Based in Teddington, south west London, LGC has discovered a technique combining field flow fractionation with ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy and interference-reducing inductively coupled mass visible spectrometry. (ICP-MS). It involves minimal contact with filtration membranes and hence minimal alteration of test samples.
It will be used first in a three year project to examine inorganic nanoparticles of silver and gold. But LGC hopes it can be developed to track and analyse more complex organic nanoparticles. LGC believes the system could be used to detect contamination from food contact materials. The process can handle particles of any size between one nanometre and one micrometre and can differentiate between natural and engineered particles.
"Field flow fractionation is a powerful tool for size-fractionation," said Dr Heidi Goenaga-Infante, principal scientist mass spectrometry. "When used in conjunction with ICP-MS, it has been proven to produce elemental size distributions with a great level of detail in the submicrometre range without the laborious and repetitive centrifugation steps of current methods.
"This makes it an ideal technology for the characterisation of nanoparticles in food."
The system uses multi-angle light scattering to give an indication of the shape of particles as well as their size.
Funded by the UK National Measurement System, LGC hopes its research will enable industry to enter new markets, deliver safer products to consumers and improve them.
Experts at a nanotechnology workshop organised by Leatherhead Food Research last month said nanoparticles are irregular in size, shape and structure, making existing ways to characterise them tricky.
Concerns have been raised over whether or not particles could become toxic at the nano level. Applications in food manufacturing have therefore been limited while further research is being conducted.