Tag Archives: Swansea University

Quantum dots derived from tea leaves inhibit growth of lung cancer cells

A May 21, 2018 news item on phys.org announces some intriguing work borne of a UK-India research collaboration,

Nanoparticles derived from tea leaves inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells, destroying up to 80% of them, new research by a joint Swansea University and Indian team has shown.

The team made the discovery while they were testing out a new method of producing a type of nanoparticle called quantum dots. These are tiny particles which measure less than 10 nanometres. A human hair is 40,000 nanometres thick.

A May 21, 2018 Swansea University (UK) press release (also on EurekAlert but dated May 20, 2018), which originated the news item, fills in the details,

Although nanoparticles are already used in healthcare, quantum dots have only recently attracted researchers’ attention.  Already they are showing promise for use in different applications, from computers and solar cells to tumour imaging and treating cancer.

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Picture: Size comparison of quantum dots with football and with human hair, in nanometers.

Quantum dots can be made chemically, but this is complicated and expensive and has toxic side effects.  The Swansea-led research team were therefore exploring a non-toxic plant-based alternative method of producing the dots, using tea leaf extract.

Tea leaves contain a wide variety of compounds, including polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins and antioxidants.   The researchers mixed tea leaf extract with cadmium sulphate (CdSO4) and sodium sulphide (Na2S) and allowed the solution to incubate, a process which causes quantum dots to form.   They then applied the dots to lung cancer cells.

The researchers found: 

  • Tea leaves are a simpler, cheaper and less toxic method of producing quantum dots, compared with using chemicals, confirming the results of other research in the field.
  • Quantum dots produced from tea leaves inhibit the growth of lung cancer cellsThey penetrated into the nanopores of the cancer cells and destroyed up to 80% of them.  This was a brand new finding, and came as a surprise to the team.

The research, published in “Applied Nano Materials”, is a collaborative venture between Swansea University experts and colleagues from two Indian universities.

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Picture: microscope images of A549 lung cancer cells:  left, untreated; right, treated with quantum dots

Dr Sudhagar Pitchaimuthu of Swansea University, lead researcher on the project, and a Ser Cymru-II Rising Star Fellow, said:

“Our research confirmed previous evidence that tea leaf extract can be a non-toxic alternative to making quantum dots using chemicals.

The real surprise, however, was that the dots actively inhibited the growth of the lung cancer cells.  We hadn’t been expecting this.

The CdS quantum dots derived from tea leaf extract showed exceptional fluorescence emission in cancer cell bioimaging compared to conventional CdS nanoparticles.

Quantum dots are therefore a very promising avenue to explore for developing new cancer treatments.

They also have other possible applications, for example in anti-microbial paint used in operating theatres, or in sun creams.”

Dr Pitchaimuthu outlined the next steps for research:

“Building on this exciting discovery, the next step is to scale up our operation, hopefully with the help of other collaborators.   We want to investigate the role of tea leaf extract in cancer cell imaging, and the interface between quantum dots and the cancer cell.

We would like to set up a “quantum dot factory” which will allow us to explore more fully the ways in which they can be used.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Green-Synthesis-Derived CdS Quantum Dots Using Tea Leaf Extract: Antimicrobial, Bioimaging, and Therapeutic Applications in Lung Cancer Cells by Kavitha Shivaji, Suganya Mani, Ponnusamy Ponmurugan, Catherine Suenne De Castro, Matthew Lloyd Davies, Mythili Gnanamangai Balasubramanian, and Sudhagar Pitchaimuthu. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., 2018, 1 (4), pp 1683–1693 DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.8b00147 Publication Date (Web): March 9, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

How small can a carbon nanotube get before it stops being ‘electrical’?

Research, which began as an attempt to get reproducible electronics (?) measurements, yielded some unexpected results according ta January 3, 2018 news item on phys.org,

Carbon nanotubes bound for electronics not only need to be as clean as possible to maximize their utility in next-generation nanoscale devices, but contact effects may limit how small a nano device can be, according to researchers at the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University [UK] in collaboration with researchers at Rice University [US].

