HOUSTON -- May 29, 2008 -- In a development that could lead to new technologies for cleaning up oil spills and polluted groundwater, scientists at Rice University have shown how tiny, stick-shaped particles of metal and carbon can trap oil droplets in water by spontaneously assembling into bag-like sacs.
The tiny particles were found to assemble spontaneously by the tens of millions into spherical sacs as large as BB pellets around droplets of oil in water. In addition, the scientists found that ultraviolet light and magnetic fields could be used to flip the nanoparticles, causing the bags to instantly turn inside out and release their cargo -- a feature that could ultimately be handy for delivering drugs.
"The core of the nanotechnology revolution lies in designing inorganic nanoparticles that can self-assemble into larger structures like a 'smart dust' that performs different functions in the world for example, cleaning up pollution," said lead research Pulickel Ajayan, Rice's Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. "Our approach brings the concept of self-assembling, functional nanomaterials one step closer to reality."
The research was published online today by the American Chemical Society's journal Nano Letters.
The multisegmented nanowires, akin to "nanoscale batons," were made by connecting two nanomaterials with different properties, much like an eraser is attached to the end of a wooden pencil. In the study, the researchers started with carbon nanotubes -- hollow tubes of pure carbon. Atop the nanotubes, they added short segments of gold. Ajayan said that by adding various other segments -- like sections of nickel or other materials -- the researchers can create truly multifunctional nanostructures.
The tendency of these nanobatons to assemble in water-oil mixtures derives from basic chemistry. The gold end of the wire is water-loving, or hydrophi
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