Nanomaterials (NMs) are a diverse class of extremely small-scale materials (loosely defined as <100 nm in at least one dimension) formed by engineering at the molecular level. NMs are currently being used or developed for various applications in alternative energy, medicine, communication, foodstuffs and food packaging, dietary supplements, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, clothing, and many other consumer products.

The National Science Foundation previously estimated worldwide revenues for products and applications built on nanotechnology as approximately $2.6 trillion in 2014, or about 15% of total manufactured goods. Global revenues of nanotechnology-enabled products are estimated to increase to $3.5 trillion by 2018.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Using NMs

The small size and design of NMs can confer unique chemical, electrical, magnetic, optical, and thermal properties, which can result in vast improvements for a wide variety of applications. These same properties may also result in unanticipated health and environmental effects — the reactive nature of nanoparticles with a high surface area to volume ratio has led to the ability of some particles to cross the blood-brain barrier or cause detrimental effects via inhalation exposure. However, it is not always the case that nano-scale substances are more toxic than their larger-scale counterparts. Much can be learned from other well-studied, small-scale materials, such as ultrafine particles, welding fumes, and mineral fibers, although some properties will be unique to NMs.

The feasibility and success of NMs will depend on users’ ability to safely and reproducibly manufacture uniform (homogeneous) materials with reliable characteristics while avoiding adverse effects on health or the environment over the life cycle of these products. The more that is understood about the factors that control material properties, exposure, and toxicity, the better engineering principles can be applied to reduce potential health and environmental risks.

The small size and unique characteristics of NMs also presents a variety of challenging materials science problems. Typical ‘bulk’ material characterization tools often cannot be used for NMs, and a variety of specialized techniques developed over the last several decades by the surface science community and the integrated circuit industry are required to visualize NMs, to measure their physical properties, and to understand their structure and chemical composition. Products and devices containing NMs may exhibit a variety of new and unique failure modes not observed for more traditional technologies.

How Exponent Can Help

With more than 50 years of experience in solving complex scientific and engineering problems, Exponent is uniquely qualified to assist in the area of NMs. In addition to our recent project experience in assessing various aspects of NMs in products, Exponent’s scientists have many years of industry experience in nano-scale product manufacturing settings, including manufacturing yield enhancement, process development, materials degradation, process tooling, clean-room science and micro-contamination, defect reduction, and root cause and corrective action analysis.

Additionally, the expertise of our environmental and health scientists in exposure and risk assessment, food safety, toxicology, and industrial hygiene allows us to comprehensively examine the potential health, regulatory, and environmental consequences of product design, manufacturing and production, foreseeable use/misuse, wear, and disposal.

The combination of high-level engineering, technological expertise, and regulatory experience, with strong health sciences, food safety, and environmental practices, provides a complete team to evaluate diverse issues related to NMs.

Our Nanotechnology Service Areas

Our services include:

  • State-of-the-science reviews for specific NMs
  • Applied research on specific NMs

Human and Environmental Health

  • Health and environmental assessment of NMs in consumer products and industrial settings
  • Evaluation of work practices during manufacturing
  • Industrial hygiene surveys
  • Exposure potential and bioavailability
  • Evaluation of the regulatory future for food NMs
  • Evaluation of NM issues related to food safety, dietary supplements, and food packaging materials
  • Medical device safety and biocompatibility assessments

Material Characterization

  • NM-specific characterization, including physical property measurement, nano-scale structural analysis, and material identification
  • Reliability testing on NM physics of failure
  • Failure analysis on products containing NMs
  • Evaluation of reactivity, fire, and explosion hazards of NMs during processing
  • Materials science evaluations to determine the potential for exposure

Industrial Applications

  • Life-cycle assessments, product stewardship, and product safety and liability
  • Failure modes and effects analysis for product design
  • Reverse engineering
  • Intellectual property protection
  • Micro-contamination expertise and product yield enhancement
  • NM product and process design and manufacturing support, including process metrology and robustness
  • Product recall investigations
  • Due diligence evaluations for NM applications


  • Evaluation of NM issues for OTC drugs and cosmetics 
  • Regulatory assistance in bringing products containing NMs to market under relevant statutes (e.g., TSCA, FIFRA, FD&C Act) 

Exponent is continually involved in NM-related initiatives, including definition, use, and potential exposures to and toxicity of NMs. Our scientists and engineers have organized and regularly participate in technical symposia and legal education seminars on NMs. We have been active participants at regulatory agency hearings (e.g., EPA, FDA) and in standards-setting committees such as the Nanotechnology Standards Panel of the American National Standards Institute.



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