Magnetic nanoparticles

Magnetic nanoparticles are a class of nanoparticle which can be manipulated using magnetic field. Such particles commonly consist of magnetic elements such as iron, nickel and cobalt and their chemical compounds. While nanoparticles are smaller than 1 micrometer in diameter (typically 5–500 nanometers), the larger microbeads are 0.5–500 micrometer in diameter. The magnetic nanoparticles have been the focus of much research recently because they possess attractive properties which could see potential use in catalysis,[1] biomedicine,[2] magnetic resonance imaging,[3] magnetic particle imaging,[4] data storage[5], environmental remediation,[6], nanofluids,[7] and optical filters.[8]



The physical and chemical properties of magnetic nanoparticles largely depend on the synthesis method and chemical structure. In most cases, the particles range from 1 to 100 nm in size and may display superparamagnetism.[9]

Types of magnetic nanoparticles

Cobalt nanoparticle with graphene shell.
Cobalt nanoparticle with graphene shell (note: The individual graphene layers are visible)

Currently, three different kinds of magnetic nanoparticles are being produced and used.

Oxides: ferrite

Ferrite nanoparticles are the most explored magnetic nanoparticles up to date. Once the ferrite nanoparticles become smaller than 128 nm[10] they become superparamagnetic which prevents self agglomeration since they exhibit their magnetic behavior only when an external magnetic field is applied. With the external magnetic field switched off, the remanence falls back to zero. Just like non-magnetic oxide nanoparticles, the surface of ferrite nanoparticles is often modified by surfactants, silicones or phosphoric acid derivatives to increase their stability in solution.[11]


Metallic nanoparticles have the great disadvantage of being pyrophoric and reactive to oxidizing agents to various degrees. Making their handling difficult and enabling unwanted sidereactions.

Metallic with a shell

The metallic core of magnetic nanoparticles may be passivated by gentle oxidation, surfactants, polymers and precious metals.[9] In an oxygen environment, Co nanoparticles form an anti-ferromagnetic CoO layer on the surface of the Co nanoparticle. Recently, work has explored the synthesis and exchange bias effect in these Co core CoO shell nanoparticles with a gold outer shell.[12] Nanoparticles with a magnetic core consisting either of elementary Iron or Cobalt with a nonreactive shell made of graphene have been synthesized recently.[13] The advantages compared to ferrite or elemental nanoparticles are:

  • Higher magnetization
  • Higher stability in acidic and basic solution as well as organic solvents
  • Chemistry[14] on the graphene surface via methods already known for carbon nanotubes


The established methods of magnetic nanoparticle synthesis include:


Co-precipitation is a facile and convenient way to synthesize iron oxides (either Fe3O4 or γ-Fe2O3) from aqueous Fe2+/Fe3+ salt solutions by the addition of a base under inert atmosphere at room temperature or at elevated temperature. The size, shape, and composition of the magnetic nanoparticles very much depends on the type of salts used (e.g.chlorides, sulfates, nitrates), the Fe2+/Fe3+ ratio, the reaction temperature, the pH value and ionic strength of the media.[9],In recent years, co-precipitation approach has been used extensively to produce ferritenanoparticles of controlled sizes and magnetic properties.[15],[16],[17],[18]

Thermal decomposition

Monodisperse magnetic nanocrystals with smaller size can essentially be synthesized through the thermal decomposition of organometallic compounds in high-boiling organic solvents containing stabilizing surfactants.[9]


Using the microemulsion technique, metallic cobalt, cobalt/platinum alloys, and gold-coated cobalt/platinum nanoparticles have been synthesized in reverse micelles of cetyltrimethlyammonium bromide, using 1-butanol as the cosurfactant and octane as the oil phase.[9],[19]

Flame spray synthesis

Using flame spray pyrolysis [13][20] and varying the reaction conditions, oxides, metal or carbon coated nanoparticles are produced at a rate of > 30 g/h .

