Editorial Feature

Working with Carbon Nanoparticles


Carbon nanoparticles are being used in a variety of biomedical and research projects due in part to the low toxicity of carbon and a readily available supply. Some researchers even posit that carbon nanoparticles can be made at home in a microwave, but uses of so-called home-brewed nanoparticles are currently minimal outside of lab environments.

What are Carbon Nanoparticles?

Carbon nanoparticles are nanosized carbon elements created through various methods including carbonization, heating, activation, and grinding.

Nanoparticles of any type usually have a diameter less than 100 nm. Carbon nanoparticles have an electronic configuration of [He] 2s2 2p2. The pure carbon particles have a molar mass of 12.01 g/mol and an incredibly high melting and boiling point: both above 3500 degrees Celsius.

Other physical properties of carbon nanoparticles, such as the structure of the surface, depend on the manufacturing technique used to create the particles.

Carbon nanoparticles created through activation present a porous surface, creating a large surface area and lending the nanoparticles to binding, chemical reactions, or absorption functions.

Uses for Carbon Nanoparticles

Carbon is one of the most abundant elements in the known universe, and it only follows oxygen with regard to abundance in the human body. This makes carbon a great element for delivering medicine and other substances to the human body, especially at a cellular level.

While inhaling carbon of a certain form in large quantities can lead to lung issues, injection, ingestion, or skin-absorption of carbon nanoparticles in quantities that might be used for imaging, research, or delivery purposes would not be toxic.

Treatment Delivery

Carbon nanoparticles can be used for the delivery of drugs at a cellular level. One research team used carbon nanoparticles created through basic means to deliver infusions of drugs to a pig. The conclusion from that experiment is that carbon nanoparticles could be used to deliver a variety of drugs to treat cancer.

Specifically, the research team believes nanoparticles could deliver medicine to melanoma cells. The same premise behind the research could possibly be used to deliver treatment to all types of cancer cells, and as research continues, to delivery medication or treatments for any disease that functions at a cellular level.

One of the benefits of carbon nanoparticles is that delivery isn’t limited to one type of treatment. By coating the nanoparticles with different polymers, labs could load particles with multiple drugs for multitherapy treatment that is fast, cost-effective, and mostly noninvasive.

Researchers are also working to develop carbon nanoparticles that can deliver gene therapies or trace genes for increased understanding of certain disease processes.


Cell Imaging

Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa had encouraging results with fluorescent carbon nanoparticles. They used particles with sizes ranging from 2 to 6 nanometers; their manufacturing method was synthetization of carbon soot through nitric acid oxidation.

The nanoparticles were able to enter cells, making it possible to use them in applications such as fluorescence based cell imaging.

DIY Carbon Nanoparticles

The creation of and uses for carbon nanoparticles are currently evolving at a rapid pace, but not every discovery is technological in nature.

Research from the University of Illinois shows that carbon nanoparticles can be created using a microwave, molasses, and honey.

The team was able to create nanoparticles that measure less than 8 nanometers—10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair—via this method.

The team says anyone can create the nanoparticles in a kitchen by mixing molasses and honey together and heating it in the microwave for a couple of minutes.

The result is something that appears like charred foodstuffs but is really nanoparticles that have luminescence – a property that makes them especially helpful in imaging situations.

While anyone can concoct the mixture, it’s not useful in a home environment just yet. Researchers have to coat the resulting carbon spheres with polymers that allow bonding of drugs or other chemicals before delivering them to the body.

Ongoing findings by teams working with carbon nanoparticles are exciting to a variety of fields, but perhaps none more than the biomedical field. Treatments that could be delivered in a cost-effective, nontoxic manner would mean better quality of life for a range of patients.

Cancer patients who didn't have to rely on treatments from chemotheraphy or other means might suffer much less from the side effects associated with such medications. While carbon nanoparticle delivery is still being studied, it is not without reason to expect it to become a common method of delivery in the future.

Further Reading

Carbon (C) Nanoparticles - Properties, Applications

Next Generation Carbon ​Nanoparticles for Efficient Gene Therapy

How to make instant carbon ​nanoparticles at home for cool biomedical uses

Fluorescent Carbon ​Nanoparticle: Synthesis, Characterization and Bio-imaging Application

Here's how to make carbon ​nanoparticles with honey and a microwave

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.


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