Sea Urchin Nanoparticle
In an “accidental discovery,” Queen Mary University of London physicists found an iron-filled nanoparticle that they are calling the “sea urchin” because of its spines.
Researchers came upon it growing on the rough surface of a reactor designed to grow carbon nanotubes. Because of the iron inside and the shape of the particle, it could possibly make batteries that can be charged with waste heat, permanent magnets or new therapies that use heat to kill cancer cells.
"The surprising conclusion is that the sea urchin nanoparticles grow in vapor by a mechanism that’s similar to snowflake formation," said Mark Baxendale, a physicist who was involved in the study, in a press release.
Another surprising find was that a fraction of the iron inside the nanoparticle is a type usually only found in high temperature and pressure conditions.
"We were surprised to see this rare kind of iron inside the nanotubes," said Baxendale. "While we don’t know much about its behavior, we can see that the presence of this small fraction of iron greatly influences the magnetic properties of the nanoparticle."
The work was published online in September in the journal Carbon.
Top image: A scanning electron micrograph of the nanoparticle, courtesy of Queen Mary University of London.