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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Nanoparticles Will Be More Present in Future Technology

    The hippest, coolest science these days is so small that you might doubt it exists.

    It’s the study of particles the size of DNA that can improve the fuel efficiency in your car, enhance alternative energy systems and even create stain resistant pants.

    This is the world of nanotechnology, and at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the new Center for Functional Nanomaterials is devoted to the field. Behind glass doors are clean rooms and aluminum covered microscopes — all for scientists thinking big about the impossibly small.

    Nanoparticles and all things “nano” are derived from a nanometer — which is one billionth of a meter. Particles this small don’t quite follow Newton’s laws of physics that everyday objects follow. These particles aren’t atoms nor are they defined by the laws of quantum physics either.

    This limbo land that the particles exist in gives them unusual properties. According to Newton’s laws of physics, changing the size of a particle should not change its properties, but at the nano level, this law doesn’t hold.

    Two nanoparticles of different sizes can exhibit different physical properties. They can have different conductivities, different melting points and even different colors.

    Because of this, nanoparticles can be used in nearly every field of science.

    For instance, catalysts in a fuel cell increase the rate of the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, turning chemical energy into electrical energy, which then powers a car. Nanoparticles are especially good catalysts because of their size allows many of them to fit in a fuel cell, increase the number of reactions and the gas mileage of a car, according to experts.

    According to Aaron G. Stein from Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory, who has a Ph. D. in physics, surrounding palladium nano-catalysts with gold increases the rate of reaction in a fuel cell-much more than the palladium catalyst by itself.

    “By tweaking the materials and surface of catalysts, we can increase the rate of the reaction,” Stein said. “These catalysts can make fuel more efficient.”

    Nanotechnology is used in other fields too, such as in tiny magnets in Apple store music, videos and other data. Scientists are trying to see how small these magnets can get while still maximizing their storage capacity.

    But according to Stein, at a certain size the particles may become too small to store anything. The way magnets are arranged also creates different possibilities of how information is stored and transmitted.

    For now, much of nanotechnology has resulted in consumer products like sunscreen, better air filters and shock-resistant socks. According to Stein, researchers are working on experiments that will have a bigger impact on the world: carbon nanotubes, self-assembling polymers and nanomedicine.

    Some concern has arisen over nanotechnology’s impact to health. The particles are so small that they can easily pass though a human cell — possibly causing damage. Even with concern, the field is still growing with a vision in mind.

    “We want all the information in the world, on your watch. That’s the goal,” Stein said.

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