Tag Archives: University of Warwick

Nanocrystallometry points the way to control of motion in the nano-world

A May 28, 2014 news item on Azonano describes a new technique that could lead to controlling the growth of metal oxide crystals,

Published in the journal Nature Communications and developed at the University of Warwick, the method, called Nanocrystallometry, allows for the creation of precise components for use in nanotechnology.

Professor Peter Sadler from the University’s [University of Warwick] Department of Chemistry commented that “The breakthrough with Nanocrystallometry is that it actually allows us to observe and directly control the nano-world in motion”.

A May ??, 2014 University of Warwick news release, which originated the news item provides more details about the technique (Note: A link has been removed),

Using a doped-graphene matrix to slow down and then trap atoms of the precious metal osmium the researchers were able to control and quantify the growth of metal-crystals. When the trapped atoms come into contact with further osmium atoms they bind together, eventually growing into 3D metal-crystals.

“Tailoring nanoscopic objects is of enormous importance for the production of the materials of the future”, says Dr Nicholas Barry from the University’s Department of Chemistry. “Until now the formation of metal nanocrystals, which are essential to those future materials, could not be controlled with precision at the level of individual atoms, under mild and accessible conditions.”

Prof. Sadler says: “Nanocrystallometry’s significance is that it has made it possible to grow with precision metal-crystals which can be as small as only 0.00000015cm, or 15 ångström, wide. If a nanodevice requires a million osmium atoms then from 1 gram of osmium we can make about 400 thousand devices for every person on this earth. Compared to existing methods of crystal growth Nanocrystallometry offers a significant improvement in the economic and efficient manufacture of precision nanoscopic objects.”

The researchers argue that the new method possesses a range of potential uses. “We envision the use Nanocrystallometry to build precise, atomic-level electronic circuits and new nano-information storage devices. The method also has significant potential for use in the biosensing of drugs, DNA and gases as well for creating unique nano-patterns on surfaces for security labelling and sealing confidential documents. Nanocrystallometry is also an innovative method for producing new metal nano-alloys, and many combinations can be envisaged. They may have very unusual and as yet unexplored properties”, commented Dr Barry.

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

Fabrication of crystals from single metal atoms by Nicolas P. E. Barry, Anaïs Pitto-Barry, Ana M. Sanchez, Andrew P. Dove, Richard J. Procter, Joan J. Soldevila-Barreda, Nigel Kirby, Ian Hands-Portman, Corinne J. Smith, Rachel K. O’Reilly, Richard Beanland, & Peter J. Sadler. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3851 doi:10.1038/ncomms4851 Published 27 May 2014

This is an open access paper.

Phytoremediation, clearing pollutants from industrial lands, could also be called phyto-mining

The University of Edinburgh (along with the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham, Newcastle University and Cranfield University) according to its Mar. 4, 2013 news release on EurekAlert is involved in a phytoremediation project,

Common garden plants are to be used to clean polluted land, with the extracted poisons being used to produce car parts and aid medical research.

Scientists will use plants such as alyssum, pteridaceae and a type of mustard called sinapi to soak up metals from land previously occupied by factories, mines and landfill sites.

Dangerous levels of metals such as arsenic and platinum, which can lurk in the ground and can cause harm to people and animals, will be extracted using a natural process known as phytoremediation.

A Mar. 4, 2013 news item on the BBC News Edinburgh, Fife and East Scotland site offers more details about the project and the technology,

A team of researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Warwick, Birmingham, Newcastle and Cranfield has developed a way of extracting the chemicals through a process called phytoremediation, and are testing its effectiveness.

Once the plants have drawn contaminated material out of the soil, they will be harvested and processed in a bio-refinery.

A specially designed bacteria will be added to the waste to transform the toxic metal ions into metallic nanoparticles.

The team said these tiny particles could then be used to develop cancer treatments, and could also be used to make catalytic converters for cars.

