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Nanomaterials are any kind of material that is structured at the scale between 1 and 100 nanometers, in at least one of their dimensions. They are much smaller than can be seen with the naked eye, but larger than individual molecules. Nanomaterials can be particles, fibers, or surfaces with nanoscale features (ridges, bumps etc).
Nanomaterials are found all around us. Examples include:
Particles of pigment suspended in paints
The patterns on insect wing scales
Due to their dimensions, nanomaterials can have different physical or chemical properties compared to a bulk material of the same substance.
Many nanomaterials have antimicrobial activity. Exactly how they work is not yet fully understood. Various mechanisms may be involved, for example interfering with the bacterial cell wall or the ability of microorganisms to adhere to surfaces.
Where silver is already used as an antimicrobial agent, this is often in the form of nanoparticles. Researchers are also investigating other nanomaterials for their antimicrobial properties, including other metal nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, metal oxide nanoparticles (especially titanium dioxide) and graphene-based materials.
Again, many of these new nanomaterials are known to have some toxic effects for humans and the environment, and care needs to be taken before they are used widely.