A new platform for creating material blends

A novel way to rapidly create and characterize blends of polymers, nanoparticles, and other materials could significantly accelerate material development.

The design of new materials is all about achieving the right mix of properties from their constituent parts, whether they’re atoms and molecules, or more complex structures, such as nanoparticles or polymers. But because the desired properties often stem from nanoscale features and patterns, the components can’t just be thrown into a kitchen blender.

Microscopic view of nanoparticle materials in a repeating hexagonal pattern.

With the necessary precision in mind, Chinedum Osuji, Eduardo D. Glandt Presidential Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, has collaborated with researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Yale University to develop a automated tool for creating structurally complex thin films. Three different components can be loaded into syringe pumps, mixed to specification, then sprayed as tiny electrically charged droplets onto a substrate. By coordinating the flow rates of the pumps and the motion of the substrate, the tool can create films with continuous gradients of the different components.

Assembling the components of a new material is only the start of the process, however, as its exact structure needs to be analyzed to make sure those components came together correctly. This is no small feat when the relevant features measure in the billionths of a meter.

To address this aspect, Osuji and his colleagues made some upgrades to their tool by combining it with the structural characterization technique of X-ray scattering. Together, these capabilities form a platform to probe how material structure changes across an entire composition space.

Read more at Penn Engineering Today.