Tag Archives: Chao-Jun Li

Canadian and Japanese researchers create new technique for using iron nanoparticles in greener hydrogenation process

McGill University’s Audrey Moores and her team’s latest green chemistry work with researchers at RIKEN (The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, Wako, Japan) and the Institute for Molecular Science (Okazaki, Japan) is featured in a June 27, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers from McGill University, RIKEN (The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, Wako, Japan) and the Institute for Molecular Science (Okazaki, Japan) have discovered a way to make the widely used chemical process of hydrogenation more environmentally friendly – and less expensive.

Hydrogenation is a chemical process used in a wide range of industrial applications, from food products, such as margarine, to petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. The process typically involves the use of heavy metals, such as palladium or platinum, to catalyze the chemical reaction. While these metals are very efficient catalysts, they are also non-renewable, costly, and subject to sharp price fluctuations on international markets.

Because these metals are also toxic, even in small quantities, they also raise environmental and safety concerns. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, must use expensive purification methods to limit residual levels of these elements in pharmaceutical products. Iron, by contrast, is both naturally abundant and far less toxic than heavy metals.

Previous work by other researchers has shown that iron nanoparticles — tiny pieces of metallic iron — can be used to activate the hydrogenation reaction. Iron, however, has a well-known drawback: it rusts in the presence of oxygen or water. When rusted, iron nanoparticles stop acting as hydrogenation catalysts. This problem, which occurs with so much as trace quantities of water, has prevented iron nanoparticles from being used in industry.

The June 27, 2013 McGill University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides details about the new technique,

The key to this new method is to produce the particles directly inside a polymer matrix, composed of amphiphilic polymers based on polystyrene and polyethylene glycol. The polymer acts as a wrapping film that protects the iron surface from rusting in the presence of water, while allowing the reactants to reach the water and react.

This innovation enabled the researchers to use iron nanoparticles as catalyst in a flow system, raising the possibility that iron could be used to replace platinum-series metals for hydrogenation under industrial conditions.

“Our research is now focused on achieving a better understanding of how the polymers are protecting the surface of the iron from water, while at the same time allowing the iron to interact with the substrate,” says Audrey Moores, an assistant professor of chemistry at McGill and co-corresponding author of the paper.

“The approach we have developed through this collaboration could lead to more sustainable industrial processes,” says Prof. Uozumi [Prof. Yasuhiro Uozumi of Riken]. “This technique provides a system in which the reaction can happen over and over with the same small amount of a catalytic material, and it enables it to take place in almost pure water — the green solvent par excellence.”

I last wrote about greener chemistry and iron nanoparticles in a March 28, 2012 posting concerning some work at the University of Toronto while the last time McGill, green chemistry, and Audrey Moores were mentioned here was in a Jan. 10, 2011 posting concerning ‘nanomagnetics.

For those who are interested in this latest work from McGill, here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Highly efficient iron(0) nanoparticle-catalyzed hydrogenation in water in flow by Reuben Hudson, Go Hamasaka, Takao Osako, Yoichi M. A. Yamada, Chao-Jun Li, Yasuhiro Uozumi, and Audrey Moores.
Green Chem., 2013, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C3GC40789F

First published online 27 Jun 2013

This paper is behind a paywall.

Greener catalysts with iron nanoparticles

A research team at the University of Toronto has announced the discovery of a possible ‘green’ alternative to commonly used catalysts in the food, drug, and fragrance industries. From the March 27, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A chemistry team at the University of Toronto has discovered environmentally-friendly iron-based nanoparticle catalysts that work as well as the expensive, toxic, metal-based catalysts that are currently in wide use by the drug, fragrance and food industry.

“It is always important to strive to make industrial syntheses more green, and using iron catalysts is not only much less toxic, but it is also much more cost effective,” said Jessica Sonnenberg, a PhD student and lead author of a paper published this week in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (“Iron Nanoparticles Catalyzing the Asymmetric Transfer Hydrogenation of Ketones”).

