The first symposium to unify two Québec strategic research groups, the CSACS (Centre for Self-Assembled Chemical Structures) and the CQMF (Centre québécois sur les matériaux fonctionnels), was held on May 3 and 4, 2016, at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), in Montréal. At this symposium, researchers from strategic CSACS and CQMF groups presented their perspectives on the following research areas:
- Self-assembled supermolecular structures
- Nanoscience and nanotechnologies
- Environmental and sustainable development
- Smart materials
This article presents the outlook of the research axis “Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” presented by the following researchers (in order of appearance):
What Is a Nanomaterial?
A nanomaterial is a material that has at least one dimension below 100 nm (10-7 m) [1-2]. Due to their extremely small size, nanomaterials exhibit outstanding properties that are attractive for a large range of applications including but not limited to electronics, energy, healthcare and environment.
Classes of Nanomaterials
According to Professor Morin, nanomaterials can be divided in classes depending on their chemistry/nature:
- Organic: such as block copolymers, semiconducting polymers and dendrimers.
- Carbon: such as fullerenes, carbon nanotubes and recently graphene nanosheets.
- Hybrid: such as nanoporous materials.
- Inorganic: such as metal and metal oxide nanoparticles and quantum dots.
Fabrication of Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials properties depend strongly on their shape and size [1-2], which can be controlled through the appropriate choice of fabrication technique. The group of Professor Shuhui Sun at INRS-EMT investigated the synthesis of different types of nanomaterials (Figure 1) including nanotubes, nanowires, nanolayers and nanoparticles using different techniques such as:
- Chemical vapor deposition
- Hydrothermal synthesis
- Atomic layer deposition
Nanoscience is the science that studies nanomaterials while nanotechnology is none other than the technology based on nanoscale materials. One of the pioneering studies that developed a technology based on nanomaterials was conducted in Toyota Research Labs in 1991 to reinforce conventional polymeric resins used in automotive industry such as Nylon by the incorporation of nanoclay (Figure 2) [3-4].
Since then, trials to apply nanotechnology to different industrial applications have multiplied. As a consequence, the global market of nanomaterials has increased exponentially since the last decades. By 2025, nanotechnology is expected to be a mature industry (Figure 3), with a large spectrum of applications and products .To find out more about nanomaterials and nanotechnology, we invite you to watch this video:
In the following sections, some of the applications that were emphasized by the researchers affiliated to CRMMA and CQMF will be highlighted.
Environmental and Ecofriendly Applications
An interesting example of the use of nanomaterials and nanotechnology for the benefit of the environment is the research developed for wastewater treatment, in the “Biocolloids and Surfaces Laboratory” at McGill University, directed by Professor Nathalie Tufenkji. This axis of research involves few aspects:
- Nanoenhancement of polymeric membranes for water treatment.
- Development of nanomaterials for ground-water and soil remediation.
- Development of graphene based hydrogels which constitute excellent adsorbents for water treatment (Figure 4).
Another ecofriendly axis investigated by Professor Tufenkji is the development of green processes for the synthesis of different types and shapes of nanomaterials such as silver nanoplatelets (Figure 5). These nanoparticles could be used for promising applications such as medical imaging and water treatment.
Medical Applications: Drug Delivery
One of the most promising applications of nanotechnology nowadays is in medicine and drug delivery. An illustrative example of the efforts deployed within CRMAA and CQMF centers in this research field is the work performed by the group of Professor Élodie Boisselier’s, professor at Laval University and researcher affiliated to CHU Quebec. In particular, the group emphasized two specific applications:
- Conception of new ophthalmic drugs containing gold nanoparticles.
- Conception of neurotransmitter probes, containing gold nanoparticles, for Parkinson’s disease (Figure 6).
Energy is expected to rank first in the Humanity’s top 10 challenging problems for next 50 years, according to Professor Smalley, previous professor at Rice University and Nobel Prize laureate in 1996 for the discovery of a new form of carbon: buckyballs . For this reason, Professor Sun (INRS-EMT) and his research group dedicated their research for the development of advanced nanomaterials to address this problem. For example, they investigated their synthesized nanomaterials to enhance fuel cells current performance by:
- Designing highly active and durable platinum based catalysts, a key component in fuel cells: the group was able to increase the catalytic activity of platinum based catalysts up to 10 times higher than commercially available catalysts, by controlling the shape and size of platinum nanoparticles.
- Finding an alternative to platinum catalysts based on cheaper metals: the group designed a Pt free catalyst based on a non-noble metal Fe with a stable and scalable technology.