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Little Things Mean A Lot

It is widely thought that advances in the use of engineered nanoscale materials will have significant impacts on fields ranging from medicine to electronics – but how do we get there from here? We are talking about manufacturing and manipulating things so small it’s difficult to conceptualize what we’re talking about. After all, William Powell once said that “Nanotechnology is manufacturing with atoms.”

Hollow or porous NiO nanoparticles of different sizes (6, 26, and 96 nm). Image courtesy of ACS Nano.

The key to realizing the potential of nanotechnology, and other fields related to the use of engineered nanoscale materials, will almost certainly not be a single “Eureka!” moment, but rather developing an understanding of how nanoparticles behave – a collection of scientific breakthroughs that will form pieces of a larger puzzle. How can we manufacture different kinds of nanoparticles? What sort of electrical or physical properties do they have? The list of questions is as long as your arm.

Recently a research team led by Dr. Joe Tracy, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State, discovered that size plays a key role in determining the structure of hollow nickel nanoparticles. What does it mean? Well, we know that hollow nanoparticles have interesting properties that could be used in everything from energy production to waste treatment. Tracy’s research provides important clues on how to control the formation of these hollow nanoparticles, but additional studies are needed before they will be put to use.

So why does his work matter? Because it helps us understand some of the principles that will serve as a foundation for future nanoscience. He’s giving us new pieces of the puzzle.

Images of 26 nm nanoparticles as the oxidation process progressed from 90-210 minutes at 300 °C. Image courtesy of ACS Nano.

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