In fact, particle characterization and analysis is extremely important in chemical engineering and material sciences. The devices that perform these analyses are referred to as particle size analyzers.
Particle analyzers have taken up a role in many fields, however, these systems have flourished particularly well in industrial processes since the turn of the century. Most industrial energy processes require in-depth knowledge of particles and powders and their interactions with their environment.
It is important to note that there are internationally recognized standards labs should meet depending on the material they are working with. Doing so shows an organization’s competency in performing particle analysis. These standards include specific ISO, such as ISO 13320:2020.
Besides adhering to certain standards and requirements, particle technology, as a whole, is used to calculate different properties of a particle and how they will act under certain conditions. This information is critical in various industries and helps each area of study or manufacturing achieve unique, highly-important goals.
Alongside chemical engineering and material sciences, areas of use for particle and powder technology are in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries, in nanoparticle systems, emulsions, and even bubble systems. That being said, whichever industry you’re involved in, whether it be industrial, pharmaceuticals, chemical, biology, agriculture, or another industry, knowing which instrumentation best fits your lab’s needs is essential to successful particle analysis results.
Particle counters and sizers work to provide researchers an accurate count of how many particles are in a substance at a given time and offer quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) testing. They are able to perform a variety of tasks across a number of industries, some of which we will cover below.
It is important to get an accurate count of your sample when working with powders or bulk amounts of small objects, as well precise particle size measurement.
In the petroleum industry, there are strict codes and regulations that dictate what is in oil, which means monitoring the amount of particulate in it is a vital process. The mechanism for how these small particles are counted changes depending on the size of the powder.
Most of the techniques, however, involve light scattering, light obscuration, or directly imaging the particles. Due to their dependence on light, these methods are referred to as optical counters. Additionally, depending on what substance the powders are in, specific particle counters are used.
Other than knowing how many particles are in a substance, knowing how large they are is also very important. Having a full picture of particle size distribution is important.
Particle size analysis or more simply, particle sizing, is a technique that is used to find either the size range or average size of particles in a powder or liquid sample. The most simple example of a particle sizer would be a sieve. How a sizer actually works will depend on a wide range of factors such as the desired size range, the chemical composition of the sample, and how much of the sample is being tested on.
Laser diffraction is one of the most common methods used to perform particle shape analysis. By observing how light scatters when a laser passes through a dispersed particulate sample, its relative size can be determined. Smaller particles will result in light scattering at larger angles, while larger particles will scatter light at smaller angles.
Besides laser diffraction, light scattering methods are available, including static light scattering (SLS), multi-angle light scattering (MALS), and dynamic light scattering (DLS). Additionally, there are other established techniques—high definition image processing, gravitational settling of particles, and dynamic image analysis (DIA)—used to determine shape parameters and size distribution.
Diffraction methods and light scattering are just a few of the methods used in real-time particle size analysis. Using automated, real-time particle size analysis methods allow researchers to perform applications like sticky-wet concentrated slurries, liquid emulsions, and dry particulate streams.
Most importantly, real-time—or on-line—particle size analysis, provides optimal performance in the particle analysis process. By using on-line analysis, the frequency of measurement can increase significantly and enable the delivery of a reliable and efficient data stream. This is just one benefit to real-time analysis methods.
Other benefits include increased efficiency and return on investment (ROI), as well as lower energy costs and real-time control. Furthermore, on-line methods provide troubleshooting capabilities, an improved process development, and reduced operator risk.
Real-time particle analyzers can perform both count and size analysis, and are highly useful in industrial settings. A few examples include bulk mineral processing and cement manufacturing.
Besides the petroleum, mining, and cement industries, particle size analysis is commonly used in the pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceutical sectors.
Nanoparticle size analyzers are used to determine both the size and size distribution range of individual particles for a given sample. The pharmaceutical industry uses these analyzers because the size and shape of a particle can affect how a medication works in the body. Furthermore, determining size and distribution range can help optimize the drug development and manufacturing processes.
Nanoparticle size analyzers are capable of measuring particles in many ways, similar to that of a typical counter or sizer. The methods used in nanoparticle size analysis include light scattering, laser diffraction (or real-time analysis), photon correlation, and spectroscopy. Furthermore, fluorescence labeling can be used to help distinguish specific nanoparticles within a complex background or, alternatively, to identify certain unknown particles in a sample by binding fluorescently labeled antibodies to those target particles. By combining fluorescence labeling with nanoparticle size analysis (size, concentration, etc.), researchers are able to perform nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA).
This is important within the field of medicine due to characterization requirements of nano-sized particles used to carry drugs, such as polymer-based/virus-like particles or lipid-based carriers, as well as macromolecular drugs that include proteins, peptides, DNA, or RNA which are delivered by injection.
Lastly, these particular particle size analyzers often have the ability to process wet or dry dispersions, measure concentration and zeta potential, and perform aggregation, making them a perfect fit for the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries.
Probably the most well-known application of particle technology is the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN institute. Their work involving quantum physics is truly fascinating, although their scientific endeavors rarely affect fields of study other than science. This is exactly what happened with a radiation sensor named Timepix.
It was first developed for the Large Hadron Collider, and was going to detect, count, and study radiation particles in the Collider. In spite of that, it was eventually moved off-world in order to detect the same radiation particles in astronauts aboard the ISS. Its next task, however, would be in the artistic world, where it would be used to find forged paintings.
Finding fake art used to be a very specialized industry where an authenticator would need intimate knowledge about the artist’s handwriting, style, and tools that they used. Today, art authenticators are still a very specialized group of people but they now employ the latest scientific tools to help them with their work. Timepix’s ability to isolate individual pigments to analyze the authenticity of paintings goes well beyond what ancient authenticators ever used.
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