ESRI Director Andrew Barron, also a professor at Rice University in the USA, and his team have figured out how to get nanotubes clean enough to obtain reproducible electronic measurements and in the process not only explained why the electrical properties of nanotubes have historically been so difficult to measure consistently, but have shown that there may be a limit to how “nano” future electronic devices can be using carbon nanotubes.

Swansea University Issued a January 3, 2018 press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the work in more detail,

Like any normal wire, semiconducting nanotubes are progressively more resistant to current along their length. But conductivity measurements of nanotubes over the years have been anything but consistent. The ESRI team wanted to know why.

“We are interested in the creation of nanotube based conductors, and while people have been able to make wires their conduction has not met expectations. We were interested in determining the basic sconce behind the variability observed by other researchers.”

They discovered that hard-to-remove contaminants — leftover iron catalyst, carbon and water — could easily skew the results of conductivity tests. Burning them away, Barron said, creates new possibilities for carbon nanotubes in nanoscale electronics.

The new study appears in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

The researchers first made multiwalled carbon nanotubes between 40 and 200 nanometers in diameter and up to 30 microns long. They then either heated the nanotubes in a vacuum or bombarded them with argon ions to clean their surfaces.

They tested individual nanotubes the same way one would test any electrical conductor: By touching them with two probes to see how much current passes through the material from one tip to the other. In this case, their tungsten probes were attached to a scanning tunneling microscope.

In clean nanotubes, resistance got progressively stronger as the distance increased, as it should. But the results were skewed when the probes encountered surface contaminants, which increased the electric field strength at the tip. And when measurements were taken within 4 microns of each other, regions of depleted conductivity caused by contaminants overlapped, further scrambling the results.

“We think this is why there’s such inconsistency in the literature,” Barron said.

“If nanotubes are to be the next generation lightweight conductor, then consistent results, batch-to-batch, and sample-to-sample, is needed for devices such as motors and generators as well as power systems.”

Annealing the nanotubes in a vacuum above 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit) reduced surface contamination, but not enough to eliminate inconsistent results, they found. Argon ion bombardment also cleaned the tubes, but led to an increase in defects that degrade conductivity.

Ultimately they discovered vacuum annealing nanotubes at 500 degrees Celsius (932 Fahrenheit) reduced contamination enough to accurately measure resistance, they reported.

To now, Barron said, engineers who use nanotube fibers or films in devices modify the material through doping or other means to get the conductive properties they require. But if the source nanotubes are sufficiently decontaminated, they should be able to get the right conductivity by simply putting their contacts in the right spot.

“A key result of our work was that if contacts on a nanotube are less than 1 micron apart, the electronic properties of the nanotube changes from conductor to semiconductor, due to the presence of overlapping depletion zones” said Barron, “this has a potential limiting factor on the size of nanotube based electronic devices – this would limit the application of Moore’s law to nanotube devices.”

Chris Barnett of Swansea is lead author of the paper. Co-authors are Cathren Gowenlock and Kathryn Welsby, and Rice alumnus Alvin Orbaek White of Swansea. Barron is the Sêr Cymru Chair of Low Carbon Energy and Environment at Swansea and the Charles W. Duncan Jr.–Welch Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice.

The Welsh Government Sêr Cymru National Research Network in Advanced Engineering and Materials, the Sêr Cymru Chair Program, the Office of Naval Research and the Robert A. Welch Foundation supported the research.

Rice University has published a January 4, 2018 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which is almost (95%) identical to the press release from Swansea. That’s a bit unusual as collaborating institutions usually like to focus on their unique contributions to the research, hence, multiple news/press releases.

Dexter Johnson, in a January 11, 2018 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website,  adds a detail or two while writing in an accessible style.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Spatial and Contamination-Dependent Electrical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes by Chris J. Barnett, Cathren E. Gowenlock, Kathryn Welsby, Alvin Orbaek White, and Andrew R. Barron. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b03390 Publication Date (Web): December 19, 2017

Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Carbon nanotubes for enhanced wheat growth?

It’s been a long time (Oct. 22, 2009 posting; scroll down about 20% of the way) since I’ve written about carbon nanotubes and their possible use in agriculture but now a December 6, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily raises the topic again,

The introduction of purified carbon nanotubes appears to have a beneficial effect on the early growth of wheatgrass, according to Rice University scientists. But in the presence of contaminants, those same nanotubes could do great harm.

