Nanoscale minerals - nanoparticles - are formed in the environment as a result of microbial activity, inorganic precipitation reactions and chemical weathering. Nanoparticles of many common mineral phases have been found, including ferric iron oxyhydroxides, such as goethite; transition metal sulfides, such as sphalerite; as well as less common minerals such as ceria or gold!
In addition, numerous common minerals are only found as nanomaterials, including ferrihydrite, akaganeite, mackinawite, and manganese hydroxides. Naturally-formed nanoparticles can be important components of geochemical cycles in soils, groundwater, rivers and lakes because they possess high surface areas for adsorption and reaction. Our mission is to uncover the numerous roles played by nanoparticles in geochemical and biogeochemical processes.
Nanoparticles may also be introduced into the environment as a consequence of human activities. For example, acid mine drainage, a legacy of decades of mining activity, can introduce huge quantities of ferric iron oxyhyoxide nanoparticles into surrounding watersheds.
Moreover, the intense interest in nanoparticles as industrial catalysts, chemical additives, and novel technologies suggests that the environmental impact of synthetic nanomaterials will only increase with time. Several groups have proposed that engineered nanomaterials may be harnessed for cleaning up contaminated sites ... but the efficacy and impacts of such treatments have yet to be established.