This is an image of a tetraphase heterostructure nanoparticle with six interphases. Image: Northwestern University.
This is an image of a tetraphase heterostructure nanoparticle with six interphases. Image: Northwestern University.

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a blueprint for understanding and predicting the properties and behavior of complex nanoparticles and optimizing their use for a broad range of scientific applications. These include catalysis, optoelectronics, transistors, bio-imaging, and energy storage and conversion.

Recent research findings have led to the synthesis, or creation, of a wide variety of polyelemental nanoparticles – structures containing as many as eight different elements. However, there is still a limited understanding of how the arrangement of phases within these structures impact their properties and how specific interfaces (the common surface between bound structures known as heterostructures) can be optimally designed and synthesized.

"As the combinatorial space of mixtures is nearly infinite, with billions of possibilities, predicting and understanding how specific classes of interfaces can be established in a single particle is crucial for designing new and functional nanostructures and, ultimately, optimizing their properties for various scientific applications," said Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern University, who led the research.

In the study, reported in a paper in Science, the researchers utilized scanning probe block copolymer lithography (SPBCL), invented and developed at Northwestern University by Mirkin, to construct a new library of polyelemental heterostructured nanoparticles containing up to seven different metals.

"We used computational tools such as density functional theory to compute interfacial energies between phases, as well as surface energies, and combined these into an overall nanoparticle energy," said Chris Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering in Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering, and a co-author of the paper. "What we found is that observed morphologies minimized calculated energies. As a result, we now have a tool to predict and understand these types of phase arrangements in nanoparticles."

"Our contribution enables the synthesis of numerous types of interfaces, providing a vast playground to explore their properties and phenomena – such as novel catalysts and light-emitting nanostructures – for useful purposes," said co-author Vinayak Dravid, who is professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE) at Northwestern University.

This story is adapted from material from Northwestern University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.