The Rice lab of chemist Andrew Barron grew wheatgrass in a hydroponic garden to test the potential toxicity of nanoparticles on the plant. To their surprise, they found one type of particle dispersed in water helped the plant grow bigger and faster.

They suspect the results spring from nanotubes’ natural hydrophobic (water-avoiding) nature that in one experiment apparently facilitated the plants’ enhanced uptake of water.

The research appears in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science: Nano.

A December 6, 2017 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The lab mounted the small-scale study with the knowledge that the industrial production of nanotubes will inevitably lead to their wider dispersal in the environment. The study cited rapid growth in the market for nanoparticles in drugs, cosmetic, fabrics, water filters and military weapons, with thousands of tons produced annually.

Despite their widespread use, Barron said few researchers have looked at the impact of environmental nanoparticles — whether natural or man-made — on plant growth.

The researchers planted wheatgrass seeds in multiple replicates in cotton wool and fed them with dispersions that contained raw single-walled or multi-walled nanotubes, purified single-walled nanotubes or iron oxide nanoparticles that mimicked leftover catalyst often attached to nanotubes. The solutions were either water or tetrahydrofuran (THF), an industrial solvent. Some of the seeds were fed pure water or THF as a control.

Rice University researchers tested the effects of carbon nanotubes on the growth of wheatgrass. While some showed no effect, purified single-walled nanotubes in water (5) enhanced the plants' growth, while the same nanotubes in a solvent (6) retarded their development. The photos at left show the plants after four days and at right after eight days, with odd-numbered plants growing in water and evens in a solvent. Numbers 1 and 2 are controls without nanotubes; 3-4 contain raw single-walled tubes; 5-6 purified single-walled tubes; 7-8 raw multi-walled tubes; 9-10 low-concentration iron-oxide nanoparticles and 11-12 high-concentration iron-oxide nanoparticles.

Rice University researchers tested the effects of carbon nanotubes on the growth of wheatgrass. While some showed no effect, purified single-walled nanotubes in water (5) enhanced the plants’ growth, while the same nanotubes in a solvent (6) retarded their development. The photos at left show the plants after four days and at right after eight days, with odd-numbered plants growing in water and evens in a solvent. Numbers 1 and 2 are controls without nanotubes; 3-4 contain raw single-walled tubes; 5-6 purified single-walled tubes; 7-8 raw multi-walled tubes; 9-10 low-concentration iron-oxide nanoparticles and 11-12 high-concentration iron-oxide nanoparticles. Click on the image for a larger version. Photos by Seung Mook Lee

After eight days, the plantings showed that purified single-walled nanotubes in water enhanced the germination rate and shoot growth of wheatgrass, which grew an average of 13 percent larger than plants in plain water. Raw single- and multi-walled nanotubes and particles in either solution had little effect on the plants’ growth, they found.

However, purified single-walled nanotubes in THF retarded plant development by 45 percent compared to single-walled nanotubes in water, suggesting the nanotubes act as a carrier for the toxic substance.

The concern, Barron said, is that if single-walled nanotubes combine with organic pollutants like pesticides, industrial chemicals or solvents in the environment, they may concentrate and immobilize the toxins and enhance their uptake by plants.

Nothing seen in the limited study indicated whether carbon nanotubes in the environment, and potentially in plants, will rise up the food chain and be harmful to humans, he said.

On the other hand, the researchers said it may be worth looking at whether hydrophobic substrates that mimic the positive effects observed in single-walled nanotubes could be used for high-efficiency channeling of water to seeds.

“Our work confirms the importance of thinking of nanomaterials as part of a system rather in isolation,” Barron said. “It is the combination with other compounds that is important to understand.”

Seung Mook Lee, a former visiting student research assistant from Memorial High School in Houston and now an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, is lead author of the paper. Co-authors are Rice research scientist Pavan Raja and graduate student Gibran Esquenazi. Barron is the Charles W. Duncan Jr.–Welch Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice and the Sêr Cymru Chair of Low Carbon Energy and Environment at Swansea University, Wales (UK).

