The impact of nanoscale materials on the environment is becoming clearer by the day, according to a recent study published in Nature Nanotechnology.
Through a suite of experiments with nanoscale materials such as neodymium, transtimulator (TSI) or Alkaline fiber, scientists at Trinity College Dublin, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Vermont have shown the tiny particles can be game changers for their applications.
In particular, the technique used to study such structures is ideal for improving monitoring of air pollution. The researchers confirmed that nanosensors can monitor concentrations of particulate matter (PM), known as airborne particulate matter (AMO), and placed two large AMO sensors on a highway sign pole, and a small AMO sensor on one corner of the sign pole.
Smoke and pollen from the highway sign tower is interpreted as small particulate matter and is negatively correlated with aerosol particles of AMO. As a result, AMO concentrations can be far below levels that health officials recommend for human health. A recent paper by NIST researchers showed that measuring AMO concentrations was positively correlated with pollen levels of late spring, as pollen and AMO pollution are directly relevant to allergy outcomes.
Examples of the effects of metallic metal nanoparticles were found in a 2007 paper by NIST researchers in question and in the 2007 paper by the same team. Two models showed that the antimicrobial properties of metal-based nanoparticles may reduce AMO concentrations and increase inhaled environmental protections. In another analysis, nanoparticles may be used to reduce ground-level dust, clean streets and allow for smaller measurement points of aerosol particulate matter.
A breakthrough in gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCS) was also reported in January and could help the construction industry increase efficiency, reduce energy consumption and reduce emissions from the increasingly polluted Gulf of Mexico.
“Now we have a group of scientists providing a method for monitoring PM that is almost indistinguishable from measuring AMO itself,” says Don Sculley, a paper lead author and postdoctoral researcher at NIST’s McLean Center for Advanced Quantum Photonics. “This opens up an entirely new area of research and one that provides intriguing implications for broadening the paradigm of nanotechnology.”
Another new paper, published in the March 4 issue of Science Translational Medicine, provides a practical description of the process of coating the substances in laboratory nanoparticles. Nanosensors coated with the coating are able to monitor PM levels using both the AMO, and AMO itself. Nanosensors designed with nano-electromechanical systems-composites (NEMS) and nanolayers can be placed thousands of feet away from the AMO sensor. When AMO reaches a concentration between 1 and 3 micrograms per cubic meter of air, Nanosensors coat the surface of the sensor with the aluminum dioxide nanoparticles. The aim is to use the alloy to reduce the concentration levels of PM, which is not well understood.
The paper’s lead author, Francesca De Portessa of the NIST Berkeley Materials Research Institute, notes that nanoscale design of nano particle structures and the way they are made is fascinating. “Because this material changes the chemistry of the interaction between thin layers of materials, the process of monomers forming nano particles is important,” says De Portessa. “Molecules remain within pores of nanosensors where they are created.”
According to the NIST editors, the paper says that nanosensors may serve a dual role: They help shape and monitor the conditions inside the molecules, and they can also transmit radio-frequency information, which may help reduce related air pollution. However, the paper does not indicate if the nanoscale features could be used as a readily available host for radio-frequency energy sources.
The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), In 2011, NIST and the University of Massachusetts partnered with the United Kingdom on a “Choose Nano-Linked Electricity” facility that will promote further nanotechnology research.