Why is Nanoparticle Creation Difficult?

Scientists all over the world are relentlessly looking for new ways to deal with the challenges faced by mankind. From climate change to an increasing population: technical innovations are needed in order to enhance, or at least maintain, existing living standards.

The shift from fossil fuels towards a carbon neutral economy is central to most of these issues; and also the most crucial one.

Scientists are increasingly focusing on nanoparticles as a key technology in allowing the transition to a sustainable future. Gaining solid control over this new domain of materials science could allow a host of novel materials with new and extensively improved properties. Unfortunately, the exploration of the properties and applications of nanoparticles is considerably hindered by one main obstacle: people are struggling to attain the right building blocks.

New Sustainable Technologies are Unlocked by New Materials

Eras in human history are mostly associated directly with developments in technology and particularly with the advances in material science. The bronze age, iron age and stone age are long past and well known among the general public. Modern times can be characterized as the age of plastic, steel, nuclear/uranium or silicon. Enhancements in materials are extremely central to human society, as new materials can abruptly decrease the costs of present technologies, while producing several other applications that are economically viable. The world has to move to a sustainable future: in a sense a new age.

Until battery technology is adequately competitive, internal combustion engines will not be universally replaced by electric motors. Only once sustainable forms of electricity generation, such as photovoltaics, outcompete polluting power plants, will these unavoidably be phased out. Economies of scale, optimized supply chains, enhanced manufacturing techniques and macroscopic engineering can bring down costs and increase competitiveness. However, all these can take individuals only so far and, sooner or later, only enhanced materials can enable rapid and substantial increases in competitiveness.

Why it is so Difficult to Produce Novel Materials

An Engineer takes a look at a material and sees a physical substance with (useful) properties. Atoms are considered to be the building blocks of a material; and the countless interactions between these countless atoms offer a material its properties. By altering the composition of a material and its (atomic) organization, the interactions within a material can be modified and thus it gains new properties. However, until recently the structure/organization of a material could be changed only very indirectly; making it tough to develop and test new materials.

That changed recently with the beginning of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology defines a new building block, the nanoparticle, made up of several or up to thousands of atoms. Now, Researchers can directly control a material to almost the atomic level; possibly giving society access to new materials with exclusive properties. However, since a material is made up of countless (different) building blocks, this new degree of atomic control also allows countless new combinations.

Researchers are using the latest tools in nanotechnology to explore the possibilities of building novel materials from these uncountable number of building blocks. It is in principle a trial-and-error method, and people are seen struggling with the initial step: getting the right nanoparticles.

The Research Tool-kit Lacks a Fast Way for Making Specific Building Blocks

Two options are available for those wanting nanoparticles. Individuals can either buy them or make them. Most people ultimately choose the latter option. Most synthesis routes depend on wet chemical methods, which can deliver good control over particle shape and size. Unfortunately, these are frequently difficult to scale or modify.

With these methods, it takes a considerable amount of effort and time to change the resulting particle size, batch size or composition; and sometimes a process has to be entirely redesigned. Many PhD Students end up spending over two thirds of their project-time just attempting to reproduce and alter "proven" recipes. Many Researchers like that do exist and it is indeed frankly a waste of energy, of talent and it holds back the progress of society.

Students in labs have an extremely different experience. After a brief introduction to the spark generator system, they end their day with the particles of the size and composition that they wanted and are ready for their actual work: confirming their hypothesis.

Seeing those two opposites was possibly the most significant driving force in starting VSPARTICLE. Researchers are allowed to find the piece of the puzzle that helps them develop the whole image. Individuals can make fast and easy iterations in making the building blocks and they reach their goal quickly.

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This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by VSPARTICLE B.V.

For more information on this source, please visit VSPARTICLE B.V.