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April 29, 2004


Nanotechnology promises big results
Small-scale research

By Kristin Harris

(L-R) Grad students Brent Myron and Jamie Vaters, and Dr. David Thompson.
(L-R) Grad students Brent Myron and Jamie Vaters, and Dr. David Thompson.
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.

Nanotechnology promises so much potential for a number of reasons.

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 the lab.

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.


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Next issue: May 20, 2004

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