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Building Flower-like Silver Nanomaterials
This picture is a scanning electron microscope image of flower-like silver nanomaterials.
Credit: Dhiraj Sardar, University of Texas at San Antonio

The way metal nanoparticles interact with their environment can be "tuned" by controlling their size, shape and structure, and deciphering how to make their surfaces rough enables their use for biological testing.

Nanoparticles are tiny objects less than 100 nanometers (0.0001 millimeters or 0.0000004 inches)wide. They can be used in a variety of fields, from the electronic components of computers to medicine and biology. Each type of nanoparticle has different properties and are used for different applications.

Controlling the shape of these particles is one strategy researchers are using to tailor their physical and chemical properties for use in fields such as biological labeling and imaging, information technology and some types of sensors.

Previous research has shown that highly roughened particles, like the silver "flower-like" nanostructures shown above, have optical properties that make them useful for biological tests, including medical diagnostics. Until recently, researchers haven't been sure how to make these particles with these rough outer surfaces.

Recently, a group from the University of Texas at San Antonio reported the ability to efficiently create silver nanoparticles with this rough exterior. The new method is capable of producing particles that can be used in highly sensitive chemical and biological tests. This research was featured on the cover of the July 2011 issue of Materials Research Bulletin.

A Partnership for Research and Education in Materials award from the National Science Foundation supported the team as they discovered how to create these nanoparticles. The broad goals of this award program are to provide opportunities for minority students to engage in materials research and to expose them to the collaborative nature of the scientific endeavor by bringing together a core group of faculty whose scientific pursuits complement each other and are interdisciplinary in nature. (This award is partnered with the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at Northwestern University.)

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the Research in Action archive.