Carving at the Nanoscale

Researchers at the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology (ICN) have demonstrated a new method for producing a wide variety of complex, hollow nanoparticles. The work, published this week in Science, applies well-known processes of corrosion in a novel manner to produce highly complex, cage-like nano-scale structures. These could have potential applications in fields from medicine to industrial processing.

A common theme in nanotechnology research is the recycling of “old” processes that were once applied crudely on larger bulk materials, but which can now be applied to nano-sized structures with extreme precision, using new instruments and knowledge.

After several years of research, scientists at ICN have refined methods based on traditional corrosion techniques, including the galvanic effect. They show that these methods, which are far more aggressive at the nano-scale than in bulk materials (due to the higher surface area of nanostructures), can provide interesting pathways for the production of new and exotic materials.

By making simple changes in the chemical environment, it is possible to tightly control the reaction and diffusion processes at room temperatures – allowing for high yields and high consistency in form and structure. This should make the processes particularly attractive for commercial applications as they are easily adapted to industrial scales.

A wide range of structures can be formed – including open boxes, bimetallic and trimetallic double-walled open boxes with pores, multiwalled/multichamber boxes, double-walled, porous and multichamber nanotubes, nanoframes, noble metal fullerenes, and many others.

Aside from their intrinsic beauty, these nanostructures will provide new options for drug delivery, chemical sampling, detoxification, catalysis and even structural components for nano-scale robots.

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