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Breakthrough enables scientists to see ‘nanoscale’ mixing processes in liquids

By Joe Whitworth+

13-May-2016
Last updated on 13-May-2016 at 10:08 GMT2016-05-13T10:08:38Z

Scienion helps develop tool to see nanoscale reaction process

Scienion and the University of California San Diego have developed a tool that allows scientists to see, at the scale of five billionths of a meter, 'nanoscale' mixing processes in liquids for the first time.

Potential applications are widespread, covering all areas where nanoparticles are used.  

Scientists had used Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) to see structures at the nanoscale but the technique only takes static images and the subjects must be dried, or frozen and mounted within a vacuum chamber to be seen. 

This means researchers have been unable to view living processes or chemical reactions at the nanoscale, such as the growth and contraction within living cells of tiny fibers or nanoscale protrusions, essential in cell movement and division, or the changes caused by a chemical reaction in a liquid.

Recent developments in Liquid Cell TEM (LCTEM) have allowed scientists to take videos of nanoscale objects in liquids. But it has been limited by the inability to control mixing of solutions, a requirement when trying to view and analyze the impact of a drug on a living cell or the reaction of two chemicals.

Nathan Gianneschi, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, headed the team that detailed the development in the journal Microscopy and Microanalysi s .

“With this new tool, we’ll be able to look at the kinetics and dynamics of chemical interactions that we’ve never been able to see before. As chemists, we could only really analyze the end products or bulk solution changes, or image at low resolution because we could never see events directly occur at the nanoscale.” 

Joseph Patterson, a postdoctoral researcher in the Gianneschi laboratory, working with Scienion researchers in the US and in Germany and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, used a piezo dispensing technique and tool that allows scientists to deposit tiny amounts of liquid—about 50 trillionths of a liter—within the viewing area of the LCTEM microscope.

Gianneschi said through using this it can view multiple components mixed together at the nanoscale within liquids, so could look at biological materials and perhaps see how they respond to a drug.

We will now be able to directly see the growth at the nanoscale of all kinds of things, like natural fibers or microtubules," he said. 

“There’s a lot of interest on the part of researchers in understanding how the surfaces of nanoparticles affect chemical reactions or how nanoscale defects on the surfaces of materials develop. We can finally look at the interfaces on nanostructures so that we can optimize the development of new kinds of catalysts, paints and suspensions.”

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