GAINESVILLE, Fla., July 8 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a new method for growing nanoparticles. The application of gold in light-grown crystals allowed researchers new and improved control in the harvesting of nanoparticles.
Scientists say the breakthrough will make production of nanoparticles cheaper and more efficient for use in the production of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and solar panels.
Materials scientists have been growing nanoparticles in light-grown crystal formations for several years using a technique called plasmon-driven synthesis. The process is imprecise, however, unless scientists introduce silver to the synthesis process. Unfortunately, silver can't be used in medical applications.
For the first time, researchers showed gold can work as a substitute for silver in plasmon-driven synthesis. The use of gold not only made synthesized nanoparticles safe for use in the human body, it also offered scientists new insight into the plasmon-driven synthesis process.
"How does light actually play a role in the synthesis? [This knowledge] was not well developed," lead researcher David Wei, an associate professor of chemistry at Florida, said in a news release. "Gold was the model system to demonstrate this."
Scientists observed polyvinylpyrrolidone, or PVP, facilitating the travel of light-energized "hot" electrons to gold surfaces where they generated the growth of crystal nanoparticles -- specifically, gold nanoprisms.
A few qualities make gold an ideal nanoparticle material, especially for use in the body -- it's malleable, conducts heat and doesn't react with oxygen.
Wei believes the nanoparticles and their augmented synthesis process could be used in photovoltaic devices to harvest the sun's energy for chemical synthesis. The nanoparticles and synthesis technique could also be used to generate new nanomaterials.
But Wei is most interested in the discovery's biomedical applications. He believes it could be used to bolster photothermal therapeutics, a promising cancer therapy.
The new research was published this week in the journal Nature Materials.