Electron microscopy

Unit responsible: 

Analysing nanomaterials thanks to electron microscopy

We characterise the physicochemical properties of nanomaterials in a regulatory context, using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and focusing on nanomaterials in the food chain, medicines, cosmetics and the environment.

Thanks to our expertise in TEM analysis, we are able to make pictures (electron micrographs) of particles at a nanometric (nm) scale. Based on these pictures, we assess the size of the particles and describe their morphology, aggregation and agglomeration state and their crystallinity. The presence of contaminants and impurities can also be visualised.

In addition to that, we use image analysis to measure the size, shape and surface properties of individual nanoparticles. When using analytical TEM, we can simultaneously evaluate the size, shape, morphology and the chemical composition of nanoparticles with a nanometric resolution. Thanks to this technique, we can identify and measure specific particles in complex matrices like food, cosmetics, medicines and the environment.

The above-described information is mandatory to identify nanomaterials, as well as for their registration and the risk analysis of their applications.

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As TEM analyses are essential for the identification of nanomaterials, for risk analysis and for toxicological and toxicokinetical research, we aim to provide scientific support to various Belgian governmental organisations. This includes the generation of data and the formulation of guidelines to define and characterise nanomaterials, and contributes to risk analysis.

In addition to TEM methods, we apply a series of complementary analytical techniques to characterise nanomaterials. These include dynamic light scattering, particle tracking analysis and (single particle) inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry.

In particular, we fulfill the following tasks:

  • We measure the minimal size of individual particles, which allows implementing the European Commission (EC) recommendation for a definition of nanomaterials
  • We participate in the characterisation of candidate and certified reference materials and representative test materials
  • We implement and validate an approach to assess the fraction of engineered nanomaterials in food additives
  • We characterise manufactured nanomaterials in the context of the evaluation of their potential genotoxicity
  • We maintain our expertise in TEM diagnostics in order to be able to characterise known, new and (re)emerging infectious agents in crisis situations, and to control the quality of a new-generation vaccines based on virus-like particles

We collaborate with the Belgian (FPS Public Health, FASFC), Luxembourg and European authorities (EFSA, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Centre Européen de Normalisation). We also collaborate with international organisations like ISO and the OECD.

In the context of (inter)national research projects, we develop a recognised expertise in the identification and characterisation of various types of nanomaterials using conventional and analytical TEM methodologies, according to high quality control standards.

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