The March 27, 2012 University of Toronto news release provides a quote from Sonnenberg which suggests there’s still a lot more work to be done before the toxic metal-based catalysts currently being used could be replaced,

… “Catalysts, even cheap iron ones developed for these types of reaction, still suffer one major downfall,” explained Sonnenberg.  “They require a one-to-one ratio of very expensive organic ligands – the molecule that binds to the central metal atom of a chemical compound – to yield catalytic activity. Our discovery of functional surface nanoparticles opens the door to using much smaller ratios of these expensive compounds relative to the metal centres.  This drastically reduces the overall cost of the transformations.”

This work at the University of Toronto reminded me of another team also working on green catalysts for chemical reactions and also based in Canada, this time at McGill University. The McGill team lead by Chao-Jun Li was mentioned most recently here in a Jan. 10, 2011 posting where their ‘nanomagnetics’ technology to replace the current toxic catalysts  is described.

McGill green chemistry breakthrough in Québec Science’s top ten list; cinnamon green chemistry

McGill University researchers, Chao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores and their colleagues, earned their spot in Québec Science’s top 10 list of 2010 with a nanotech catalyst that makes it possible to reduce the use of toxic heavy metals from chemical processes. From the news release,

Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemical reactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecological and economic effects of traditional chemical catalysts and do attempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult to separate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. The team’s discovery does away with this chemical process altogether.

Li, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Organic/Green Chemistry, neatly describes the new catalyst as a way to “use a magnet and pull them out!” The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involves nanoparticles of a simple iron magnet. Nanoparticles are sized between 1 and 100 nanometres (a strand of hair is about 80,000 nanometres wide). The catalyst itself is chemically benign and can be efficiently recycled. In terms of practical applications, their method can already be used to generate the reactions that are required for example in pharmaceutical research, and could in the future be used to achieve reactions necessary for research in other industries and fields. The discovery was published in Highlights in Chemical Science in January 18, 2010, in an article authored by Li, Moores, Tieqiang Zeng, Wen-Wen Chen, Ciprian M. Cirtiu, and Gonghua Song.

Li is known as one of the world’s pioneers in Green Chemistry, an entirely new approach to the science that tries to avoid the use of toxic, petrochemical-based solvents in favour of basic substances. More than 97 per cent of all products we use involves one or more chemical reactions. The future of not only the trillion-dollar chemical industry, but also the overall economy and the health of ecosystems and populations around the world rests on our ability to find sustainable solutions to chemical use. With 25 key researchers, 117 graduate students and more than 15 postdoctoral fellows working at ways to reduce the toxicity of chemical processes, McGill is a recognized global leader in the field. The University’s pioneering work in Green Chemistry dates back to the 1960s, when phrases such as “chemicals from renewable resources” and “non-polluting chemicals” were used.

The magazine, Québec Science, is asking its readers to vote by Feb. 25, 2011 for the top discovery of 2010. You can go here to vote (you will need to be able to read French).

Feb. 17, 2010, I featured this McGill team’s 2010 green chemistry (starting in the 3rd paragraph).

Since we’re on the topic of green chemistry, I now have the opportunity to mention a Nov. 29, 2010 news item on Nanowerk about how cinnamon could be used to replace dangerous chemicals used to create nanoparticles (from the news item),

Gold nanoparticles, tiny pieces of gold so small that they can’t be seen by the naked eye, are used in electronics, healthcare products and as pharmaceuticals to fight cancer. Despite their positive uses, the process to make the nanoparticles requires dangerous and extremely toxic chemicals. While the nanotechnology industry is expected to produce large quantities of nanoparticles in the near future, researchers have been worried about the environmental impact of the global nanotechnological revolution.

Now, a study by a University of Missouri research team, led by MU scientist Kattesh Katti, curators’ professor of radiology and physics in the School of Medicine and the College of Arts and Science, senior research scientist at the University of Missouri Research Reactor and director of the Cancer Nanotechnology Platform, has found a method that could replace nearly all of the toxic chemicals required to make gold nanoparticles. The missing ingredient can be found in nearly every kitchen’s spice cabinet – cinnamon.

