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Low-cost and single-use: membrane to analyse nanomaterials (Press review)

A new system based on an ultrathin graphene membrane for the examination of materials. Developed by an international team of researchers from the University of Illinois, Sincrotrone Trieste S.C.p.A. and the Technical University of Monaco, coordinated by Andrei Kolmakov, it was featured in the pages of the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology and promised to cut down the cost of many analyses for the chemical characterisation under environmental conditions.

As a matter of fact, this work intends to solve a key problem that is currently hindering the study and development of new nanomaterials, like those used in the synthesis of catalysts or biocompatible ones for medical applications. “Their characteristics and performance – explains Matteo Amati, a physician from Sincrotrone Trieste – are strongly linked to the processes that take place on the outer layer exposed to the environment, whether it be a gas, liquid or cellular tissue. To understand and control these processes it is necessary to obtain specific surface information recorded under environmental conditions. However, this may represent a major obstacle as some of the most effective techniques, based on detecting the electrons emitted by the material, operate only under very controlled conditions".  

The system designed by the authors of the article basically solves this issue, in a simple and economic way. The membrane used is atomically thin and yet strong enough to effectively separate and isolate the two different environments: the one in which the sample under observation is submerged and the "shielded" one needed by the analytical techniques. However, the membrane is transparent enough to allow the passage of the electrons that transport chemical information.
 
Using this simple system, that can be mass produced at very low costs and also applied to various categories of instruments such as electronic microscopes, many experimental queries will be solved much more simply and economically, without having to resort to costly experimental equipment that, to date, has been the only possible solution.
 
“Having this alternative available – concludes Amati – will, in most cases, make a dramatic difference, especially at a time when subsidies are at a premium. The difference between doing a certain research or not, also in fields that have enormous application usefulness, since nanomaterials are more and more used in fields such as medicine, environment and electronics.
 
The experimental work carried out by the Sincrotrone Trieste was partly supported by subsidies granted by the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region as part of the AMBIOSEN project dedicated to the development of chemical sensors for environmental and biological diagnosis, based on nanotechnologies. 

Last Updated on Friday, 27 January 2012 12:25