The Welsh Government Sêr Cymru Program and the Robert A. Welch Foundation supported the research.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Effect of raw and purified carbon nanotubes and iron oxide nanoparticles on the growth of wheatgrass prepared from the cotyledons of common wheat (triticum aestivum) by Seung Mook Lee, Pavan M. V. Raja, Gibran L. Esquenazi, and Andrew R. Barron. Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2018, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C7EN00680B First published on 09 Nov 2017

This paper appears to be behind a paywall.

2017 Research as Art Awards at Swansea University (UK)

It’s surprising I haven’t stumbled across Swansea University’s (UK) Research as Art competitions before now. still, I’m happy to have done so now.

Picture: Research as Art winner 2017. “Bioblocks: building for nature”. How the tidal lagoon could be a habitat for marine creatures.

A July 14, 2017 news item on phys.org announces the results of 2017 Research as Art competition,

Fifteen stunning images, and the fascinating stories behind them—such as how a barn owl’s pellets reveal which animals it has eaten, how data can save lives, and how Barbie breaks free—have today been revealed as the winners of the 2017 Research as Art awards.

The overall winner is Dr Ruth Callaway, a research officer from the College of Science. Her entry, Bioblocks: building for nature, illustrates how children and researchers have been exploring ways in which the tidal lagoon proposed for Swansea Bay could become a new habitat for marine creatures.

A July 14, 2017 Swansea University press release, which originated the news item, describes the competition in more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Research as Art is the only competition of its kind, open to researchers from all subjects, and with an emphasis on telling the research story, as well as composing a striking image.

It offers an outlet for researchers’ creativity, and celebrates the diversity, beauty, and impact of research at Swansea University – a top 30 research university.

86 entries were received from researchers across all Colleges of the University.

A distinguished judging panel of senior figures selected a total of fifteen winners. Along with the overall winner, there were judges’ awards in four categories relating to engagement – imagination, inspiration, illumination, and the natural world – and 10 highly-commended entries.

Judging panel:

Prof. Gail Cardew – Professor of Science, Culture and Society at the Royal Institution
Dan Cressey, Reporter, Nature News
Flora Graham – Digital Editor of NewScientist
Barbara Kiser, Books and Arts Editor, Nature

Overall winner Dr Ruth Callaway described the image in her winning entry:

“Over 200 children used cubes of clay to sculpt ecologically attractive habitats for coastal creatures. These bioblocks demonstrate that humanmade structures can support marine life, while children and their families have gained a better understanding of the unique resilience of sea creatures.

It is hoped that the diverse and complex habitat will enable more species to use this new material as a living space: crevices and holes will provide shelter; variable textures and overhangs will allow animals and seaweed to cling to the material.”

Dr Ruth Callaway added:

“Innovative projects such as the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay are inspiring, but they also throw up lots of questions and complex environmental challenges.

For marine scientists, the project creates unprecedented research opportunities to explore how the construction process could reduce negative impact on the coastal environment.

The EU-funded SEACAMS project and the company Tidal Lagoon Power work in collaboration, and we explore novel ways of enhancing biodiversity. Discussing these ideas with the public both informs the wider community about our work and triggers new research ideas.”

Competition founder and Director Dr Richard Johnston, Associate Professor in materials science and engineering at Swansea University, said:

“Research as Art is an opportunity for researchers to reveal hidden aspects of their research to audiences they wouldn’t normally engage with. This may uncover their personal story, their humanity, their inspiration, and emotion.

It can also be a way of presenting their research process, and what it means to be a researcher; fostering dialogue, and dissolving barriers between universities and the wider world.”

You can find out more about the competition, which seems to date from 2012, on the Research as Art competition page and more about the SEACAMS project here.

Sustainable water desalination with self-cleaning membranes

This desalination technology comes from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). from an April 13, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

An advanced water treatment membrane made of electrically conductive nanofibers developed at Masdar Institute was highlighted by Dr. Raed Hashaikeh, Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Masdar Institute, in his keynote speech during the 3rd International Conference on Desalination using Membrane Technology held last week in Spain.

An April 13, 2017 Masdar Institute press release by Erica Solomon, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Self-cleaning membranes offer a critically needed solution to the problem of fouling, which is the unwanted build-up of organic and inorganic deposits on a membrane’s surface that reduces the membrane’s ability to filter impurities. Water treatment and purification membranes that can easily clean themselves when fouled could make pressure-driven membrane filtration systems used to treat and desalinate water more energy-efficient.