… The new process uses no electricity and utilizes no toxic agents. …

During the study, the researchers found that active chemicals in cinnamon are released when the nanoparticles are created. When these chemicals, known as phytochemicals, are combined with the gold nanoparticles, they can be used for cancer treatment. The phytochemicals can enter into cancer cells and assist in the destruction or imaging of cancer cells, Katti  said.

“Our gold nanoparticles are not only ecologically and biologically benign, they also are biologically active against cancer cells,” Katti said.

As the list of applications for nanotechnology grows in areas such as electronics, healthcare products and pharmaceuticals, the ecological implications of nanotechnology also grow. When considering the entire process from development to shipping to storage, creating gold nanoparticles with the current process can be incredibly harmful to the environment, Chanda [Nripen Chanda, a research associate scientist] said.

Counterbalancing some of this ‘feel good’ green chemistry news focused on reducing environmental impacts posed by chemical processes is a report debunking some the nanotechnology community’s ‘green’ claims, released Nov. 17, 2010, by the Friends of the Earth (FoE), Nanotechnology, climate and energy: Over-heated promises and hot air? You can view the report here. There’s also a new report, released Dec. 17, 2010,  from the ETC Group, The Big Downturn? Nanogeopolitics. As you can tell from the title, the report is more of an overview (it’s an update of a 2005 report) but it does provide information about green nanotechnology. I hope to have some time in the next month or so to discuss these reports rather than just refer to them.

Tokyo’s nano tech 2010; McGill Nanotech discovery could make chemistry greener; Vancouver Olympics and technology; Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 1 of 3)

I’m looking forward to posting (as promised) my piece about the new dean at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. Dr. Cheryl Geisler. First though, I’ll be noting some of the nanotechnology news.

Mentioned here earlier this month in a piece featuring varnish that ‘sings’, Tokyo’s nano tech 2010 International Nanotechnology Exhibition and Conference opens today, Feb. 17 and runs until Feb. 19. I believe this show and conference is one of the oldest and biggest of its type. For those who don’t know, Japan has long been a leader in nanotechnology. In fact, the term was coined by Norio Taniguchi in 1974 in his paper for the Japan Society for Precision Engineering. (Btw, if you’re interested in ‘singing’ varnish, you can read about it here in my posting of Feb. 3, 2010. It is towards the end of the post.)

On a completely other note, there’s a  news item on physorg.com highlighting a new nanotechnology-enabled process, discovered by researchers at McGill University in Montréal, for using catalysts in chemical reactions so they are ‘greener’. From the news item,

A new nanotech catalyst developed by McGill University Chemists Chao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores and their colleagues offers industry an opportunity to reduce the use of expensive and toxic heavy metals. Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemical reactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecological and economic impact of traditional chemical catalysts and do attempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult to separate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. The team’s discovery does away with this chemical process altogether.

Li neatly describes the new catalyst as “use a magnet and pull them out!” The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involves nanoparticles of a simple iron magnet

Congratulations to the researchers at McGill.

While it’s not nanotech specific it builds on yesterday’s (Feb.16.10) piece about science at the Vancouver Olympics and provides a tidy segue to the Geisler interview.  I’ve found an article about technology and the Vancouver Olympics on Fast Company by Dan Nosowitz. From the article,

The Vancouver Olympics is especially exciting because it combines all of our favorite things: Twitter, Facebook, Google Street View, recycled computer guts, iPhone apps, and mind-controlled light shows. Oh, right, and sports, I guess.

The Medals

Vancouver’s gold, silver, and bronze medals are all constructed partly of metal collected from discarded circuit boards. Teck Resources, a Canadian mining company, supplied the Royal Canadian Mint with recycled gold, silver, and copper (there’s not much bronze in computer parts, apparently) from which these particularly beautiful medals are made. Each medal is laser-etched with a unique design, and the medals are all wavy, meant to simulate the topographic diversity of Vancouver.

I agree, the medals are gorgeous and, in their way, an extraordinary expression of science, technology, and art.  (You can see images of the medals if you click through to the Fast Company article.)

