Why Energy and Particle Technology?

Particle technology plays a crucial role in our everyday lives. Particles are omnipresent. For example, we inhale millions of particles with the air we breathe.  How these particles interact with our respiratory system and affect our health depends on the particle’s morphology and chemical compositions. Dental fillings or medications we take have several types of particles mixed together. The tires on our cars rely on carbon nanoparticles for their strength and functionality. The quality of the paint on the walls depends on the morphology and size distribution of nanoparticles in it. Batteries in electronic devices use nano or micron-sized particles for reliable energy storage. These are merely a few key examples. Novel particles are increasingly finding applications in every aspect of our lives. The potential for an understanding of the behavior of particles at the nanoscale makes this field of research exciting. With state-of-the-art analytical and computational tools and diagnostics, this understanding facilitates the fabrication of new particles with unique properties and their integration into functional devices.

Particles are also linked with energy production and storage. For example, filamentary nickel and carbon nanoparticles are used in batteries and capacitors for energy storage. Metal particles such as iron, lithium, and aluminum are being investigated for chemical energy storage and transport. another example is soot, arguably the oldest nanoparticle produced due to anthropogenic activity, which is a major air pollutant in Canada and around the world. Its emissions from combustion processes or fires are responsible for a wide range of health problems and it is the second strongest contributor to global warming. Soot particles interact strongly with water vapor in the upper atmosphere and can significantly alter local precipitation patterns. Accurate assessment of the environmental and health impact of soot requires knowledge of its size, chemical composition, morphology, internal nanostructure, and surface chemical groups, which are traced to the particle formation process. Computational tools developed in EPTL for predicting the functional properties of nanoparticles synthesized in the gas phase help assess the effects soot on global warming with much less uncertainty by calculating the radiative forcing effects of soot from first principles.

Fundamental multidisciplinary research into gas phase nanoparticle synthesis requires the development of robust frameworks in fluid dynamics, chemical kinetics, aerosols, and material science. The discovery of the unique properties of functional nanoparticles and the invention of versatile methods such as flame spray pyrolysis that enables the synthesis of nanoparticles with most elements in the periodic table (in any combination) is the driving force for a fundamental understanding of the gas-phase synthesis of nanoparticles. Despite all complexities in nanoparticle formation and characterization, gas-phase synthesis of nanoparticles affords process design from first principles. Calculation of critical parameters such as nucleation, coagulation, and sintering rate will potentially result in significant improvement in the overall manufacturing process and reduction in the cost of experimental process design.