“Keeping membranes clean, permeable and functional is a great challenge to membrane desalination technologies. When a membrane becomes fouled, its pores get blocked and its flux is severely reduced, which means that much less water can pass through the membrane at a constant pressure,” Dr. Hashaikeh explained.

Conventional methods for cleaning fouled membranes involve expensive and harsh chemical treatments, and often lead to water treatment plant shut-downs, which can cost millions of dollars in lost operational hours. In the UAE, annual spending on desalination is already estimated to cost AED12 billion, indicating a pressing need for solutions that avoid costly shut-downs and treatments.

In addition to posing a heavy financial burden, fouled membranes are also a sustainability issue, as once a membrane becomes fouled, the higher pressure needed to push water through clogged pores significantly increases the plant’s energy consumption. The harsh chemicals used to clean a fouled membrane are also bad for the environment and require neutralizing. Thus, finding a way to easily and quickly clean fouled membranes not only makes financial sense, but environmental sense.

In a country like the UAE, where natural gas-powered thermal desalination produces over 80% of the country’s domestic water, innovative technologies like self-cleaning membranes to support a shift toward lower-energy and lower-cost membrane-based desalination are essential for achieving economic and environmental balance while meeting the UAE’s water demands.

And now, Dr. Hashaikeh’s research group may have brought the UAE closer towards realizing a more sustainable and economic approach to membrane desalination through their research on the application of advanced nanofibers for enhanced, self-cleaning membranes.

The group has leveraged the electrically conductive nature of a special kind of nanofiber, called carbon nanotubes (CNT). CNTs are tiny cylindrical tubes made of tightly bonded carbon atoms, measuring just one atom thick. But the CNTs Dr. Hashaikeh’s team used, which were provided by global security, aerospace, and information technology company Lockheed Martin, are not ordinary CNTs.

“The carbon nanostructures supplied by Lockheed Martin are special; they are networked. This means that they are composed of many interconnecting channels that branch off in all directions. This interconnectivity is what enables the entire membrane to become completely cleaned when electricity is applied to it,” Dr. Hashaikeh said.

The networked CNTs, also known as carbon nanostructures (CNS), coupled with the team’s expert membrane fabrication know-how, resulted in the development of two different types of membranes that can clean themselves when a low-voltage electric current is run through them.

The first type is a microfiltration membrane, which has pores sizes ranging from 100 nanometers to 10 micrometers, where a nanometer is approximately one hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair and a micrometer one thousand times larger than a nanometer. The second is a nanofiltration membrane with pore sizes ranging from one to ten nanometers. Both membranes demonstrated the ability to clean themselves in response to an electric shock, which resulted in the immediate restoration of the membranes’ flux.

Dr. Hashaikeh’s investigation of a self-cleaning membrane began four years ago, when he realized that electrolytic cleaning – which is the process of removing soil, scale or corrosion from a metal’s surface by subjecting it to an electric current – could also be used to clean membranes. To prove his theory, he coated a membrane with ordinary CNTs. When a voltage was applied to the membrane, the parts of the membranes that were coated with CNTs were successfully cleaned. Dr. Hashaikeh filed a patent for this in-situ electrolytic cleaning process with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2014.

However, there were limitations to this discovery, namely that only specific areas in the coated CNTs were cleaned, not the entire membrane. Thus, to develop an efficient, self-cleaning membrane with commercial potential, Dr. Hashaikeh required a material that would easily allow electric shockwaves to penetrate through the entire membrane’s surface area.

The unique, interconnected structure of Lockheed Martin’s carbon nanostructures proved to be just the right type of electrically conductive, nano-fibrous material required.

“We immediately recognized that Lockheed Martin’s CNTs might enable electricity to pass through the entire surface, but we had to modify the nanostructures to transform the material into a membrane. To do this, we controlled certain properties, such as wettability and pore size, and improved its mechanical strength by incorporating polymer materials,” he explained.

