Self-assembled nanobatons surrounding oil droplets suspended in water.  (Source: Rice University)
New self-aligning nanoparticles show promise for environmental cleanups.

Nanotechnology research is paving the way to future technology. Various microscopic particles show promise in fields from medical science to solar power. Now, researchers at Rice University are throwing another carbon nanotube-based particle into the ring. Their carbon and gold nanobatons show some fantastic properties when exposed to various chemical agents. Two of the uses they envision include cleaning up chemical contaminants and use as a drug delivery system.

What makes the Rice nanobatons so useful for these cases is that they have the property of being self-assembling in certain situations. Their work, which was published in last week’s Nano Letters, uses a standard carbon nanotube, with a gold nanowire attached to one end.

Carbon is hydrophobic, or repelled by water, while gold is hydrophilic, the opposite. When the nanoparticles were exposed to oil droplets suspended in water, they assembled themselves into tiny BB-shaped sacks around the oil due to these properties. Exposing the batons to water droplets suspended in oil had exactly the same results, though reversed. Surrounded oil droplets took on a gold color as the hydrophobic carbon aligned the tubes with the gold tips out -- towards the water -- while the captured water droplets were a dark color as the gold tips aligned inwards.

Using various other types of metals or chemicals on the tips of the nanotubes, the researchers feel that the batons could be used for many other purposes. A magnetic baton could be used to carry drugs, and then manipulated to disperse them when at a given location. Chemical-tipped batons could be used to find toxic chemicals in water and disable them while captured in the BB.

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