Junior Research Group: Nanoparticles in the Environment

In the recent decades nanotechnological applications have fostered a great interest from the international research community. Unfortunately, the same properties that predestine nanoparticles for a wide variety of applications, such as, photocatalytical and bactericidal acitivity, are also reason for concern when it comes to risks associated with their eventual release into the environment. A key factor in evaluating these risks is the environmental mobility of the released particles and the potential changes that nanoparticles undergo in the environment. The sensitive and selective quantification of nanoparticles (NPs) in environmental samples such as water, soil and organisms at environmentally relevant concentrations remains the overwhelming challenge for a robust risk assessment of manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs). A robust risk assessment needs to be based on detailed mechanistic insight on the microscopic interaction processes that determine NP fate in the environment that allows upscaling and quantitative pre­dictability of processes on the macro­scale, such as overall NP mobility and retention.

In a joined effort the Institute of Resource Ecology of the HZDR and the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Jozef Stefan Institute (Ljubljana, Slovenia) has brought together their competences in colloid biology, geochemistry and NP tracing in complex media using radiotracers in an international junior research group headed by Dr. Stefan Schymura. Within the Helmholtz European Partnering Project CROSSING and the SurfBio EU Project we perform research into the interaction of nanoparticulate matter with organisms, such as, soil microbes, plants or shrimp and mineralic surfaces, as well as, surface changes due to microbial and NP influence in order to understand and quantify the processes that control NP fate in the environment. Embedded into the Divison of Reactive Transport and the Laboratory for Colloid Biology we profit from the synergetic possibilities of both institutes. JSI provides a strong background in environ­mental and analytical chemistry, molecular microbial ecology, soil-microbes interaction [1] and weathering/dissolution of inorganic material by microbes [2], as well as geochemical elemental cycles and risk and environmental im­pact assessment [3]. HZDR has developed competences in the radiolabeling of NPs for most sensitive detection in complex media [4, 5], the analysis of crystal surface reactivity [6], as well as analytical reactive transport analysis using radionuclide tracers [7]. This provides the unique tools to achieve the goal of producing reliable process understanding and process quantification for the complex interactions between nanomaterials, soil minerals and organisms.

The complementary use of the institutes' facillities enables unique study designs, as illustrated below in one of our recent studies on the uptake of CeO2 NPs in freshwater shrimp [8].

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Teaching activities

Radioanalytics course at University of Leipzig

Research Internships

An overview of topics of past research interships in the group:

  • Radiosynthesis of dual-labeled [Se-75]CdSe/[Zn-65]ZnS quantum dots
  • (Radio-)labeling of microplastics
  • Sorption of europium on altered muscovite/biotite surfaces
  • De- and remineralisation of teeth
  • Synthesis and radiolabeling of photocatalytically active TiO2 nanoparticles


SurfBio Webinar: "An introduction to radilabeling as a versatile tool in colloid tracing" by Stefan Schymura

SurfBio Webinar: "Vertical scanning interferometry: a microscopic technique to analyze surface reactivity” by Cornelius Fischer

UBA Expert review: "Detection of manufactured nanomaterials in complex environmental compartments"

Overview Poster: Radiolabeling of Nanoparticles


Rybkin, I.; Gorin, D.; Sukhorukov, G.; Lapanje, A. (2019): “Thickness of polyelectrolyte layers of separately confined bacteria alters key physiological parameters on a single cell level”, Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 7, 378.

Hildebrand, H.; Schymura, S.; Franke, K.; Fischer, C. (2019): “Analysis of studies and research projects regarding the detection of nanomaterials in different environmental compartments and deduction of need for action regarding method development”, UBA Texte 133.

Molodtsov, K., Schymura, S., Rothe, J., Dardenne, K., Schmidt, M. (2019): "Sorption of Eu(III) on Eibenstock granite studied by µTRLFS: A novel spatially-resolved luminescence-spectroscopic technique", Scientific Reports, 9(1).