Dr. Haishaikeh’s team successfully developed a self-cleaning microfiltration membrane in 2014 and a paper describing the research was published in the Journal of Membrane Science. But they did not stop there; they wanted to take their research a step further and find a way to develop a self-cleaning nanofiltration membrane. While microfiltration membranes are useful for removing larger particles, including sand, silt, clays, algae and some forms of bacteria, nanofiltration membranes can go a step further, removing most organic molecules, nearly all viruses, most of the natural organic matter and a range of salts. Nanofiltration membranes also remove divalent ions, which make water hard, making nanofiltration a popular and eco-friendly option to soften hard water.

To create self-cleaning nanofiltration membranes out of Lockheed Martin’s networked CNTs, the team needed to overcome the problem of the CNTs’ large pore sizes, which prevented the material from functioning as a nanofiltration membrane.

To achieve this they looked to a second advanced nanofiber material previously developed by Dr. Hashaikeh’s research group, known as networked cellulose. Networked cellulose is a modified type of cellulose made from wood pulp. When dried, the networked cellulose gel shrinks in volume, but maintains its integrity and shape, becoming harder as it shrinks. The research team asserted that the networked cellulose gel could reduce the membrane’s pore sizes while maintaining its structural integrity.

The researchers then mixed the carbon nanostructures with the networked cellulose gel and as the mixture dried, the networked cellulose shrank. The shrinking of the network cellulose in turn pressurized the nanostructures in the membrane. The resulting membrane is strong with much smaller pore sizes. Dr. Hashaikeh reports that the pore size dropped from 60 nanometers to just three nanometers with the addition of the networked cellulose in a paper describing the study, which was published in the journal Desalination last month. Co-authors from Masdar Institute include PhD student Farah Ahmad and postdoctoral researcher Boor Lalia, along with Dr. Nidal Hilal of Swansea University.

Dr. Hashaikeh’s prolific scientific contribution to the field of membrane desalination has led to his recent appointment as an associate editor for the journal Desalination; a position that is essential to the quality of the international journal and its peer review process.

The innovative research conducted by Dr. Hashaikeh and the team will help position Abu Dhabi as a leader in membrane desalination research and technology development. This project has already yielded a patent filing, and is hoped to provide the emirate with novel intellectual property in the critical industry of desalination.

Here are the links and citations for the 2014 and 2017 papers,

A novel in situ membrane cleaning method using periodic electrolysis by Raed Hashaikeh, Boor Singh Lalia, Victor Kochkodan, Nidal Hilal. Journal of Membrane Science Volume 471, 1 December 2014, Pages 149–154 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.memsci.2014.08.017

Electrically conducting nanofiltration membranes based on networked cellulose and carbon nanostructures by Farah Ejaz Ahmed, Boor Singh Lalia, Nidal Hilal, Raed Hashaikeh. Desalination Volume 406, 16 March 2017, Pages 60–66 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.desal.2016.09.005

Both papers a behind a paywall.

New electrical contact technology to exploit nanoscale catalytic effects

A Jan. 20,, 2017 news item on Nanotechnology Now announces research into nanoscale electrical contact technology,

Research by scientists at Swansea University [UK] is helping to meet the challenge of incorporating nanoscale structures into future semiconductor devices that will create new technologies and impact on all aspects of everyday life.

Dr Alex Lord and Professor Steve Wilks from the Centre for Nanohealth led the collaborative research published in Nano Letters. The research team looked at ways to engineer electrical contact technology on minute scales with simple and effective modifications to nanowires that can be used to develop enhanced devices based on the nanomaterials. Well-defined electrical contacts are essential for any electrical circuit and electronic device because they control the flow of electricity that is fundamental to the operational capability.

Everyday materials that are being scaled down to the size of nanometres (one million times smaller than a millimetre on a standard ruler) by scientists on a global scale are seen as the future of electronic devices. The scientific and engineering advances are leading to new technologies such as energy producing clothing to power our personal gadgets and sensors to monitor our health and the surrounding environment.

Over the coming years this will make a massive contribution to the explosion that is the Internet of Things connecting everything from our homes to our cars into a web of communication. All of these new technologies require similar advances in electrical circuits and especially electrical contacts that allow the devices to work correctly with electricity.