I could wax on longer about how art, science, technology and more are interconnected but I’d rather post the piece I’ve written after interviewing Cheryl Geisler earlier this month. One note before proceeding, I have preserved the flavour of Geisler’s speech as much as possible. This was a stylistic choice as I prefer to ‘hear’ the interview and a standard Q & A style would not have worked well given the volume of contextual information that I wanted to include.

Off the deep end: interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 1 of 3)

The new Dean (since August 2009 when she arrived from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State), Dr. Cheryl Geisler, of the new Faculty (since April 2009) of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) administers three schools

  • Communication,
  • Contemporary Arts and
  • Interactive Arts and Technology

and two components

  • Master of Publishing and
  • under a not yet finalised special arrangement, Masters [sic] of Digital Media

that occupy (or will in Sept.2011 when the School for the Contemporary Arts moves to its new location at Woodward’s in Vancouver’s downtown eastside) five different physical locations in three different Metro Vancouver (Canada) municipalities. (Geisler has managed, as she pledged, to spend time (i.e., roughly a day) at each location if not weekly certainly on a regular basis. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that the Burnaby campus is 20 k from Surrey and 10 k from Vancouver (you can check those distances on this chart). It becomes more impressive when you realize how awkward the routing is if you’re traveling by car or public transit.)

Describing FCAT is a challenge since it hasn’t achieved a stable form (assuming that stability will be possible given the subject areas the faculty represents). Now, imagine trying to get a grasp of the situation when you’ve moved from the east coast of one country to the west coast of a new country, albeit on the same continent. Then add a move from a privately funded postsecondary institution which is an older one, Rensselaer was founded in 1828, to a publicly funded, comparatively new university, SFU was founded in 1965. All of this on top of dealing with a fluid faculty that has a local but wide-flung geography.

“You know, whenever I see something different I always say that I don’t know if this is SFU or the Canadian university system or if it’s Vancouver. I have no way to sort it out,” says Geisler in response to a question about whether or not she’d encountered any surprises after starting her new job. “Some of the reasons that I chose to come here were because of the greater social engagement with the community [that SFU is known for] and a greater emphasis on collegial decision-making processes. In the private university that I came from, we got things done quickly but not always with a lot of input. Now, I’m coming to a system where things don’t get done particularly quickly but there’s always a lot of consultation, so my challenge is to try and marry those two.”

Geisler brings a little more to the job than her past experience as Head of the Department of Language, Literature and Communication at Rensselaer (you can get more details about Geisler’s CV in yesterday’s posting). She was the leader for a project (RAMP Up! Reforming Advancement Processes through University Professions) funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). While much of the focus was specifically on women, the overarching project goals can be applied to other situations. From the project website,

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s NSF-funded project for institutional transformation stands for Reforming Advancement Processes through University Professions.  One of the major goals of the RAMP-Up project is institutional reform using mechanisms of professional self-regulation as a means for controlling advancement through faculty ranks.

Unlike reforms aimed at top-down policy initiatives, this type of self-regulatory reform cannot be mandated, but is achieved only by rethinking faculty-to-faculty processes such as networking, mentoring, and peer review. The kind of change necessary for effective institutional reform will come about as a transformation of culture at all levels of the institute, particularly within departments, which are the hubs of faculty work.

Geisler does anticipate bringing some RAMP Up! (so to speak) to SFU. “Yes, [the project] focused on bottom-up cultural transformations of big university/academic processes and I have a big commitment to bottom-up processes which I brought to that project [and had reinforced as I worked on it]. A big emphasis for me now is to create connections between the various components of FCAT and not consider them as separate entities but to try mixing [them] up and see what the synergies could be.”

Similar to a successful RAMP Up! initiative which went through three rounds of funding, Geisler has proposals on her desk to introduce a type of career campaign award to faculty members for working with a mentor and developing a plan for career advancement. “We’ve had a lot of interest from the junior faculty and I believe it’s really one of the first mentoring initiatives at SFU,” says Geisler.

Tomorrow: budget cuts and history.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler Introduction, Part 2, Part 3