Salt increases nanoparticle diffusion

About two and half years ago, I wrote about an article we had published on the motion of nanoparticles [see ‘Slow moving nanoparticles‘ on December 13th, 2017] in which we had shown that, for very small particles at low concentrations, the motion of a particle is independent of its size and does not flow the well-known Stokes-Einstein law.  Our article presented convincing evidence from experiments to support our conclusions but was light on explanation in terms of the mechanics.  At the end of last year, we published a short article in Scientific Reports, in which we demonstrated that the motion of nanoparticles at low concentrations is dependent on the interaction of van der Waals forces and electrostatic forces.  Van der Waals forces are short-range attractive forces between uncharged molecules due to interacting dipole moments, whereas the electrostatic forces are the repulsion of electric charges.  We changed both of these forces by using salt solutions of different concentration and observing the changes in nanoparticle behaviour.  Increasing the molarity increases the diffusion of the particles until the solution is saturated, as shown in the picture for 50 nanometre diameter gold particles (that’s about half the diameter of a coronavirus particle or one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair).  Our findings have implications for understanding the behaviour of nanoparticles dispersed in biological media, which typically contain salt in solution, because the concentration of salt ions in the medium affects nanoparticle diffusion that has been shown to influence cellular uptake and toxicity.


Coglitore D, Edwardson SP, Macko P, Patterson EA, Whelan MP, Transition from fractional to classical Stokes-Einstein behaviour in simple fluids, Royal Society Open Science, 4:170507, 2017.

Giorgi F, Coglitore D, Curran JM, Gilliland D, Macko P, Whelan M, Worth A & Patterson EA, The influence of inter-particle forces on diffusion at the nanoscale, Scientific Reports, 9:12689, 2019.

4 thoughts on “Salt increases nanoparticle diffusion

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