Breaking down a cupcake by the nanoparticles

The difference between engineered and incidental nanoparticles

Lauren Yoshida
4 min readFeb 24, 2019
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Everyone loves good cupcakes. Baked goodness topped with some delicious frosting and sprinkles. When making and eating these cupcakes, you end up with a full belly.

Let’s be honest, other than the fact that you should clean them up so your mother doesn’t know you ate cupcakes for dinner, you often wouldn’t think twice about the crumbs left behind (I seriously would love to do this, but I am pretty sure I’d get pretty sick of it fast).

I mentioned earlier something about nanoparticles. You may be thinking; how do cupcakes and nanoparticles relate to each other? What even is a nanoparticle?

Nanoparticles explained

Nanoparticles are super duper small particles that have a diameter that ranges from 1–100 nanometers. Like me you are wondering exactly how small that is because I could tell you to take a mm and divide it by 1,000,000 to get a nanometer but that again doesn’t mean anything to you.

Let’s give you an example; take a soccer ball (which is actually my favourite sport) and compare it to a nanoparticle.

Now, take the same soccer ball and compare it to the size of planet earth.

That is the equivalent of a soccer ball to the nanoparticle. Now that you understand the size at which we are looking into, it’s easier for you to understand more about them.

At such a small size these nanoparticles have different properties and are capable of doing tasks unlike a normal particle. Therefore, there are many applications of nanoparticles such as in biomedical, materials and electronic fields.

Let’s get back to the cupcakes. I am sorry if I am making you hungry 🤤.

When baking cupcakes you bake with ingredients that create intentionally made cake. As well as some accidentally made crumbs.

Similarly, in context, the intentionally baked cake represents the engineered nanoparticles, because they are an actual ingredient that makes up a product. The incidental nanoparticles are created as a byproduct, (aka the crumbs).

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Engineered nanoparticles are made using a variety of both engineered and incidental metals. However, incidental nanoparticles are not as commonly found in nanoparticles.

These nanoparticles also differ in size.

For example, take carbon nanoparticles; they are engineered nanoparticles (some of the coolest in my opinion). They are also some of the most abundant elements in the known universe (following oxygen, another crucial element for our body). This helps make carbon useful for purposes such as delivering medicine, or material wise carbon nanotubes.

Soot (which contains mainly carbon) are found in the atmosphere as incidental nanoparticles.

Looking closer at their shape, carbon nanoparticles can come in forms of engineered nanomaterials such as fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and graphene.

Carbon Nanoparticles

These are more regular shape than soot which is more irregularly shaped since it is an incidental nanoparticle.

Soot Nanoparticles

It’s like taking a Pinterest fail cupcake and comparing it to one on a really good baking show.

Enjoy the turkey cupcakes :)

Incidental nanoparticles, can also cause health issues when you inhale them. They may have a relation to premature mortality, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and other health effects however scientists are unsure what exactly harms the body.

Nanoparticles found in your body, may make the difference between engineered and incidental nanoparticles irrelevant. However, the shape and chemical composition of these nanoparticles could have a bigger effect on your health.

Looking out into the future, this could become a major issue if the earth continues to become more polluted with these potentially harmful nanoparticles.

This problem doesn’t exist on earth (yet)where we enjoy our cupcakes. It does, however, already exist in space where we don’t breath the outside air; this can pose a problem with space exploration and the colonization of other planets.

Key Takeaways

  1. Engineered nanoparticles- intentionally manufactured, the product (cupcake)
  2. Incidental nanoparticles- unintentionally manufactured, the byproduct (crumbs)
  3. Engineered nanoparticles are more consistent in size, where as incidental nanoparticles are irregular and odd
  4. The effects of these nanoparticles on the human body are still unknown

Thanks for reading!

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Lauren Yoshida

Innovator, Developer, Founder of Photome Labs, Space Enthusiast