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Dr. Yury Gogotsi: Bringing Nano Research to "Real-World” Problems at Drexel University

by Editor1 last modified February 28, 2008 - 14:15

Dr. Yury Gogotsi promotes “real-world nanotechnology,” as he spearheads Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute and leads the school’s Nano Materials Group. His portfolio of applied and transitional nanoresearch aims to use carbon to solve real-world problems -- in the environment, energy, materials and other areas of day-to-day life.

Dr. Yury Gogotsi: Bringing Nano Research  to "Real-World” Problems at Drexel University

Dr. Yury Gogotsi spearheads Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute and leads its Nano Materials Group to solve real-world problems in the environment, energy, materials.

“I'd like to find new and exciting applications for carbon that would make a difference,” Dr. Gogotsi told NanoScienceWorks.org. “Energy related technologies and medicine are two areas where I'd like to make an impact, because those important for everyone.” Moreover, developing new materials for better batteries and super-capacitors, hydrogen storage, or nanoscale tools that facilitate progress in medicine and drug discovery, Gogotsi said “we can make a major impact on life of millions of people.”

Dr. Gogotsi’s team at Drexel University is also developing bactericidal materials for protective masks, uniforms and air filters. “Such materials can store about 50 wt% of chlorine and kill anthrax spores. Nanoparticle-coated fabrics that can protect people from avian flu and other viruses and bacteria,” he said. Other materials work, centered around nano-carbons, nanodiamonds and CNTs include:
  • making polymers conductive by infusing them with carbon nanotubes;
  • incorporating diamond nanoparticles into polymers, metals, or coatings to increase their hardness and resistance to wear.
  • finding cheaper and quicker ways to use “bottom-up” assembly techniques to fabricate CNTs.
Dr. Gogotsi is also the editor of The Nanomaterials Handbook (January 2006, CRC Press). The Nanomaterials Handbook provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of nanomaterials. Employing terminology familiar to materials scientists and engineers, it provides an introduction that delves into the unique nature of nanomaterials. Looking at the quantum effects that come into play, and other characteristics realized at the nano level, it explains how the properties displayed by nanomaterials can differ from those displayed by single crystals and conventional microstructured, monolithic, or composite materials.

Dr. Gogotsi’s Team Approach
To Unlocking Carbon's 'Versatility'
Dr. Gogotsi uses an infrastructure and team-oriented approach, reaching out to other academics and private sector researchers.

“Much of our research for the real-world applications is done in collaboration with companies ranging from start-ups such as NanoBlox to major corporations such as French chemical company Arkema,” he said. “We also have established an industry consortium at Drexel University, which guides our research towards real-world applications.”

Garnering awards from both R&D100 and Nanotech Briefs 50 for several of recent materials developments, the success of this arrangement is evident. Dr. Gogotsi’s work with NanoBlox looks to develop new nanodiamond-based materials, and also apply purification and surface modification processes to nanodiamond powders.

The inspiration for Dr. Gogotsi’s work is deceptively simple: the versatility of carbon. “It can form more structures and morphologies than any other material, and it is fun learning how to control them,” he explains.

Dr. Gogotsi shares his enthusiasm for carbon this way: “I worked on hydrothermal corrosion of silicon carbide with Professor Masahiro Yoshimura at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan about 15 years ago, when I discovered carbon formation. We published this work in Nature magazine in 1994 and I've been working with carbon ever since,” he recounts.

Nanotubes came a little later. “In 1999, we found polygonized carbon nanotubes in pores of glassy carbon received from Toyo Tanso, Japan, which was published in Science a year later,” he continues. “I got excited and have been working on nanotubes ever since,” he says. “The next step was working on hydrothermal synthesis of carbon nanotubes with liquid trapped inside, which opened an avenue for fundamental research on behavior of liquids inside nanotube channels and applied research addressing development of nanotube-based subcellular probes able to inject single organelles inside small mammalian cells.”

Nanoscience Can Unlock the ‘Carbon Age’
Laying at the heart of Gogosti’s “real-world nanotechnology” is his passion for carbon’s potential. In fact, Gogosti says that nanosciences may lead to a golden age for carbon research.

“In my opinion, we are moving from the Silicon Age to the Carbon Age,” he said. “Potentially, we can build any material we need from carbon,” he explains. “Carbons have the highest mechanical properties, electrical and thermal conductivity known, but they also can be soft, semiconducting or electrically insulating. They can be modified to a great extent by adding surface functionality or modifying the structure. Any property or combination of properties can be achieved in carbon-based materials,” he concludes, “So why do we need anything else?”

His vision comes into stark clarity when put into context of Dr. Gogotsi’s research over the last several years on carbon derived from metal carbides.

Just last year Dr. Gogotsi and his team used metal carbides to create a carbon mesh-like structure with smaller, yet uniformly distributed pores than what is used for traditional carbon-based supercapacitors. Supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have similar form factors to batteries, but offer higher power, and longer cycle lives, among other benefits. The decrease in pore size of carbon below the solvated ion size helped to increase the amount of electrical charge a supercapacitor could hold by 50%. (Science, vol. 313, pp. 1760-1763, 2006).

This paper is extremely important for a number of reasons, the least of which is because it provided wide exposure to supercapacitor technology that has the potential to recover energy that is currently wasted, ultimately increasing efficiency and cutting costs. The results of this paper provide a roadmap for producing further energy gains.

Following the publication of this paper, a national funding program was set up by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). From a pure science standpoint, this paper also called into question electrochemical axioms that have been held near and dear since the field’s birth. By moving into a realm where continuum solvent properties break down and molecular interactions can be discreetly probed, novel insight into the nature of ion-solvent interactions have been achieved.

In fact, the nano-biology website rated this paper as the #17 in the 2006 Edition of the Top 100 nanomedicine publications (http://www.ionchannels.org/newsletters/nano-biology-2006-lit.html) even though ion channels have not been even mentioned in that paper. Thus, Gogotsi’s work may have impact on a large number of fields, ranging from fundamental electrochemistry to energy storage and cell signaling.

“I am very excited about the future of this research project...” says Gogotsi.

Speaking of “future,” Dr. Gogotsi is also using his work to foster next-generation research talent, working with his graduate students on a wide range of research goals.

“Understanding ionic transport in sub-nanometer pores, controlling fluid transport through nanotube channels, development of nanotube-based cellular probes, and achieving atomic-level control of nanodiamond surfaces are among the most exciting project we have now,” he says. Dr. Gogotsi and his students take on some tough challenges, such as the non-catalytic synthesis of single-walled carbon nanotubes and making diamond particles with the size below 3-4 nm. But Dr. Gogotsi does not doubt their potential. “I know that my students and post-docs are capable of solving these problems, and they will be shaping the future of nanotech.” he told NanoScienceWorks.org