Predicting The Nanoparticle-structured Future - No Small Task
Canadians. Is there anything they can't do? This week, the results of a study conducted at the University of Toronto were released - and it means big business for the tiny world of nanoparticles. Using molecular polymers as guidelines, the researchers were able to predict the composition of nanoparticle structures.
This information comes with two questions. 1) Why bother? and 2) Who cares?
1) Because nanoparticles are getting to be the next "big" thing. Right now, individually synthesized nanoparticles have become old hat, but organizing them into useful structures - such as ones that would hold memory - is a challenge.
2) Actually, more people than you would think. As the world of nanoparticles has slowly moved out of the realm of the theoretical and into the actual, there has been a real need to predict not only the movement of these particles, but just how they're going to get together and get their groove on.
Up until the Toronto research was completed, scientists were largely stuck in the "stick 'em together and see what works" mentality - one shared by many adolescent boys and that leads to both great discoveries and the blowing off of limbs with great force in equal measure.
Simply put, nanoparticles could be made, but beyond that were largely on their own. Once they came in contact with other such particles, their eventual shape was completely unpredictable, given their oddly synthetic nature.
Taking a cue from actual nature, the Toronto team used an already-known form of bonding - that of polymers formed by molecules in a chemical reaction. Turns out that metal nanoparticles exhibit almost the exact same structure formation once they get together and start swapping particulate stories, and this allowed the team to predict how the particles would come together, and gave them the ability to accurately predict a whole host of nanoparticle combinations and their structures.
Turns out that treating a particle like a molecule is sometimes the way to go, and that maple syrup, back bacon and an oddly obsessive love of burly men on skates hasn't dulled the Canadian intellect.