Topic Name: Researcher find technique that controls nanoparticle size, creates large numbers
Research persons: Pratim Biswas, Ph.D.
Location: Washington University in St. Louis, United States
In a world that constantly strives for bigger and bigger things, Washington
University in St. Louis' Pratim
Biswas, Ph.D., the Stifel and Quinette Jens Professor and chair of the Department
of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, is working to make things
smaller and smaller.
Biswas conducts research on nanoparticles, which are the building blocks for
nanotechnology. For the first time, Biswas has shown that he can independently
control the size of the nanoparticles that he makes while keeping their other
properties the same. He's also shown with his technique that the nanoparticles
can be made in large quantities in scalable systems, opening up the possibility
for more applications and different techniques.
has far-reaching applications in microelectronics, renewable energy and
medicine, just to name a few. But the first step is synthesizing and
To put the size of a nanoparticle into perspective, compare it to a human
hair. One strand of human hair is about 50 to 100 micrometers thick. One
nanometer is 1/1000 of a micrometer. A nanoparticle is 100 nanometers thick.
"It's difficult to imagine dividing a meter up into a million pieces and
then a nanometer is a thousandth of that," explained Biswas. "These
are very tiny particles."
This small size is critical in the applications. By varying the size,
nanoparticles can efficiently be tuned to perform a specific task, be it
cosmetics or pollution clean up.
"When I reduce the size of the object, then the properties are very
different. They can have certain unique properties," said Biswas. "By
changing the size and the crystal structure you can tune the
To make these nanoparticles and to alter their size, Biswas uses a flame aerosol reactor (FLAR). The flame provides a high-temperature environment in which molecules can be assembled in a single step.
Biswas described the technique and his work in a recent issue of Nanotechnology.
"Bring the material in, react it, form the particles and then collect it and go and use it," said Biswas.
This technique also allows for mass production, once the conditions to produce the desired material have been determined.
Controlling the size of these particles is what opens doors to new and unique uses.
"The applications are plentiful," said Biswas. "The other thing is, if I can make materials of very narrow sizes, I can study the properties as a function of size — which has not been possible in the past — with very precise controls so we can do fundamental research. And that allows me to come up with new applications."
Dig those crazy tires
Such new applications may even change the way we think about driving. Tired
of boring, black car tires? With nanotechnology, tires could become a fashion
statement with red, pink, blue, green, or "any color you want" as
"All tires are black in color because of the carbon that is added. Which
color you want is not important, because now you could add a silica-based
material which will allow you to get any color of your choice," said
Biswas. "Nanoparticles are going to be used everywhere. They are already
being used in many applications — cosmetics,
microelectronics — but now you are going to use it for tires."
With all of these new applications come budding new fields of study. One area
is nanotoxicology, which researches the health and environmental safety of new
materials containing nanoparticles. Nanotechnologists join forces with
biologists to determine the safety of different-sized particles. For example,
one size particle may provide the best effects in a cosmetic, but manufacturers
must make sure that it shouldn't cause toxic effects in a person's body.
"We don't want to just release it to the environment. The general
feeling is that you have to be proactive, make sure everything is OK and then
go, so here you are trying to be as cautious as possible," said Biswas.
Biswas' work focuses mainly on making the nanoparticles, but his research has
led to a variety of applications and collaborations. Biswas is currently
collaborating with Sam Achilefu, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology in the
Washington University School of Medicine. Achilefu is working to selectively
deposit imaging agents. Rather than flood a cancer patient's body with a drug
during chemotherapy, for example, nanotechnology and selective deposits could
deliver and concentrate the drug in the region of the tumor.
"These are very preliminary," said Biswas, "but we're getting
some neat results. So there are some cautious examples, like toxicology, but
then there are many useful applications."
Biswas also stresses the importance in the global marketplace. Nanotechnology
has the potential to purify drinking water for rural populations worldwide. Such
efforts send a "big social message," said Biswas. Renewable energy is
yet another possible application of nanotechnology.
The possibilities of nanotechnology are endless, and everyday Biswas embarks
on this exciting journey.
"That's the beauty here. At Washington University we have a very strong
aerosol science and technology group. I would say one of the strongest in this
area," said Biswas. "Furthermore, there are many collaborators in
different disciplines where we can explore new application areas. So our ability
to make tailor-made nanoparticles with very tight control of properties will
allow more applications to be invented. That's the driving force — the ability
to synthesize nanoparticles. They are the building blocks of
Note for Nanoparticle
A nanoparticle (or nanopowder or nanocluster or nanocrystal) is a small particle with at least one dimension less than 100 nm. Nanoparticle research is currently an area of intense scientific research, due to a wide variety of potential applications in biomedical, optical, and electronic fields. The National Nanotechnology Initiative of the United States government has driven huge amounts of state funding exclusively for nanoparticle research.
Nanoparticles are of great scientific interest as they are effectively a bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures. A bulk material should have constant physical properties regardless of its size, but at the nano-scale this is often not the case. Size-dependent properties are observed such as quantum confinement in semiconductor particles, surface plasmon resonance in some metal particles and superparamagnetism in magnetic materials.
The properties of materials change as their size approaches the nanoscale and as the percentage of atoms at the surface of a material becomes significant. For bulk materials larger than one micrometre the percentage of atoms at the surface is minuscule relative to the total number of atoms of the material. The interesting and sometimes unexpected properties of nanoparticles are partly due to the aspects of the surface of the material dominating the properties in lieu of the bulk properties.
Note for Microelectronics
Microelectronics is a subfield of electronics. Microelectronics, as the name suggests, is related to the study and manufacture of electronic components which are very small. These devices are made from semiconductors using a process known as photolithography. Many components of normal electronic design are available in microelectronic equivalent: transistors, capacitors, inductors, resistors, diodes and of course insulators and conductors can all be found in microelectronic devices.
Digital integrated circuits consist mostly of transistors. Analog circuits commonly contain resistors and capacitors as well. Inductors are used in some high frequency analog circuits, but tend to occupy large chip area if used at low frequencies; gyrators can replace them.
As techniques improve, the size of microelectronic components continue to decrease. At smaller scales, the effects of minor circuit elements such as interconnections may become more important. These are called parasitic effects, and the goal of the microelectronics design engineer is to find ways to compensate for or to minimize these effects, while always delivering smaller, faster, and cheaper
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