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Nanotechnology and nanomaterials: definitions

Nanotechnology is the precision-engineering of materials at the nanoscale, that is in the size range of approximately 10-9 to 10-7 meters, at which point unique or enhanced properties occur. These properties have led to the development of new and enhanced products, procedures and processes, and many valuable uses of enabling nanotechnologies have been identified.

Research into health and safety concerns

It has been acknowledged that the properties associated with engineered nanomaterials may give rise to health and safety concerns in some circumstances. We have provided policy direction and guidance, and carried out research on potential WHS implications from applications of nanotechnology.

  • Our work in this area has been supported by WHS regulators, industry and employer stakeholders, researchers and other experts from within Australia and overseas.

Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes are seamless cylinders of rolled up graphite. They are manufactured as two types; single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs).

Because of their structure, carbon nanotubes can possess high strength, high flexibility and high electrical and thermal conductivity. These properties give rise to potential applications in a number of industries including the electronic, automotive, and energy industries, and offer significant benefits.

Hazardous properties of carbon nanotubes

Discrete carbon nanotubes are fibre-like, but can readily agglomerate to form particle-like or rope-like structures.

Research findings in mice have indicated that relatively straight, long MWCNTs may be hazardous in a similar way to other pathogenic fibres like asbestos when inhaled, and are a potential mesothelioma hazard. However shorter fibres or particle-like structures do not have these fibre-like hazards.

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