Formation and evolution of the nanoparticle environmental corona : the case of au and humic acid

Barbero F, Mayall C, Drobne D, Saiz-Poseu J, Bastus NG, Puntes V
[ site ] Science of the total environment, 2021

Studying the behaviour of nanomaterials after their release into natural water is essential to understand the risk associated to their environmental exposure. In particular, the interaction and adsorption of dissolved organic matter onto nanoparticles strongly influence the behaviour and fate of nanomaterials in natural water systems. We herein study the interaction of Au and Ag nanoparticles and humic acids, the principal component of natural dissolved organic matter. Physicochemical characterization results showed the formation of an organic matter corona, consisting of two layers: a “hard” one, firmly bound to the nanoparticle surface, and a “soft” one, in dynamic equilibrium and, consequently, highly dependent on the media organic matter concentration. The extent of the electro-steric stabilization of the so called environmental corona depends on the size of the supramolecular association of humic acid (which depends on its hydrophilic and lipophilic moieties), the nanoparticle size, the total concentration of organic matter in the media, and the ratio between them. Interestingly, environmental coronas can eventually prevent Ca2+ and Mg2+ induced aggregation at concentrations range present in most of the freshwater bodies. The humic coating formed on top of the Au or control Ag nanoparticles presented a similar profile, but the corrodibility of Ag led to a more natural detachment of the corona. These results were further confirmed by exposing the nanoparticles to a model of natural water and standard mud (LUFA 2.2 dispersion). In the latter case, after several days, nanoparticle sedimentation was observed, which was attributed to interactions with macro organic and inorganic matter (fraction larger than particulate matter).