Every new technology brings opportunities and threats. Nanotechnology is no exception. It has the potential to create new materials that will dramatically improve drug delivery, medical diagnostics, clean and efficient energy, computing and more. But nanoparticles could also have significant health and environmental impacts.
RMIT University researchers have used nanotechnology to create a pioneering sensor that can precisely measure one of the world’s most poisonous substances—mercury.
The mercury sensor developed by RMIT’s Industrial Chemistry Group uses tiny flecks of gold that are nano-engineered to make them irresistible to mercury molecules.
Two thousand years ago, Roman glass blowers used gold nanocrystals to create vases with brilliant colours ranging from red to purple. Today, gold nanocrystals are being used as catalysts in chemical reactions and may even become high-density data storage devices.
Gold nanocrystals aren’t gold in colour. They change colour as their size and shape change.
Tomorrow’s solar panels could bear an uncanny likeness to Australia’s polymer banknotes.
In fact, the first prototypes of a new kind of solar panel are being printed on the same printing presses that print Australia’s money.
After two decades of research the first wave of nanotechnology consumer products are entering the marketplace in applications as diverse as catalysts, surface treatments for glass, cosmetics and drug delivery. But the properties that make them attractive to industry may also have unforeseen consequences. That worries Amanda Barnard, a physicist at The University of Melbourne.
“Many materials that are normally inactive—gold and silver, for example—become biologically active when the particles are just a few nanometres in size. So, if we are creating these new particles we need to understand how they will behave in the environment.”
Amanda believes she can create a theoretical framework that will allow the risk of nanoparticles to be determined in the computer—before the particle has even been made. She will use her L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship to develop new computational tools to predict the behaviour of nanoparticles in the environment. Continue reading Are nanoparticles safe?