Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are being developed to meet specific application needs in diverse domains across the engineering and biomedical sciences (e.g. drug delivery). However, accompanying the exciting proliferation of novel nanomaterials is a challenging race to understand and predict their possibly detrimental effects on human health and the environment. The eNanoMapper project (www.enanomapper.net) is creating a pan-European computational infrastructure for toxicological data management for ENMs, based on semantic web standards and ontologies. Here, we describe the development of the eNanoMapper ontology based on adopting and extending existing ontologies of relevance for the nanosafety domain. The resulting eNanoMapper ontology is available at http://purl.enanomapper.net/onto/enanomapper.owl. We aim to make the re-use of external ontology content seamless and thus we have developed a library to automate the extraction of subsets of ontology content and the assembly of the subsets into an integrated whole. The library is available (open source) at http://github.com/enanomapper/slimmer/. Finally, we give a comprehensive survey of the domain content and identify gap areas. ENM safety is at the boundary between engineering and the life sciences, and at the boundary between molecular granularity and bulk granularity. This creates challenges for the definition of key entities in the domain, which we also discuss.