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University at Buffalo researchers harness the tiny powers of nanomaterials

Brookhaven National Laboratory
via Flickr
Manipulating materials on a nano scale has opened the door to a relatively new and trendy scientific field.

Simply put, nanomaterials are small: Think of a meter, as tall as an average third grader. A nanometer is one-billionth of that youngster’s height.

But that tiny scale allows scientists to level the playing field against other micro-menaces, like bacteria.

“The smallest bacteria is about 100 to 200 nanometers,” says Javid Rzayev, a chemistry professor at University at Buffalo.

Rzayev has developed nanomaterials that will filter out bacteria, letting water molecules pass through cleanly.

“So if you make pores that are smaller than 100 nanomaters, then no bacteria will go through,” Rzayev says.

Because nanomaterials are so tiny, the instruments needed to produce and study them have only gone mainstream recently. And UB professors are hustling to to stay in front of a trendy and promising scientific area. 

“I think people are getting more and more interested in this kind of molecule. We’re sort of pushing the front right now,” Rzayev says.

One of Rzayev’s specialties is in bottlebrush molecules, which are molecules that look like a fern or a brush under a microscope. These molecules will eventually be used to deliver drugs to precise spots in the body.

“We’re designing this delivery vehicle that can encapsulate these medications, ... deliver them to certain cells that can be targeted, and then release the material while [the nanoparticle is] still inside the cell,” Rzayev says.

But it takes about a week to produce a batch of bottlebrush molecules, using a complicated process that’s still impractical on a larger scale.

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