Various flame spray conditions and their impact on the resulting nanoparticles
Various flame spray conditions and their impact on the resulting nanoparticles
Operational layout differences between conventional and reducing flame spray synthesis
Operational layout differences between conventional and reducing flame spray synthesis


A wide variety of applications have been envisaged for this class of particles these include:

Medical diagnostics and treatments

Magnetic nanoparticles are used in an experimental cancer treatment called magnetic hyperthermia in which the fact that nanoparticles heat when they are placed in an alternative magnetic field is used.

Another potential treatment of cancer includes attaching magnetic nanoparticles to free-floating cancer cells, allowing them to be captured and carried out of the body. The treatment has been tested in the laboratory on mice and will be looked at in survival studies.[21][22]

Magnetic nanoparticles can be used for the detection of cancer. Blood can be inserted onto a microfluidic chip with magnetic nanoparticles in it. These magnetic nanoparticles are trapped inside due to an externally applied magnetic field as the blood is free to flow through. The magnetic nanoparticles are coated with antibodies targeting cancer cells or proteins. The magnetic nanoparticles can be recovered and the attached cancer-associated molecules can be assayed to test for their existence.

Magnetic nanoparticles can be conjugated with carbohydrates and used for detection of bacteria. Iron oxide particles have been used for the detection of Gram negative bacteria like Escherichia coli and for detection of Gram positive bacteria like Streptococcus suis[23][24]

Magnetic immunoassay

Magnetic immunoassay[25] (MIA) is a novel type of diagnostic immunoassay utilizing magnetic beads as labels in lieu of conventional, enzymes , radioisotopes or fluorescent moieties. This assay involves the specific binding of an antibody to its antigen, where a magnetic label is conjugated to one element of the pair. The presence of magnetic beads is then detected by a magnetic reader (magnetometer) which measures the magnetic field change induced by the beads. The signal measured by the magnetometer is proportional to the analyte (virus, toxin, bacteria, cardiac marker,etc.) quantity in the initial sample.

Waste water treatment

Thanks to the easy separation by applying a magnetic field and the very large surface to volume ratio, magnetic nanoparticles have a good potential for treatment of contaminated water.[26] In this method, attachment of EDTA-like chelators to carbon coated metal nanomagnets results in a magnetic reagent for the rapid removal of heavy metals from solutions or contaminated water by three orders of magnitude to concentrations as low as micrograms per Litre.


Magnetic nanoparticles are being used or have the potential use as a catalyst or catalyst supports.[27] In chemistry, a catalyst support is the material, usually a solid with a high surface area, to which a catalyst is affixed. The reactivity of heterogeneous catalysts occurs at the surface atoms. Consequently great effort is made to maximize the surface area of a catalyst by distributing it over the support. The support may be inert or participate in the catalytic reactions. Typical supports include various kinds of carbon, alumina, and silica.

Biomedical imaging

Magnetic CoPt nanoparticles are being used as an MRI contrast agent for transplanted neural stem cell detection.[28]

Information storage

Research is going into the use of using MNPs for magnetic recording media. The most promising candidates for high-density storage is the face-centered tetragonal phase FePt alloy. Grain sizes can be as small as 3 nanometers. If its possible to modify the MNPs at this small scale, the information density that can be achieved with this media could easily surpass 1 Terabyte per square inch.[29]

Genetic engineering

Magnetic nanoparticles can be used for a variety of genetics applications. One application is the isolation of mRNA. This can be done quickly – usually within 15 minutes. In this particular application, the magnetic bead is attached to a poly T tail. When mixed with mRNA, the poly A tail of the mRNA will attach to the bead's poly T tail and the isolation takes place simply by placing a magnet on the side of the tube and pouring out the liquid. Magnetic beads have also been used in plasmid assembly. Rapid genetic circuit construction has been achieved by the sequential addition of genes onto a growing genetic chain, using nanobeads as an anchor. This method has been shown to be much faster than previous methods, taking less than an hour to create functional multi-gene constructs in vitro.[30]

See also

Magnetic chemistry


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