugs is one application.

Therefore I could see how criminals would grind poisonous substances into a nanopowder and sprinkle them into the air, without anyone realizing anything had happened. There would be no mysterious white powder, nothing, just the ill effects of the poison as it took hold of the population.

By hamje32 — On Oct 12, 2011

I had always associated anything “nano” related with modern technology. The article’s statement that ancient cultures used nanoparticles as coatings to glaze their ceramic is quite an amazing assertion.

I thought the nano scale was microscopically small – smaller than the human eye – and therefore this kind of stuff could not be produced by ancient cultures. I guess the definition of nano measurements is a bit more flexible than I had realized.

Also interesting to note is that the nanopowders don’t necessarily serve technological purposes. It appears that they can simply be coatings, rather than conduits for electricity, as other nano objects are.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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