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High-Throughput Apparatus Speeds Up Eco-Friendly Nanomaterial Synthesis

University of Birmingham researcher developed a new high-throughput device that uses mechanochemical synthesis to create libraries of nanomaterials faster and more sustainably.

Dr. Jason Stafford of the University's School of Engineering created the platform to create incredibly controlled reaction conditions and reduce the substantial time scientists spend creating materials in the lab.

The benchtop device is a fully automated unit that can be set up for parallel synthesis to create a library of cutting-edge materials or product formulations for additional testing and optimization. This allows for the production of a series of novel materials made in slightly different ways.

Present-day methods for creating materials with unique characteristics, like 2D materials, either use a top-down strategy called exfoliation to remove atom layers from a material or a bottom-up strategy called atom deposition, which builds a sheet one atom at a time.

These methods depend on thousands of precursors and entail numerous steps and synthesis parameters. This impedes research and development (R&D) on novel formulations utilizing nanomaterials derived from compounds (like copper oxide, polymers, or crystals) or single elements like graphene. 

Dr. Stafford’s invention uses mechanochemical synthesis, which opens up new material sources and uses mechanical forces to trigger chemical reactions, obviating the need for hazardous solvents. It can be programmed to deliver different mechanical forces in each vessel, which may contain anything from a dry solid powder to a diluted liquid suspension. It operates with both standard laboratory glassware and custom vessels.

According to Dr. Stafford, the new approach will interest researchers in drug discovery, chemical manufacturing, and advanced materials design, as well as laboratory-based scientists interested in creating new materials that can be easily integrated into environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.

There is a massive and ever-growing library of specialized 2D materials that have not reached mainstream applications. Yet, researchers are spending up to half of their time ensuring synthesis steps are performed repeatedly and correctly. The automated platform can significantly reduce the time and expertise required in these processes and free up scientists to focus on the core aspects of their research in materials discovery.

Dr. Stafford, Associate Professor, University of Birmingham

Dr. Stafford is an Associate Professor who focuses on mechanochemical processing, multiphase flows, and thermofluids. He is the primary inventor on a patent application submitted by the University of Birmingham Enterprise for the recently developed high-throughput method for 2D and nanomaterial processing and a co-inventor on 20 other patents.

Dr. Stafford is scheduled to attend the Advanced Materials Show and ChemExpo2024 at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Center on May 15 and 16.


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