- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
Nanoparticles are discrete nanometer (10−9 m)-scale assemblies of atoms. Thus, they have dimensions between those characteristic of ions (10−10 m) and those of macroscopic materials. They are interesting because the number of atoms in the particles is small enough, and a large enough fraction of them are at, or near surfaces, to significantly modify the particle’s atomic, electronic, and magnetic structures, physical and chemical properties, and reactivity relative to the bulk material. Nanoparticle surfaces themselves may be distinctive. Particles may be terminated by atomic planes or clusters that are not common, or not found, at surfaces of the bulk mineral. These, and other size-related effects will lead to modified phase stability and changes in reaction kinetics.
What makes a nanoparticle a nanoparticle? Definitions of the size ranges for molecules, nanoparticles, and macroscopic solids must be compound specific. However, a useful upper limit for nanoparticles is the size at which one of its properties deviates from the value for the equivalent bulk material by an amount that is significantly larger than the error of the method used to make the measurement (a few percent). In practice, some characteristic will probably be different enough to warrant description as a “nanoparticle” if it is less than a few tens of nanometers in diameter, and perhaps less than a fraction of a micron in diameter.
Because of the importance of size-dependent property changes to the materials sciences, size-property relationships have been studied in detail for some systems. For example, for semiconductors, size effects become important when the particle diameter is close to the Bohr diameter of excitons in the bulk phase. Generally, semiconductor size quantization effects (relevant for naturally occurring metal sulfides, for example) appear when particles are less than 10 nm in diameter (Vogel and Urban 1997).
Definition of the …