Questions 1-13 relate to applications to FENAC from UK universities and research institutions applying for funded research work at FENAC. Questions 14-21 refer to commercial and academic work at FENAC.

1. What type of work can I do with FENAC?

Typical studies at FENAC include characterisation of natural, incidental or engineered nanoparticles and other nanoscale objects using a range of methods; support for nanotoxicity evaluations; investigations of the fate of nanomaterials in environmental waters and in different media; changes in nanomaterials over time; agglomeration and dissolution studies.

2. How do I know if I am eligible for FENAC funding?

FENAC funding is available for researchers in UK universities and other approved research institutions.  Eligibility criteria are the same as for NERC grants. NERC funds research in a number of research areas. To be eligible for a project at FENAC your work must fall within one of the following areas: Archaeology; atmospheric physics and chemistry; climate and climate change; ecology, biodiversity and systematics; genetics and development; geosciences; marine environments; medical and health interface; microbial sciences; omic sciences; planetary science; plant and crop science; pollution waste and resources; terrestrial and freshwater environments; tools, technology and methods.

For further details, see the NERC research areas funding page.

3. Why do I need to discuss my FENAC application with the Facility leader/team prior to submitting the application?

Advice from FENAC will allow you to choose the most suitable techniques for your samples. For academic research, this increases the likelihood of the project being funded, and will make the best use of your time at FENAC. Contact the facility manager or director for preliminary discussions.  

4. How do I apply for FENAC funding?

There are two calls for applications annually, typically in May and November. View the application form.

It is useful to fill in the form and send the draft application to FENAC for feedback before the formal submission. 

5. What number of samples should I put on the FENAC application?

Typical sample numbers for some of the popular techniques are tabulated below. 


Typical sample numbers

Electron microscopy, per technique,


Dynamic light scattering,

Zeta potential measurements

Nanoparticle tracking analysis


Field flow fractionation

Atomic force microscopy


Inductively coupled plasma-mass spec (ICP-MS)


Single particle (ICP-MS), different particles


BET surface area


Note that the number of samples will depend on the number of methods required in your study. FENAC supports pump-priming studies, not full research projects; the facility has to balance individual requests against the overall NERC funding available.

6. How will my FENAC application be assessed?

The FENAC Steering Committee members meet every six months to assess the applications. They look for a good fit with the NERC remit, and an application with an element on novelty, and which explains why the work is required at FENAC, the way this fits with the broader project aims, a detailed experimental plan, and expected outcomes clearly defined.

7. When can I expect to know the outcome of my application?

The decisions are usually sent to applicants in mid-late January for November applications and mid-late July for May applications.

8. If I am not successful in my current application, can I re-apply at a future date?

Resubmissions are welcome, after discussion with FENAC staff. Applications can be re-submitted at the funding round following the unsuccessful application, either in May and November.

9. How long will I spend at FENAC?

Typically 1-2 weeks for a pilot study and up to 3 weeks for a full proposal. This varies a lot from project to project and is open to discussion with FENAC staff. 

10. What does a FENAC award pay for?

This covers FENAC staff time, for health and safety assessments, discussions and planning, characterisation work, training on the equipment, support with data interpretation and with preparation of publications. It also covers the cost of the use of the equipment and the associated consumables for work at FENAC, and common laboratory chemicals by agreement. The materials, chemicals, organisms under test, and more specialist laboratory equipment, are normally supplied by the researcher.

Transport and accommodation while working at FENAC are not paid for by FENAC.

11. How can I find accommodation close to FENAC?

The FENAC administration office, (fenac@contacts.bham.ac.uk) will normally be able to advise you on accommodation.

12. What do I need to do to prepare for my visit to FENAC?

Contact the FENAC Manager, Dr. Xianjin Cui, e-mail x.cui@bham.ac.uk  to arrange a skype meeting to discuss the work at FENAC. You will have further informal discussions with Xianjin before your visit to design the work plan, and you will need to send information about the materials to be used to allow health and safety procedures to be completed, and a detailed work plan to allow the equipment to be booked for the work. 

13. Do I have to provide chemicals for my work at FENAC?

Common chemicals (acids, bases, etc.) are available at the FENAC laboratories. The materials, test organisms, less common chemicals specific to the study and (potentially) specialist laboratory equipment in which the experiments would need to be carried out are normally supplied by the researcher. The consistency is then assured between the work at FENAC and the researcher’s laboratory. At the planning stage of the work the FENAC manager will discuss the details of what is required for the laboratory work.

14. What characterisation will I need for a suspension of manufactured nanoparticles?

The minimum recommended characterisation should include: concentration of nanoparticles, primary size of nanoparticles and agglomerate size, changes in size with time and in different media used during the work.

15. What characterisation will I need for manufactured nanoparticles supplied as a powder?

In addition to the above: surface area of powder, changes in nanoparticle agglomeration with different dispersion techniques.

16. How can I characterise nanoparticles in suspension at very low concentrations?

Nanoparticle tracking analysis, and single particle ICP-MS, can both be used to characterise nanoparticle suspensions at very low concentrations. If characterisation techniques which need a higher nanoparticle concentration are required, the nanoparticle concentration in the suspension can be increased by ultrafiltration.

17. My particles are suspended in seawater or other complex media. What issues does this cause?

There are several issues arising from concentrated media. For example, when drying down samples for atomic force microscopy, and electron microscopy, salts from the media can crystallise on nanoparticles, or on the sample support, giving false values for nanoparticle size. These materials will need multiple washes to remove salts during sample preparation.

The ICP-MS cannot run samples with high salt concentrations, so the sample will have to be diluted significantly before analysis. This reduces the sensitivity of the detection.

18. I think the nanoparticles may be changing when I put them into my media. How can I check this?

This is the type of work where FENAC can provide very useful data, as it is important to know the state of the nanoparticles under the conditions you are using. 

There are various techniques at FENAC which can provide information on this. Dynamic light scattering, nanoparticle tracking analysis, zeta potential, atomic force microscopy and transmission electron microscopy amongst other techniques can provide useful information about agglomeration and particle size, if the suspension is characterised over time.

19. What can FENAC do for me that other commercial testers don’t do?

FENAC offer expertise in characterisation and interpretation of data from environmental nanoparticles, and nanoparticles in a variety of complex media. We can assess suspensions and dry powders for composition, concentration, size, dispersion, flocculation, stability, and assess changes over time, and assess batch to batch consistency using a wide range of techniques. To address your problems, we provide evaluations based on the data obtained, to support you in making the alterations you require. In parallel, the team behind FENAC is carrying out world-leading research in nanosafety.

20. Why should the FENAC director and manager be authors in the publications which include data from FENAC awards?

The director and Manager are involved in supporting the design and execution of the laboratory work. They have expertise in reporting and interpretation of the data produced at FENAC, as well as broad experience in environmental science. Their input can ensure accurate interpretation of the data collected in a way that optimally supports your research findings.

21. What difference will completing the User Feedback form make to the future use and operation of the FENAC facility?

All feedback forms are reviewed and the comments are taken on board. Your feedback will allow us to continue to improve our service to FENAC users.