Research in Nanoscience
The Nanoscience Program carries out research in its major areas of strength. All academic staff are active in research and there is also strong technical support. Postgraduate training is an important aspect of research and Murdoch currently has many students carrying out research for their MPhil or PhD degrees.
Nanoscience and Nanotechnology are two emerging fields of science whereby the main streams are the study and investigations of materials and processes at the nanometer scale. The prefix nano comes from the Greek meaning midget or very small and a nanometer is a unit of length, which is defined as being one billionth of a meter, (10-9 m). A red blood cell is a few microns wide, (thousand of nanometers) and a DNA strand is 2.5 nanometers in width whereas a carbon atom is 0.284 nm.
The major research activities and some particular projects in these general fields together with a brief description of each project are listed below:
Main areas of research
(Dr Gerard Eddy Poinern, Dr Zhong Tao Jiang, Pr Philip Jennings)
The nano-engineering research area is an exciting field and at Murdoch we have several projects in this area. We are currently working on the facile method of producing carbon nanotubes and nanocoils with superior tensile strength. We are also investigating nanostructures in superconductor materials.
(Dr Gerard Eddy Poinern, Dr Zhong Tao Jiang, Pr Philip Jennings, Dr August Schlapfer, Dr Katrina Lyon)
The environment is presently facing a bleak future, if present indications are verified. At Murdoch we are focusing on the possible solutions that Nanotechnology can bring to alleviate the burden on the environment and in terms of efficient energy systems. We are currently investigating advanced photo-efficient energy (photovoltaic) systems based on semiconductor quantum dots and a PV deviced based on advanced carbon nanotubes.
We are also working on the optimisation of hydrogen production for future H-economy.
In terms of the environment, we have already started on a project to alleviate the river system from the burden of excess nitrates that are thought to be the cause of toxic algal blooms. Our Nanoscience student, Mr Trent George-Kennedy won the West Australian State Science and Innovation award of 2006 for a device based on nanomagnetic particles of Iron to detoxify nitrates.
Water quality is of premium important to every human on this planet and especially in arid Countries. The affordability of pure water for human consumption, industries and agriculture is of the utmost importance and countries without developed facilities suffer a great deal. In addition, the lack of clean water can enhance the proliferation of water borne diseases. At Murdoch we have engineered a relatively easy filtration system that removes toxic substances from the water and is antimicrobial in nature.
(Dr Gerard Eddy Poinern, Dr Zhong Tao Jiang, Dr Patty Fisher-MWEP)
Western Australia is currently powering the economic boom in Australia with the mining of vast reserves of ores in this large state. Many of the processes involved in the mining of ores depend heavily on the chemistry at the nanoscale. Gold is released as gold cyanide and this molecule sits in a nanopore inside an activated carbon matrix.
In the MANRG, a novel adsorbent has been developed and being optimised for the gold industry. This adsorbent is being assessed for a patent application. At the same time we can give advice to industries about the implication of Nanotechnology in their respective fields and we can also act as consultants or supervisors for various industry projects.
(Dr Gerard Eddy Poinern, Dr Zhong Tao Jiang)
Nature works at the nanometer scale in many processes and reactions. Most molecules are of nanometer dimensions and many biological reactions involves nanosized molecules. One area of direct relevance to nanoscience is in the specific binding of molecules to surfaces by the key and lock mechanism with often the structures involved being in the nanometer range. For example, scientists of the University of California discovered the efficiency of C60 as a HIV drug candidate because they realised that the size of the buckyball was about 0.1 nm and would fit into the active site of a protease used by the HIV virus to replicate in the human body. This discovery opened new avenues for research in the fight against the dreadful disease AIDS. Some buckyball drug candidates are already way ahead of the developmental phase and into the trial phases presently. Another example is that a buckyball-based drug has been engineered as a neuroprotectant to fight the ailment Lou Gehrig’s disease as the C60 molecule mops up free radicals efficiently.
BioNano is an exciting field and at the MANRG we have several projects underway in this area. Scarless regeneration of skin after a severe traumatic event such as large burns or radiation damage is certainly something that most patients look forward to. In the past decade or so, several advancements have been made towards this goal and Professor Fiona Woods from the Telstra Burns Unit at Royal Perth Hospital is an world expert in the field and has pioneered skin regeneration techniques that have certainly helped burns victims such as the Bali Bomb patients and others. At Murdoch we have engineered a membrane with nanosized pores that has shown great promise for the regeneration of a confluent membrane of skin. We are working towards manufacturing larger membranes for scarless skin regeneration and in 2006 we were granted a patent for this breakthrough.
In the Western World, stroke is one of the biggest killers and it is expected that in the next ten years almost half a million Australians will suffer from a stroke in one form or another. The MANRG has another exciting project in the biological area with the development of nanospheres for the optimised delivery of drugs into various specific parts of the body.
In Australia, the average life expectancy has increased beyond the 70s and the need for bone replacements for the elderly has certainly increased. This, coupled with the need for better bone replacement than the current use of metallic plates, has spurred us to look into the current state of Nanotechnology for some possible answers and to discover some new avenues to alleviate the situation.
At Murdoch, we are currently working in the area of nano-hydroxyapatite, (a biocompatible material) and optimising the shape and size of such a bone mineral as a feedstock for bone replacements parts. We have successfully used a chemical route for a rapid and large throughput manufacturing system to produce nano-hydroxyapatite in large quantities. Hydroxyapatite is a very promising material with many possible applications especially in the drug delivery market. For example the US-based company MIV therapeutics Inc., is working on a hydroxyapatite coated cardiovascular stent to deliver drugs in patients.[2-3] In addition to the projects above, we are investigating novel drug delivery systems based on Nano-hydroxyapatite.