Nanoparticle Blast Could Help Make Microscopic Matter


(A) A commonly observed combustion nanoparticle with an open structure; (b) First observation of a more linear combustion nanoparticle from a premixed flame; Credit: Chakrabarty and Moosmüller in Physical Review Letters.

Scientists were able for the first time to capture on film a process that makes homogeneous metal oxide nanoparticles. This could pave the way for faster and cheaper ways to develop nanoparticles.

The scientists presented their film at a meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) in Boston, Massachusetts last week. Lutz Mädler, a process engineer at the University of Bremen in Germany, wants to find cheaper ways to make these fragments of matter, which could be used as catalysts, medical imaging probes, and more.


Credit: Nature doi:10.1038/492016a

This was the first MRS session dedicated to the combustion synthesis of nanoparticles. The hope is that this technique will improve the production process of nanoparticles, which usually require multiple, complex steps from expensive precursors.

This work aims to overcome a key drawback of combustion synthesis, which is little understood and poorly controlled. Previous attempts worked well in the lab, but had trouble when it came to commercial applications because the ingredients were too expensive. Mädler has been trying to come up with cheaper ways for the same result.

Currently, metal nitrates yield nanoparticles that are inhomogeneous, often with hollow areas inside. These videos show that the mixing process in the combustion of organic droplets can help make particles more homogeneous. This will allow researchers to choose better precursors and additives to improve combustion and yield better end products.

Researchers believe that the imaging techniques used by Mädler will give material scientists a better understanding of how the explosions affect the properties of the materials produced.

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