A direct comparison of experimental methods to measure dimensions of synthetic nanoparticles


Nanoparticles have properties that depend critically on their dimensions. There are a large number of methods that are commonly used to characterize these dimensions, but there is no clear consensus on which method is most appropriate for different types of nanoparticles. In this work four different characterization methods that are commonly applied to characterize the dimensions of nanoparticles either in solution or dried from solution are critically compared. Namely, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), and dynamic light scattering (DLS) are compared with one another. The accuracy and precision of the four methods applied nanoparticles of different sizes composed of three different core materials, namely gold, silica, and polystyrene are determined. The suitability of the techniques to discriminate different populations of these nanoparticles in mixtures are also studied. The results indicate that in general, scanning electron microscopy is suitable for large nanoparticles (above 50 nm in diameter), while AFM and TEM can also give accurate results with smaller nanoparticles. DLS reveals details about the particles' solution dynamics, but is inappropriate for polydisperse samples, or mixtures of differently sized samples. SEM was also found to be more suitable to metallic particles, compared to oxide-based and polymeric nanoparticles. The conclusions drawn from the data in this paper can help nanoparticle researchers choose the most appropriate technique to characterize the dimensions of nanoparticle samples. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.



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Eaton, P; Quaresma, P; Soares, C; Neves, C; de Almeida, MP; Pereira, E; West, P

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Scanning electron microscopy was performed at Centro de Materiais da Universidade do Porto, CEMUP. Transmission electron microscopy was performed at the Electron Microscopy Laboratory (Microlab) of the Instituto Superior Tecnico, Universidade de Lisboa. Miguel Almeida thanks FCT for the fellowship SFRH/BD/95983/2013. Cristina Neves was supported by FCT grant SFRH/BD/61137/2009, and Cristina Soares by grant PTDC/CTM-NAN/109877/2009. UCIBIO thanks FCT for funding under Grant number UID/Multi/04378/2013.

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