NSF Grant Supports Development of Nanoparticle Porous Membranes

Computer simulation of a polymer blend with nanoparticles at the interface.
Photo by the University of Arkansas

Computer simulation of a polymer blend with nanoparticles at the interface.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The University of Arkansas has received a $411,948 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the creation of useful materials and membranes from blends of multiple polymers and dispersed, inorganic nanoparticles.

The research could lead to the development of new materials for a variety of applications, including filtration membranes, fuel cells, batteries and biomedical scaffolds for tissue engineering.

Paul Millett, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and principal investigator for the project, is working with Miko Cakmak, professor of polymer engineering at the University of Akron. Their goal is to investigate how the polymers and nanoparticles interact with each other and assemble into arrangements with long-range order and functionality.

The researchers will make porous membranes with internal pore surfaces covered with densely packed, partially exposed nanoparticles, Millett said.

Paul Millett, University of Arkansas.

“We want to create porous materials that liquids or gases can flow through and react with these nanoparticles such that we can capitalize on their catalytic properties,” Millett said. “The neat thing is that these processes are not material specific, so any solid nanoparticle could potentially be utilized.”

Research has shown that nanoparticles made of silicon can split water molecules to create hydrogen fuel. There are other nanoparticles that convert carbon dioxide into other gases that might have potential applications for mitigating climate change. However, Millett and Cakmak are mostly interested in the processes that take place during the creation of these porous membranes.

“A nanoparticle is just a particle that is nanometers in dimension, usually less than 100 nanometers in diameter,” Millett said. “Extensive research during the last decade has lead to the discovery of new nanoparticles with many useful catalytic and optical properties. Now that we can create this wide variety of nanoparticles, a new question arises – how can we incorporate them into everyday materials and devices?”

The researchers will blend together two types of polymers that prefer to separate into two internal phases, similar to oil in water, and add nanoparticles to the blend. The nanoparticles will be designed to segregate to the interfaces between the two phases, a process that prevents the polymer phases from coarsening beyond microscopic scales. The researchers can tune the final arrangements by changing the composition or by applying external fields, such as an electric field.

Millett’s work focuses mainly on computer modeling and simulation of the microscopic assembly processes, while Cakmak will be working on making these materials in a laboratory and studying their properties.

“I am very excited about this grant,” Millett said. “I have been working on this topic for a couple of years, and this is validation that we are making important advances.”

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Contacts

Paul Millett, assistant professor of mechanical engineering
College of Engineering
479-575-2473, pmillett@uark.edu

Supriya Thote, intern
University Relations
479-575-4799, supriya.thote@gmail.com

Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu


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