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Nanostructured Materials

The special Research Centre for Nanostructured Materials was founded on 1 October 2016 in partnership with TNO and the Brightlands Materials Center and is a part of the Research Centre for Material Sciences. The Research Centre develops and produces nanostructured materials the properties of which are determined by a smart combination of chemical compositions and nanostructures.

These nanostructured materials have a myriad of applications:

  • Nanostructured materials with customized optic and/or electronic properties are used in building envelopes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
  • Nanostructured materials used for storing energy, focusing on chemical energy storage.
  • Nanostructured materials used in solar cells (in partnership with the special Research Centre Solar Energy in the Built Environment).


What are nanostructured materials?

The Greek word νανος or Latin nanus means ‘dwarf’. One nanometre - abbreviated to nm - equals one billionth (10-9) of a metre. On a more relatable scale, a tennis ball is one hundred million nanometres thick, a human hair is one hundred thousand nanometres thick, while a bacteria has a standard measurement of one thousand nanometres and a virus one hundred nanometres. So, what makes a nanomaterial? According to the scientific definition of a nanomaterial, it's a material that has a measurement between 1 nm and 100 nm in at least one dimension. In practice, and within this Research Centre, this definition is extended to include materials smaller than 1,000 nm, or 1 micrometre.


What makes nanostructured materials so special?

The general rule is that when you reduce the size of a material, you gain more surface area per volume in relation. Imagine a sphere with a radius of 1 metre: the surface area of the sphere is 12.56 m² with a volume of 4.19 m³. Thus, the surface area to volume ratio is 3 For a sphere with a radius of 1 mm this ratio is 3,000 and for a sphere with a radius of 1 nm it's 3 billion. This enormous increase in the surface area to volume ratio strongly determines the properties of nanomaterials and the way in which nanomaterials interact with the material in which they are incorporated.

In addition, the properties of nanomaterials can also be determined by quantum size effects: these are the special properties that develop by the occlusion of electrons in small one, two, or three-dimensional spaces. The Research Centre is focused on the development of nanomaterials with very specific optic properties. Nanomaterials have proven to be excellent for the manipulation of light, as the wavelength of light is similar to the standard size of a nanomaterial. The term manipulation includes the reflecting, passing, scattering, guiding, or changing colour of light.

A good example can be found in nature in the bright blue wings of the Morpho rhetenor butterfly. Usually, a certain colour is created by dyes or pigments that absorb a portion of the visible light. The portion of the light that is not absorbed is reflected back from the coloured object to your eyes and determines the colour of the object. Traditionally, this is also what happens with blue colours. The beautiful blue garment worn by the Virgin Mary, for example, which is depicted on many Renaissance paintings, is based on the pigment ultramarine.

Yet, a butterfly wing consists of a polymeric material that is not coloured called chitin. This is a variation on the natural polymeric cellulose, and is made up of the monomer N-Acetylglucosamine. The colour of the butterfly wing is determined only by the nanostructures on the surface - nano ‘Christmas trees’- that selectively reflect blue light. If you were to grind the wings to a powder and break down those structures, the material will lose its colour.

 

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