A new chemical analysis technique developed by a research group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) uses the shifting ultrasonic pitch of a small quartz crystal to test the purity of only a few micrograms of material. Since it works with samples close to a thousand times smaller than comparable commercial instruments, the new technique should be an important addition to the growing arsenal of measurement tools for nanotechnology, according to the NIST team.
As the objects of scientific research have gotten smaller and smalleras in nanotechnology and gene therapythe people who worry about how to measure these things have been applying considerable ingenuity to develop comparable instrumentation.* This new NIST technique is a riff on thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), an imposing name for a fairly straightforward concept. A sample of material is heated, very slowly and carefully, and changes in its mass are measured as the temperature increases. The technique measures the reaction energy needed to decompose, oxidize, dehydrate, or otherwise chemically change the sample with heat.
TGA can be used, for example, to characterize complex biofuel mixtures because the various components vaporize at different temperatures. The purity of an organic sample can be tested by the shape of a TGA plot because, again, different components will break down or vaporize at different temperatures. Conventional TGA, however, requires samples of several milligrams or more of material, which makes it hard to measure very small, laboratory-scale powder samplessuch as nanoparticlesor very small surface chemistry features such as thin films.
What's needed is an extremely sensitive "microbalance" to measure the minute changes in mass. The NIST group found one in the quartz crystal microbalance, essentially a small piezoelectric disk of quartz sandwiched between two electrodes. An alternating current across the electrodes causes the crys
|Contact: Michael Baum|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)