Characterization of nanomaterials must include analysis of both size and chemical composition. Many analytical techniques, such as dynamic light scattering (DLS), are capable of measuring the size of suspended nanometer-sized particles, yet provide no information on the composition of the particle. While field flow fractionation (FFF) is a powerful nanoparticle sizing technique, common detectors used in conjunction with the size separation, including UV, light-scattering, and fluorescence spectroscopy, do not provide the needed particle compositional information. Further, these detectors do not respond directly to the mass concentration of nanoparticles. The present work describes the advantages achieved when interfacing sensitive and elemental specific detectors, such as inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy and mass spectrometry, to FFF separation analysis to provide high resolution nanoparticle sizing and compositional analysis at the μg/L concentration level, a detection at least 10-100-fold lower than DLS or FFF-UV techniques. The full benefits are only achieved by utilization of all detector capabilities, such as dynamic reaction cell (DRC) ICP-MS. Such low-level detection and characterization capability is critical to nanomaterial investigations at biologically and environmentally relevant concentrations. The techniques have been modified and applied to characterization of all four elemental constituents of cadmium selenide-zinc sulfide core-shell quantum dots, and silver nanoparticles with gold seed cores. Additionally, sulfide coatings on silver nanoparticles can be detected as a potential means to determine environmental aging of nanoparticles.
- Field flow fractionation