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The characterisation of nanoparticles

A nanoparticle is a microscopic particle whose size is measured in thousand-millionths of a metre. Nanoparticles are of great scientific interest as they are a bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures at such small scales the ordinary rules of physics and chemistry no longer apply.
Nanoparticles have a wide variety of potential applications in biomedical, optical and electronic fields (eg. medical diagnostic tools, sensors, solar energy collection, flexible display technologies, e-paper, composites, glues, paints, lubricants, new forms of computer memory, printable electronic circuits, optical components etc.).

The objectives of my Fellowship proposal are to gain knowledge and skills transferable across the field of nanotechnology rather than of any one topic. The academic study follows post-graduate lecture courses in Materials Science. The research project consists of two related practical assignments, each with industrial applications, each involving understanding the behaviour and effects of different nanoparticles and requiring a range of analytical techniques.

To comply with European directives, electrical solder must no longer contain lead.  An alternative is alloys of silver, tin and copper, but over time these change their atomic arrangement, forming nanoparticles.  The first short assignment is to understand this process better by investigating the particle structure using transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and x-ray diffraction.

Metal oxides such as titania, silica, zinc oxide are often added to polymeric materials as UV absorbers and fire retardants, but the ways they function are poorly understood. The final, longest part of my project is to study the role of oxide nanoparticles in thermoset (epoxy) and thermoplastic (polypropylene) materials using TEM, x-ray spectroscopy and thermal analysis.

Current knowledge of the toxicology of nanoparticles is poor but suggests that nanoparticles may have adverse effects on organs and organisms.  A key aim of this work is to gain a detailed understanding of how the nanoparticle distribution affects the properties of materials and to develop characterisation techniques applicable to a range of areas.