A new patent for the University of Oregon provides an environmentally benign solution to an important challenge in nanotechnology.
A process developed by chemistry professor Jim Hutchison eliminates the need to use two highly toxic chemicals in the production of functionalized gold nanoparticles. His innovation is part of the university's effort to develop safer manufacturing processes for nanoscale materials, those measuring less than 100 billionths of a meter.
Nanoscience researchers create new materials through chemical assembly of molecular building blocks. Researchers traditionally use diborane, a highly toxic, odourless and colourless gas that auto-ignites near room temperature, and the toxic solvent benzene to synthesize an important class of metal nanoparticles.
Hutchison and his students developed a new synthetic procedure that eliminates the use of diborane and benzene for that process. In addition to being safer for the chemists and the environment, Hutchison's process takes just a few hours, instead of days, and significantly reduces the cost of making these nanoparticles.
The patented process is a major step toward establishing "green" nanotechnology practices. The pioneering work in the Hutchison chemistry labs applies green chemistry principles to the field of nanoscience. Green chemistry principles focus on reducing, recycling or eliminating the use of toxic chemicals in chemistry by finding creative ways to minimize the human and environmental impact without stifling scientific progress.
"UO is a recognized leader in the emerging field of green chemistry that has eliminated the use of many toxic materials in chemistry labs throughout the nation," said Richard Linton, UO's vice president for research and graduate studies. "This innovation demonstrates the UO's capabilities in green nanotechnology and is an enabling step toward making production of nanoscale materials more practical."
Now that the patent has been issued, Linton says, a spin-off company may be created to market the process to nanotechnology researchers worldwide.
Potential applications for Hutchison's process include research and development of nano-electronics, including tiny transistors, sensors and diagnostic assays.
The University of Oregon is a partner in the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), a collaboration involving the UO, Portland State University, Oregon State University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and high-tech private industry that is leveraging the state of Oregon's strengths in nanoscience and microscale engineering.