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Nanoparticles UNITE!

1 May 2014 No Comment

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Hi, my name is Matt Barea and I’ve been with Malvern Instruments for 9 months now; I’m a Development Scientist based within the nanometrics team in NPI. I’ve got a varied background; I completed a degree in Sports and Materials Science, followed by a Masters in Materials Science, then for good measure a PhD in Chemical Engineering, looking at pharmaceutical formulations! My current role is completely dedicated to the UNION project.

UNION LogoUltra-versatile Nanoparticle Integration into Organized Nanoclusters or UNION – you can see what they’ve done there – is an EU funded project set up to develop nanoparticle assembly techniques and monitoring technologies to prepare novel hierarchically-ordered nanoparticle clusters.  The project started in 2013 and spans three years, with completion due in February 2016. UNION is coordinated by a group of academics at Dublin City University (led by Dr Dermot Brougham), who have developed a number of methods for nanoparticle clustering. The consortium is made up of four research institutions, two small/ medium sized enterprises and two industrial partners, of which Malvern is one.

The project covers three core areas, which correspond to the different hierarchical structural levels: suspensions of clusters (biomedical), supported 2D arrays (optical) and 3D arrays (thermoelectric). A range of nanoparticles to be used as ‘building blocks’ for the clustering process have been produced, including lipidic, fluorescent and magnetic. Bearing in mind these nanoparticles are in the range 1-20 nm (similar size to the diameter of DNA) this is quite a challenge! The nanoparticles can then be used in the three assembly processes (competitive stabiliser desorption, electrostatic interactions and polymer mediated assembly) to produce the clusters at the end of level one assembly. The nanoparticle clusters produced at level one can then be used for 2D and 3D array formations through various approaches including directed self-assembly and Langmuir-Blodgett techniques. Hence we are undertaking basic science (understanding the assembly process)with a view to using these insights to optimize the emergent properties for the identified applications.


From a personal point of view it has already been quite a journey (not just in airmiles!). Having very little dynamic light scattering (DLS) experience I spent many hours watching, listening and reading the various resources on the Malvern Working Lunchwebsite. Within two weeks I was stood in Dublin City University talking about DLS and the future of the project, being able to hold a detailed discussion on the topics – I even surprised myself! Travelling to meet all the partners has been a personal highlight, with three days in Triannon Palace Hotel, Versailles, being worth a special mention (see ‘working lunch’ image)! It is hard work though, and as opposed to my PhD, every day is different with the project, meaning I can be trying to measure particles capable of improving the resolution of MRI images one minute and then be measuring particles for improved harvesting of solar energy the next.

We aim to work with the partners to monitor the growth of the clusters through DLS, subsequently producing formulations within defined size ranges, and therefore having specific properties. The clustering process can be closely controlled and terminated at any time required, therefore continual knowledge of the cluster size is essential. The growth kinetics should then lead to significant work on the modelling of cluster assembly which will enable further control in future formulations.

If you’d like to read more, you can see the UNION website here: http://www.fp7-union.eu/.  You can also follow UNION on Twitter for regular updates on the project:  https://twitter.com/UNION_FP7.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 310250.