Nanoparticle dispersion in environmentally relevant culture media: a TiO2 case study and considerations for a general approach

  • Allison M. Horst
  • Zhaoxia Ji
  • Patricia A. Holden
Research Paper


Nanoparticle exposure in toxicity studies requires that nanoparticles are bioavailable by remaining highly dispersed in culture media. However, reported dispersion approaches are variable, mostly study-specific, and not transferable owing to their empirical basis. Furthermore, many published approaches employ proteinaceous dispersants in rich laboratory media, both of which represent end members in environmental scenarios. Here, a systematic approach was developed to disperse initially agglomerated TiO2 nanoparticles (Aeroxide® TiO2 P25, Evonik, NJ; primary particle size range 6.4–73.8 nm) in oligotrophic culture medium for environmentally relevant bacterial toxicity studies. Based on understanding particle–particle interactions in aqueous media and maintaining environmental relevance, the approach involves (1) quantifying the relationship between pH and zeta potential to determine the point of zero charge of select nanoparticles in water; (2) nominating, then testing and selecting, environmentally relevant stabilizing agents; and (3) dispersing via “condition and capture” whereby stock dry powder nanoparticles are sonicated in pre-conditioned (with base, or acid, plus stabilizing agent) water, then diluted into culture media. The “condition and capture” principle is transferable to other nanoparticle and media chemistries: simultaneously, mechanically and electrostatically, nanoparticles can be dispersed with surrounding stabilizers that coat and sterically hinder reagglomeration in the culture medium.


Nanoparticle Dispersion Agglomeration Toxicity Dynamic light scattering TiO2 



This research was primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency under cooperative agreement no. DBI-0830117. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of either the National Science Foundation or the Environmental Protection Agency. This work has not been subjected to Environmental Protection Agency review and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 227 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allison M. Horst
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Zhaoxia Ji
    • 2
    • 4
  • Patricia A. Holden
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.UC Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC CEIN)Los AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Earth Research Institute, University of California at Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  4. 4.California NanoSystems InstituteUniversity of California at Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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