skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Nanotechnology right under our noses

Nanotechnology conjures up images of tiny machines able to deliver drugs to the body, produce clean energy or take over the world - depending on who you talk to. The reality is that many of the nanostructures that scientists currently use in the lab have already been used for millennia.

In the past, gold nanoparticles were used to produce brilliant reds in stained glass windows and nanoscale tubes were woven into Damascus steel to make strong, sharp swords. These technologies were used without full knowledge of the processes involved, or safety concerns; however, the recent breakthrough in nanotechnology is our understanding and control of nanoscale structures.

My colleagues and I at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology have found a common nanostructure that unites a variety of carbon materials, many of which are right under your nose. Water and air filters use activated carbon and vehicles produce soot - even your tennis racket and bike that contain carbon fibres.

You might be familiar with the layered structure of graphite: carbon atoms are arranged hexagonally in sheets that can easily glide past each other. This makes graphite a great material for pencil lead or a solid lubricant, but not as a filter or a bike frame. When graphite starts to become curved and interlinked is when the structure takes on its exceptional and diverse properties.

We ran quantum chemical calculations on the university’s supercomputers to understand what occurs when curvature is integrated into graphitic sheets through the replacement of a hexagonal ring of carbon with a pentagonal ring. This leads to a permanent bend in the structure that shuttles electrons from one side of the sheet to the other. This electric polarisation significantly increases the interaction of curvature-containing carbon material with molecules and itself, explaining how a relatively inert graphite can become strong and porous. 

The next step for us is to explore how we can use our discoveries to reduce the emission of soot from vehicles, improve water filtration and improve the many carbon nanostructures that are right under our noses.

Jacob W. Martin

NanoDTC Associate

Image sources:

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3437074

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Acero_damasceno_-_Toledo.JPG

https://www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/events/compline-candlelight

RSS Feed Latest news

NanoDTC Students included in Forbes 30 under 30

Jan 30, 2018

Jean de la Verpilliere and Alex Groombridge have been listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 in Europe.

Call for Midi+PhD Project Proposals

Dec 01, 2017

We are now accepting Midi+PhD Project Proposals from Cambridge Academics for our 2017 cohort/ Deadline: 26th Feb 2018

ERC PoC award for further technology development by Translational Prize Winners

Nov 23, 2017

Team receives £150k ERC Proof-of- Concept award for further development of their functional magnetic materials for biomedical applications

NanoDTC-Impulse-Maxwell Innovation Seminar Series - Prof. Ijeoma Uchegbu, Nanomerics

Oct 10, 2017

The first event in the joint NanoDTC-Impulse-Maxwell Innovation Seminar Series kicks off with a series of brilliant speakers who are at different stages in their Innovation  and Entrepreneurship journey.