Dr Louise Horsfall, of Edinburgh’s University’s school of biological sciences, said: “Land is a finite resource. As the world’s population grows along with the associated demand for food and shelter, we believe that it is worth decontaminating land to unlock vast areas for better food security and housing.

“I hope to use synthetic biology to enable bacteria to produce high value nanoparticles and thereby help make land decontamination financially viable.”

The research team said the land where phytoremediation was used would also be cleared of chemicals, meaning it could be reused for new building projects.

In my Sept. 28, 2012 posting I featured an international collaboration between universities in the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand in a ‘phyto-mining’ project bearing some resemblance to this newly announced project. In that project, announced in Fall 2012, scientists were studying how they might remove platinum for reuse from plants near the tailings of mines.

I do have one other posting about phytoremediation. I featured a previously published piece by Joe Martin in a two-part series on the topic plant (phyto) and nano soil remediation. The March 30, 2012 posting is part one, which focuses on the role of plants in soil remediation.

Phyto-mining and environmental remediation flower in the United Kingdom

Researchers on a £3 million research programme called “Cleaning Land for Wealth” (CL4W) are confident they’ll be able to use flowers and plants to clean soil of poisonous materials (environmental remediation) and to recover platinum (phyto-mining). From the Nov. 21, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A consortium of researchers led by WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick are to embark on a £3 million research programme called “Cleaning Land for Wealth” (CL4W), that will use a common class of flower to restore poisoned soils while at the same time producing perfectly sized and shaped nano sized platinum and arsenic nanoparticles for use in catalytic convertors, cancer treatments and a range of other applications.

The Nov. 20, 2012 University of Warwick news release, which originated the news item, describes both how CL4W came together and how it produced an unintended project benefit,

A “Sandpit” exercise organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) allowed researchers from WMG (Warwick Manufacturing group) at the University of Warwick, Newcastle University, The University of Birmingham, Cranfield University and the University of Edinburgh to come together and share technologies and skills to come up with an innovative multidisciplinary research project that could help solve major technological and environmental challenges.

The researchers pooled their knowledge of how to use plants and bacteria to soak up particular elements and chemicals and how to subsequently harvest, process and collect that material. They have devised an approach to demonstrate the feasibility in which they are confident that they can use common classes of flower and plants (such as Alyssum), to remove poisonous chemicals such as arsenic and platinum from polluted land and water courses potentially allowing that land to be reclaimed and reused.

That in itself would be a significant achievement, but as the sandpit progressed the researchers found that jointly they had the knowledge to achieve much more than just cleaning up the land.

As lead researcher on the project Professor Kerry Kirwan from WMG at the University of Warwick explained:

“The processes we are developing will not only remove poisons such as arsenic and platinum from contaminated land and water courses, we are also confident that we can develop suitable biology and biorefining processes (or biofactories as we are calling them) that can tailor the shapes and sizes of the metallic nanoparticles they will make. This would give manufacturers of catalytic convertors, developers of cancer treatments and other applicable technologies exactly the right shape, size and functionality they need without subsequent refinement. We are also expecting to recover other high value materials such as fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals, anti-oxidants etc. from the crops during the same biorefining process.”

I last mentioned phyto-mining in my Sept. 26, 2012 post with regard to an international project being led by researchers at the University of York (UK).  The biorefining processes (biofactories) mentioned by Kirwan takes the idea of recovering platinum, etc. one step beyond phyto-mining recovery.

Here’s a picture of the flower (Alyssum) mentioned in the news release,

Alyssum montanum photographed by myself in 1988, Unterfranken, Germany [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alyssum]

From the Wikipedia essay (Note: I have removed links],

Alyssum is a genus of about 100–170 species of flowering plants in the family Brassicaceae, native to Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region. The genus comprises annual and perennial herbaceous plants or (rarely) small shrubs, growing to 10–100 cm tall, with oblong-oval leaves and yellow or white flowers (pink to purple in a few species).