Case study: Clear as muddy water
01 Jan 2007



ISIS studies river water samples to help researchers understand and improve water resources across the European Union.



  • As a consequence of the nanotechnology revolution, engineered oxide nanoparticles are increasingly released into the environment
  • By working with ISIS, environmental scientists at CEH are gaining better understanding of the behaviour of nanoparticles in our aquatic environment

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) is working with ISIS scientists to determine the structure of tiny particles of clay and organic debris found in water systems. These organic nanoparticles can bind together and carry polluting pesticides and fertiliser nutrients downstream.

 “ISIS allows us to view both organic and inorganic particles, unlike X-rays which only show the inorganic materials,” says Dr Helen Jarvie at CEH, part of the Natural Environment Research Council.  

“We can also see the behaviour of these particles in real river water samples, rather than viewing them in the lab, which alters their structure,” Dr Jarvie says. “It seems that after binding together, the nanoparticles have a much higher surface area than previously thought. The larger the surface area, the greater the potential for pollutant uptake and transport.”

Following the success of this research, CEH and ISIS scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at King’s College, London, are investigating man-made nanoparticles in products such as household cleaners, toothpastes, sunscreens, and foods.

The researchers are examining how engineered oxide nanoparticles may be removed from sewage during wastewater treatment processes.  This information could provide evidence for developing new European environmental legislation.

Experiments like this provide a better understanding of the impact of human activities on river water pollution and how to make water systems cleaner.  

S.M. King

Research date: January 2007​