By Kristin Harris
Nanotechnology is a catch-all phrase used
to describe new technologies that work on the nanometre scale.
The development of nanotechnology in various fields is enabling
researchers to decrease the size while increasing the speed
and capability of a number of devices.
Grad students Brent Myron and Jamie Vaters, and Dr.
Nanotechnology promises so much potential for a number of
First, by working on such a small level, rather than miniaturizing
existing technologies, researchers start on a molecular scale
and work upwards from there. Also, on such a scale, the properties
of materials change, which can be useful to scientists who
wish to manipulate them.
According to Dr. David Thompson, assistant professor in the
Department of Chemistry at Memorial, ramifications may be
felt in technology, medicine and the environment.
Dr. Thompson’s long-term goal is, simply put, to make
fuel from sunlight, a field known as artificial photosynthesis.
The larger question revolves around whether a system can be
designed to take captured solar energy and create molecules
that can be utilized as fuels.
“While we are far from optimizing this technology, we
are on our way,” he said.
To date, Dr. Thompson’s team, led by his graduate student,
Jamie Vaters, has completed a proof of concept experiment.
Titanium dioxide semiconductors which range in size from three
to 10 nanometres (one billionth of a metre) are prepared in
A light-absorbing molecule is then grafted to the surface
of the nanoscale semiconductor. By using a photon of light,
an electron is “injected” from the surface bound
molecule into the semiconductor. This creates a surface bound
catalyst which can react with added substrates to create new
molecules than contain more energy. Essentially, by exploiting
a nanoscale semiconductor, they can harvest light, take the
light energy and store the energy in the chemical bonds of
the oxidized substrate. In Dr. Thompson's words, “this
is biomimetic chemistry on a nanoscale semiconductor surface.”
Dr. Thompson's research is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant
as well as MUN Start-Up Grants. He was also successful on
a CFI funded project, titled The Chemical Dynamics Laboratory
for Fast Kinetics Research, currently being developed in the
Department of Chemistry.