Discovered by Chance, Unique Particles Offer New Opportunities

July 15, 2010 - News Release

An intriguing byproduct of a complicated chemical procedure in a laboratory experiment has become the discovery of a lifetime for some University of Guelph researchers.

The byproduct, which would ordinarily be discarded, has turned out to be a revolutionary new nanoparticle and a promising platform technology with nearly countless applications.

What’s more, the nanoparticle is all natural and safe for people and the environment.

Physics professor John Dutcher and his team in the Polymer Surface and Interface Group have increased production of the material from laboratory levels to kilograms and have plans to scale up to industrial levels of 1,000 tonnes per year.

As well, they’ve given the particles a name — PHYTOSPHERIC™ polysaccharide nanoparticles.

These particles are extremely tiny. Dutcher and his team measure them in nanometres (one-billionth of a metre). They’re also unique in that they have uniform size and surface chemistry. The human body has enzymes to break them down, which makes the particles safe and particularly attractive for biomedical applications.

“You can think of these particles as making any product more environmentally friendly,” said Dutcher. “They can serve as non-toxic biodegradable replacements for current synthetic nanoparticles or petroleum ingredients.”

Paint and cosmetic companies are interested in the particles' light-scattering properties, which enhance colour vibrancy and sheen. Adding the nanoparticles to clear liquid soap gives it a pearl-like opaque appearance, currently achieved using inorganic particles. The nanoparticles can give the same opalescence that consumers prefer in an eco-friendly way.

And because the nanoparticles absorb and retain water, they have a natural moisturizing effect, unlike the greasy sensation common in many moisturizers that results from fatty acids or petroleum- and oil-based ingredients. Dutcher and his team found they can incorporate the particles into creams to create effective non-greasy moisturizers. In addition, a slight modification to the particles’ surface gives them other properties that are desirable in paint and cosmetics applications.

The researchers’ current goal is to produce enough particles to perform product development and testing in their own laboratories and in co-operation with external companies interested in the product. They’ve been working with the University’s Business Development Office on intellectual property and technology licensing matters.

Pilot trials are underway at the Guelph Food Technology Centre. Its large-scale facilities allow researchers to conduct trial sessions with various pieces of equipment before they incorporate them in the manufacturing process.

Dutcher envisions many other future uses for the nanoparticles, including biomedical applications such as drug delivery.

“It’s about being imaginative about what kind of molecules you can attach to the particle’s outside surface to get the function you want,” he said. “We can work with companies to do this at an economical price and in an eco-friendly manner.”

This project is funded by the U of G-based Advanced Food and Materials Network. It's part of the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Industry Canada.

Prof. John Dutcher
Department of Physics
519 824-4120, Ext. 53950/54449

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or

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