Big Promises from Small Materials: Highlights from the Nano-Hybrid Materials Symposium at the 100th Canadian Chemistry Conference
July 12, 2017
The Canadian Journal of Chemistry was proud to sponsor the Nano-Hybrid Materials Symposium at the 100th Canadian Chemistry Conference. Symposium co-organizer Dr. Mita Dasog shares the latest nano-hybrid science and highlights from this interdisciplinary meeting.
By Mita Dasog
Humanity has relied on naturally occurring materials to build its civilizations for millennia. But as technology progresses by leaps and bounds, so too does the need for specialized materials with distinct properties. What does one do if no natural material can be found to fit the bill? Well, if you’re a nanoscientist, the answer is: you go to the lab bench and design a new one. Atom by atom, if need be.
The field of nanotechnology (the creation and use of new materials with at least one dimension below 100 nanometres) has exploded in recent years, and discoveries in this area have found their way into numerous consumer products. For instance, tiny particles known as “quantum dots” can give LCD TVs better colour and sharper images, while the active ingredients in many sunscreens are nanoparticles made of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
Nanotechnology has even found its way into medicine with the design of wound dressings containing antibacterial silver nanoparticles. Researchers have now begun to attach designer nanomaterials onto other types of molecules, such as polymers, biomolecules (proteins, DNA, phospholipids), and even other types of nanomaterials, to create what are known as “nano-hybrid materials.” By adjusting the size, shape, or composition of the nanostructures, the overall properties of a nano-hybrid substance can be fine-tuned for a variety of applications.
There was a tremendous breadth of topics discussed in the symposium. Over the course of the two-day meeting, presenters shared their recent discoveries on the applications of nanomaterials in biological systems, energy systems, catalysis (acceleration of chemical reactions in presence of a substance called “catalyst”), and optoelectronics (electronic devices that detect, respond, and regulate light), as well as fundamental insights into nanomaterial synthesis, surface modification, and magnetic properties.
Researchers with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, and engineering were in attendance, highlighting the importance of collaboration in this increasingly interdisciplinary area of study. Energy related research, such as the development of nano-hybrid materials for solar cells, photoelectrodes, photocatalysts, and electrocatalysts to generate electricity or fuels using sunlight, was prominently showcased, demonstrating the importance that the nanoscience community has placed on satisfying our energy demands in a sustainable manner. In order to lower our carbon emissions, it is vital that we develop such technologies in the near future.
|Generation of fuels from electrochemical conversion of water and CO2 using renewable energy
(Phil De Luna, University of Toronto)
Researchers also discussed the importance of earth-abundant elements and biomaterials such as nanocrystalline cellulose and lignin extracted from tissues of woody plants—in catalysis and generation of chemical feedstock, the raw materials used to carry out chemical reactions. Biomass from forest and agricultural by-products is plentiful in Canada, but only using it to generate heat through combustion greatly under-utilizes this material. Therefore, efforts to use materials such as nanocrystalline cellulose as catalyst supports, hydrogels (e.g., absorbents in disposable diapers), sensors (e.g., to detect heavy metal contaminants in water), or nano-mold gives new value to a material that would otherwise go to waste.
Nanomaterials have also been researched extensively for biomedical applications. Presentations highlighted new developments on the attachment of proteins to nanoparticle surfaces, site-specific drug delivery (e.g., nanoparticles release a drug when they’ve reached target cells), and biomedical imaging using magnetic nanomaterials. A fundamental understanding of the interaction of biomolecules with nanomaterials will allow us to precisely control their function in the human body with limited harmful side-effects. To this end, several presentations focused on precise control over the synthesis, surface chemistry, and properties such as photoluminescence (light emission), conductivity, and magnetism of the nano-hybrid materials.