“What is Nanochemistry?” A Faculty Blog by Andrew Zhou
Dr. Andrew Zhou, the assistant professor of chemistry at Grace, has a fascinating history as a researcher in the field of nanochemistry. Through nanochemistry, Zhou has worked to develop more efficient batteries to address the greenhouse gas emission problem facing the planet. As a result, he identified copper as a substitute for cobalt in lithium battery materials which offers a much less expensive means for producing rechargeable batteries.
For the chemistry enthusiasts out there, the idea of studying and researching chemistry under such pedigree is exhilarating. But if we’re being honest, many of us don’t even know what “nanochemistry” is.
In the following article, Zhou breaks down the answer to lingering questions like, “What is nanochemistry?” and “Why is it important?” His article gives us all a better understanding of the field of nanochemistry, a greater awareness of why we need it, and an increased admiration for the Creator who designed all things with precision — down to even the smallest of atoms.
Nanochemistry is the study of chemistry at the nano-scale.
One nanometer (or one nm) is 1 x 10 ^-9 meter. As a frame of reference, a piece of human hair is about one hundred thousand nanometers thick. Any material that is at least one dimension measuring 1-100 nm can be considered a nanomaterial. For instance, consider cutting a watermelon. When you slice the watermelon, two surfaces are generated from the first cut, leading to an increase of the total surface area. If the watermelon is cut continuously into nano-sized materials, i.e., nanomaterials, the total surface area would become huge.
To give you an even better idea, the surface area of a tablespoon of nanomaterials is equivalent to that of a cricket stadium.
Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Nanoscience and nanotechnology are exactly what they sound like — science and technology at the nanoscale. These concepts were already widely used in our daily lives before more and more people of the general public began hearing about these two words over the past two decades.
One commonly known example of nanotechnology is sunscreen; its ability to protect us from cancer-causing UV lights is attributed to its major component: nanoparticles. The large surfaces of the nanoparticles help sunscreens effectively absorb the harmful UV lights. Nanotechnology can also be used to develop eye drops capable of replacing glasses.
The Importance of Nanochemistry
Dr. Richard Phillips Feynman was an American theoretical physicist and a Noble laureate. Feynman’s notion that “there’s plenty of room at the bottom,” has swung open the door to nanochemistry and has inspired scientists to relentlessly explore this field.
At its core, chemistry with nanotechnology is all about doing more with less material. Therefore, nanochemistry is vital to the sustainable development of our economy and society.
I’ve come to see the importance of nanochemistry first-hand in my research regarding battery materials. Let me explain. The natural reserves for these materials keep decreasing due to the wide use of battery-powered electronics. But the demand for batteries continues to increase while their prices are simultaneously expected to decrease. Nanotechnology plays and will continue to play a major role in combating the conventional wisdom of high demand leading to high price.
The Future of Nanochemistry
Because nanomaterials can significantly improve properties/functions of an object, I hope to see this technology used more going forward. But in order for more nanomaterials to be moved out of laboratories and into the market, many parties have a role to play:
- First and foremost, it is the role of a nanochemist to achieve facile and tailored syntheses of nanomaterials with desired functions at a low cost.
- Because nanoscience is an interdisciplinary field, scientists from various fields, such as physics and biology, need to work together to achieve the goals.
- And finally, the general public and policymakers should give their input regarding the commercialization and utilization of nanotechnology.
Are you interested in learning more about chemistry with nanotechnology under the expertise of Dr. Zhou? Learn more about our chemistry program, or schedule a visit to sit in on a class and meet with him in person!