A Jan. 19, 2017 Swansea University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains in greater detail,

Professor Steve Wilks said: “Nanotechnology has delivered new materials and new technologies and the applications of nanotechnology will continue to expand over the coming decades with much of its usefulness stemming from effects that occur at the atomic- or nano-scale. With the advent of nanotechnology, new technologies have emerged such as chemical and biological sensors, quantum computing, energy harvesting, lasers, and environmental and photon-detectors, but there is a pressing need to develop new electrical contact preparation techniques to ensure these devices become an everyday reality.”

“Traditional methods of engineering electrical contacts have been applied to nanomaterials but often neglect the nanoscale effects that nanoscientists have worked so hard to uncover.  Currently, there isn’t a design toolbox to make electrical contacts of chosen properties to nanomaterials and in some respects the research is lagging behind our potential application of the enhanced materials.”

The Swansea research team1 used specialist experimental equipment and collaborated with Professor Quentin Ramasse of the SuperSTEM Laboratory, Science and Facilities Technology Council.  The scientists were able to physically interact with the nanostructures and measure how the nanoscale modifications affected the electrical performance.

Their experiments found for the first time, that simple changes to the catalyst edge can turn-on or turn-off the dominant electrical conduction and most importantly reveal a powerful technique that will allow nanoengineers to select the properties of manufacturable nanowire devices.

Dr Lord said: “The experiments had a simple premise but were challenging to optimise and allow atomic-scale imaging of the interfaces. However, it was essential to this study and will allow many more materials to be investigated in a similar way.”

“This research now gives us an understanding of these new effects and will allow engineers in the future to reliably produce electrical contacts to these nanomaterials which is essential for the materials to be used in the technologies of tomorrow.

“In the near future this work can help enhance current nanotechnology devices such as biosensors and also lead to new technologies such as Transient Electronics that are devices that diminish and vanish without a trace which is an essential property when they are applied as diagnostic tools inside the human body.”

1. Lord, A. M., Ramasse, Q. M., Kepaptsoglou, D. M., Evans, J. E., Davies, P. R., Ward, M. B. & Wilks, S. P. 2016 Modifying the Interface Edge to Control the Electrical Transport Properties of Nanocontacts to Nanowires. Nano Lett. (doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03699). http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03699
2 .Lord, A. M. et al. 2015 Controlling the electrical transport properties of nanocontacts to nanowires. Nano Lett. 15, 4248–4254. (doi:10.1021/nl503743t) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl503743t

Both papers are open access.

Decontamination of carbon nanotubes by microwave ovens

The lowly microwave oven plays a starring role in this tale of carbon nanotube purification. From a Jan. 22, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Amid all the fancy equipment found in a typical nanomaterials lab, one of the most useful may turn out to be the humble microwave oven.

A standard kitchen microwave proved effective as part of a two-step process invented at Rice [US] and Swansea [UK] universities to clean carbon nanotubes.

Basic [carbon] nanotubes are good for many things, like forming into microelectronic components or electrically conductive fibers and composites; for more sensitive uses like drug delivery and solar panels, they need to be as pristine as possible.

A Jan. 22, 2016 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem the researchers were solving and how they did it,

[Carbon] Nanotubes form from metal catalysts in the presence of heated gas, but residues of those catalysts (usually iron) sometimes remain stuck on and inside the tubes. The catalyst remnants can be difficult to remove by physical or chemical means because the same carbon-laden gas used to make the tubes lets carbon atoms form encapsulating layers around the remaining iron, reducing the ability to remove it during purification.

In the new process, treating the tubes in open air in a microwave burns off the amorphous carbon. The nanotubes can then be treated with high-temperature chlorine to eliminate almost all of the extraneous particles.

The labs of chemists Robert Hauge, Andrew Barron and Charles Dunnill led the study. Barron is a professor at Rice in Houston and at Swansea University in the United Kingdom. Rice’s Hauge is a pioneer in nanotube growth techniques. Dunnill is a senior lecturer at the Energy Safety Research Institute at Swansea.

There are many ways to purify nanotubes, but at a cost, Barron said. “The chlorine method developed by Hauge has the advantage of not damaging the nanotubes, unlike other methods,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of the residual catalyst particles are surrounded by a carbon layer that stops the chlorine from reacting, and this is a problem for making high-purity carbon nanotubes.”

