SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- Chemists with Oregon State University (OSU) have created an aqueous formation process to create spherical metal-oxide clusters containing about 100 atoms and measuring 1 nanometer across.
Metal oxides, namely compounds produced when metals combine with oxygen, serve a variety of purposes. For example, titanium dioxide is a catalyst that degrades pollutants, and aluminum oxides and iron oxides are coagulants used as the first step in purifying drinking water.
"Metal oxides influence processes everywhere," said May Nyman, a professor of chemistry at OSU. "They control the spread of contaminants in the environment. They are the touchscreen of your cellphone. The metal-oxide cluster forms are in your body storing iron and in plants controlling photosynthesis."
"Most of these processes are in water," Nyman noted, adding that researchers in a new study published in the journal Chem devised some synthetic processes to "trick the clusters into forming."
"The main thing that we do is control the chemistry so the clusters grow not in the solution where they are highly reactive, but only at the surface, where the water evaporates and they instantly crystallize into a solid phase. Once in the solid phase, there's no danger of reacting and precipitating metal oxide or hydroxide in an uncontrolled way."
In addition, Nyman was quoted as saying by a news release from OSU, "once we have synthesized these, we can prepare a solution of them, and they're all exactly the same size and contain the same number of atoms. This gives us control over making very small features."
As the advance provides both new fundamental understanding and new materials, the ability to grow the clusters with the control over atoms is expected to help manufacture small features in electronic circuits.