Lange, T., Schneider, P., Schymura, S., Franke, K. (2020): "The Fate of Anthropogenic Nanoparticles, nTiO 2 and nCeO 2 , in Waste Water Treatment", Water 12(9):2509.

Deev, D., Rybkin, I., Rijavec, T., Lapanje, A. (2021): "When Beneficial Biofilm on Materials Is Needed: Electrostatic Attachment of Living Bacterial Cells Induces Biofilm Formation", Frontiers in Materials 8, 624631.

Verdel, N.; Rijavec, T.; Rybkin, I.; Erzin, A.; Velišček, Ž.; Pintar, A.; Lapanje, A. (2021): “Isolation, identification and selection of bacteria with the proof-of-concept for bioaugmentation of whitewater from wood-free paper mills” Frontiers in Microbiology 12, 758702.

Schymura, S.; Rybkin, I.; Uygan, S. S. S.; Drev, S.; Podlipec, R.; Rijavec, T.; Mansel, A.; Lapanje, A.; Franke, K.; Strok, M. (2021): “Dissolution-based uptake of CeO2 nanoparticles by fresh water shrimp – A dual-radiolabelling study of the fate of anthropogenic cerium in water organisms”, Environ. Sci. Nano 8, 1934-1944.

Yuan, T.; Schymura, S.; Bollermann, T.; Molodtsov, K.; Chekhonin, P.; Schmidt, M.; Stumpf, T.; Fischer, C. (2021): “Heterogeneous sorption of radionuclides predicted by crystal surface nanoroughness”, Environmental Science & Technology 55, 15797-15809.

Molodtsov, K.; Demnitz, M.; Schymura, S.; Jankovský, F.; Havlová, V.; Schmidt, M. (2021): “Molecular-level speciation of Eu(III) adsorbed on a migmatized gneiss as determined using µTRLFS”, Environmental Science and Technology 55, 4871-4879.

Demnitz, M.; Molodtsov, K.; Schymura, S.; Schierz, A.; Müller, K.; Jankovsky, F.; Havlova, V.; Stumpf, T.; Schmidt, M. (2022): “Effects of surface roughness and mineralogy on the sorption of Cm(III) on crystalline rock” Journal of Hazardous Materials 423 Part A, 127006.

Demnitz, M.; Schymura, S.; Neumann, J.; Schmidt, M.; Schäfer, T.; Stumpf, T.; Müller, K. (2022): "Mechanistic understanding of Curium(III) sorption on natural K feldspar surfaces", Science of the Total Environment 843, 156920.

Rybkin, I.; Pinyaev, S.; Sindeeva, O.; German, S.; Koblar, M.; Pyataev, N.; Čeh, M.; Gorin, D.; Sukhorukov, G.; Lapanje, A. (2023): "Modification of bacterial cells for in vivo remotely guided systems", Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol., 10, 1070851.

Hilpmann, S.; Moll, H.; Drobot, B.; Vogel, M.; Hübner, R.; Stumpf, T.; Cherkouk, A. (2023): "Europium(III) as luminescence probe for interactions of a sulfate-reducing microorganism with potentially toxic metals", Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 264, 115474.

Stricker, A.; Hilpmann, S.; Mansel, A.; Franke, K.; Schymura, S.(2023): "Radiolabeling of Micro-/Nanoplastics via In-Diffusion", Nanomaterials, 13, 2687.


[1]   Rijavec, T., Lapanje, A. Frontiers in microbiology 2016. 7: 1785-1-1785-14.

[2]   Lapanje, A. et al. Microbial ecology 2012. 63: 865-882.

[3]   Vidmar, J. et al, Microchemical Journal 2017. 132: 391– 400.

[4]   Schymura, S., et al, Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2017. 56(26): 7411-7414.

[5]   Hildebrand, H., et al. Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 2015. 17(6): 278.

[6]   Fischer, C. and A. Luttge, Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018. 115(5): 897-902.

[7]   Kulenkampff, J., et al., Solid Earth, 2016. 7(4): p. 1217-1231.

[8]  Schymura, S. et al. Environmental Science: Nano 2021. 8: 1934.