Diatoms Nanotechnology – Transformation
Ambience: Bubbles, lab equipment – mixer
JM: Nanotechnology has the potential to transform our world with new kinds of materials and devices made out of nanoparticles – tiny bits of matter. An innovative way is being developed to create nanomaterials – using microscopic organisms called diatoms. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
GR: “We use a three-step process to transform diatoms into nanostructured materials.”
JM: Dr. Greg Rorrer is an associate professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. He and his colleagues have developed a means of turning these one-celled organisms into materials that could be useful for the semiconductor industry.
GR: “In the first step, we just simply grow up the diatoms. And then, in the second step, what we do is add elements of interest to the culture and hope the diatoms take them up into their bodies.
GR: “The mixer is used to prepare feed solutions for the diatom. The mixer dissolves silicon into seawater, and then, this solution is fed to the diatom culture.”
GR: “In the third step, what we do is take these diatom cells, and we kill them. We heat them up to a high temperature of 1600 degrees Fahrenheit, and that process leaves behind an ash-like material. This ash-like material contains nanostructured semiconductor materials that we might find interesting.”
GR: “There are three benefits in using diatoms to make nanostructured semiconductor materials. First, the process is environmentally friendly and doesn’t use any toxic chemicals. Second, the process is simple. We let the living diatom, with a little help from us, do all of the work. And, third, diatoms have the ability to make new nanostructural designs that can’t be duplicated by man at present.”
JM: Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.