such as "Introduction", "Conclusion"..etc
ancient, microscopic organisms are found in the fossil record as far
back as the time of the dinosaurs and, as a major component of
phytoplankton, are an important basis for much ocean life. But they may
also be the key to a more efficient, less costly way to produce some of
the most advanced high tech materials in the world, scientists say.
Progress in this research is being presented by a team of researchers
at the Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference in Portland, Ore., sponsored
by OSU and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The goal, experts say, is to find a better way to create oxide
nanocomposite materials that incorporate elements such as germanium, a
semiconductor material that has interesting properties that could be of
value in optoelectronics, photonics, thin film displays, solar cells
and a wide range of electronic devices. The building blocks of these
materials are referred to as nanoparticles because they are
extraordinarily small – clusters of several hundred molecules less than
100 nanometers in size - compared to a human hair that is 20,000
"Procedures exist to produce germanium nanocomposites, but they are
fairly inefficient, difficult to control and expensive," said Gregory
Rorrer, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU. Rorrer
is an expert in marine biotechnology, so as an alternative to the "high
tech" way of producing germanium oxides, he turned to one of nature's
most low-tech, but nonetheless intricate creations – the diatom.
"Diatoms are single-celled algae, and they are the dominant
photosynthetic part of marine phytoplankton," Rorrer said. "Of course,
as a basis for the marine food chain, they are extremely important, and
they also have other functions, such as cycling carbon dioxide from the
But one of their unique capabilities, he said, is to take silicon from
sea water and process it into intricate microstructures to form a tiny,
rigid shell. The shell is composed of tiny silica nanospheres, and
provides a ready made, natural system to create organized structures at
the nano level.
With the assistance of Alex Chang, an OSU assistant professor of
chemical engineering, and two graduate students, Clayton Jeffryes and
Shu-hong Liu, this team of OSU chemical engineers have cultured diatoms
in a laboratory environment and "fed" them germanium. They have
successfully incorporated the germanium into their structure.
"We've succeeded in getting the germanium into diatoms and we're
getting good replication, we expect very good uniformity in these
materials," Chang said. "We still need to have a better understanding
of the internal structure and how successfully it is patterning the
nanocomposite material we're seeking, but the results so far are very
encouraging." Rorrer said this is a way to let nature do the
"With this approach, the living organism does the work and creates the
order we want at the nano level, as the diatom builds its shell wall,"
Rorrer said. "For use as electronic materials, the germanium oxides
need to be in a certain form and order, and it appears the diatoms may
produce that for us."
Instead of using lasers, high temperatures, crystallization and other
advanced technologies, the approach being developed at OSU operates at
room temperature and in theory could produce nanostructured germanium
oxides in large volumes, inexpensively, through the natural,
environmentally benign process of biomineralization.
Most solid-state electronic devices consist of patterned arrays of
metal or metal-oxide semiconductor materials based on silicon,
germanium and other materials. The technologies for making those
devices on the micron size scale are well established, but many experts
believe the next major technological breakthroughs will be created with
devices that work at the much smaller nano scale, which traditionally
has required exotic processing technologies.
Research in nanotechnology and production of the first products is already a multi-billion dollar industry, experts say.
The studies at OSU are being supported by the Nanoscale Exploratory Research Program of the National Science Foundation.
Source : Oregon State University
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