The researchers gathered microscope images and spectroscopy data on batches of single-walled and multiwalled nanotubes before and after microwaving them in a 1,000-watt oven, and again after bathing them in an oxidizing bath of chlorine gas under high heat and pressure. They found that once the iron particles were exposed to the microwave, it was much easier to get them to react with chlorine. The resulting volatile iron chloride was then removed.

Eliminating iron particles lodged inside large multiwalled nanotubes proved to be harder, but transmission electron microscope images showed their numbers, especially in single-walled tubes, to be greatly diminished.

“We would like to remove all the iron, but for many applications, residue within these tubes is less of an issue than if it were on the surface,” Barron said. “The presence of residual catalyst on the surface of carbon nanotubes can limit their use in biological or medical applications.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Enhanced purification of carbon nanotubes by microwave and chlorine cleaning procedures by Virginia Gomez,   Silvia Irusta, Wade Adams, Robert H Hauge, Charles W Dunnill, and Andrew Ross Barron.  RSC Adv., 2016, DOI: 10.1039/C5RA24854J First published online 22 Jan 2016

I believe this paper is behind a paywall.

Norwegians weigh in with research into wood nanocellulose healing application

It’s not just the Norwegians but they certainly seem to be leading the way on the NanoHeal project. Here’s a little more about the intricacies of healing wounds and why wood nanocellulose is being considered for wound healing, from the Aug. 23, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Wound healing is a complicated process consisting of several different phases and a delicate interaction between different kinds of cells, signal factors and connective tissue substance. If the wound healing does not function optimally, this can result in chronic wounds, cicatrisation or contractures. By having an optimal wound dressing such negative effects can be reduced. A modern wound dressing should be able to provide a barrier against infection, control fluid loss, reduce the pain during the treatment, create and maintain a moist environment in the wound, enable introduction of medicines into the wound, be able to absorb exudates during the inflammatory phase, have high mechanical strength, elasticity and conformability and allow for easy and painless release from the wound after use.

Nanocellulose is a highly fibrillated material, composed of nanofibrils with diameters in the nanometer scale (< 100 nm), with high aspect ratio and high specific surface area (“Cellulose fibres, nanofibrils and microfibrils: The morphological sequence of MFC components from a plant physiology and fibre technology point of view” [open access article in Nanoscale Research Letters]). Cellulose nanofibrils have many advantageous properties, such as high strength and ability to self-assembly.

Recently, the suitability of cellulose nanofibrils from wood for forming elastic cryo-gels has been demonstrated by scientists from Paper and Fibre Research Institute (PFI) and Lund University (“Cross-linking cellulose nanofibrils for potential elastic cryo-structured gels”  [open access in Nanoscale Research Letters). Cryogelation is a technique that makes it possible to engineer 3-D structures with controlled porosity. A porous structure with interconnected pores is essential for use in modern wound healing in which absorption of exudates, release of medicines into the wound or exchange of cells are essential properties.

The Research Council of Norway recently awarded a grant to the NanoHeal project, from the project page on the PFI (Pulp and Fibre Research Institute) website,

This multi-disciplinary research programme will develop novel material solutions for use in advanced wound healing based on nanofibrillated cellulose structures. This proposal requires knowledge on the effective production and application of sustainable and innovative micro- and nanofibres based on cellulose. The project will assess the ability of these nanofibres to interact with complementary polymers to form novel material structures with optimised adhesion and moulding properties, absorbance, porosity and mechanical performance.  The NanoHeal proposal brings together leading scientists in the fields of nanocellulose technology, polymer chemistry, printing and nanomedicine, to produce biocompatible and biodegradable natural polymers that can be functionalized for clinical applications. As a prototype model, the project will develop materials for use in wound healing. However, the envisaged technologies of synthesis and functionalization will have a diversity of commercial and industrial applications.

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway/NANO2021, and is a cooperation between several leading R&D partners.

  • PFI
  • NTNU [Norwegian University of Science and Technology], Faculty of medicine
  • Cardiff University
  • Swansea University
  • Lund University
  • AlgiPharma

Project period: 2012-2016

I wonder when I’m going to start hearing about Canadian research into wood nanocellulose  (nanocrystalline cellulose or otherwise) applications.