Precise monitoring of nanoparticles required in the future – In the Nano Argovia project SiNPFood, researchers are developing a method for the reliable, automated analysis of silicon oxide nanoparticles in complex mixtures

Silicon oxide nanoparticles (SiNPs) without a matrix (Image: FHNW)

Reduced friction
Silicon oxide and tricalcium phosphate are approved processing aids for foodstuffs and are used at low concentrations to improve the handling of food additives in powder form. By covering the surface of the particles, they reduce the friction between them and thereby improve material flow. For technical reasons, these processing aids may also contain a certain amount of smaller particles (<100 nanometers in diameter). However, the degree of acceptance of these nanoparticles has fallen significantly, and regulatory bodies are currently developing new guidelines for their use and detection in foodstuffs.

Contribution to new standards
The company DSM Nutritional Products AG (Kaiseraugst), which is an industrial partner in the Nano Argovia project SiNPFood, wants to help improve the characterization of nanoparticles. This is necessary so that, even on the nanoscale, food additives can be analyzed in a standardized manner using efficient and reliable detection methods. DSM hopes to contribute to the development of these new standards and regulations with a new analytical method for the determination and quantification of silicon oxide nanoparticles (SiNPs).

Staff at DSM Nutritional Products are pooling their expertise with that of colleagues from the FHNW School of Life Sciences and the Department of Chemistry of the University of Basel. Under the leadership of Dr. Sina Saxer (FHNW), they will conduct their study over the next few months with a focus on typical product formulations in the foodstuffs industry.

Precise analysis of production
The team plans to use a range of characterization methods to analyze nanoparticles at the various stages of production and will also examine the effects on living cells. In turn, this will allow them to optimize the particle characterization process. Given the large number of production samples to analyze and the short window of opportunity, the scientists would prefer a process that is as automated as possible.

Unlike chemical analytics, however, high-throughput methods of this kind are not yet well-established in “nanoanalytics.” Another challenge lies in preparing the samples for analysis, as the SiNPs must not be modified during the preparation process. The scientists will comprehensively characterize typical SiNP additives using a variety of physical and chemical methods – before and after blending them with complex mixtures intended to serve as models of various foodstuffs.

The interdisciplinary team will then evaluate how the different methods can be used to determine the size, charge, agglomeration, and concentration of the SiNPs.


“The Nano Argovia project SiNPFood supports DSM in its efforts to develop a reliable method for the determination of nanoparticles in foodstuffs. This will help us to provide controlled (or certified) nanoparticle-free products.”

Dr. André Düsterloh, Principal Scientist at DSM Nutritional Products AG


Further information:

DSM Nutritional Products
FHNW School Life Sciences (FHNW)
Departement Chemie, Universität Basel