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Small Particles With Big Applications


As part of the new Alex Talks during family weekend, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Farah Dawood presented “Nanotechnology: Small Building Blocks that lead to Big Ideas.” Dawood began by giving the audience an idea about just how small a nanoparticle is in comparison to daily objects. A nanoparticle is 1 billionth the size of a meter, and can be seen using advanced microscopy.

About Farah Dawood

Farah Dawood is initiating a research program grounded in nanolithography for designing optically active materials for manipulating light and sensors for detecting low concentrations of biomolecules.

see her profile

Dawood and her lab of Hamilton students use the College’s electron microscopes to visualize these particles in action. She spoke to the significance of nanoparticles in our lives today, as nanoparticle research has greatly advanced technology by making phones “smaller, faster, smarter, and at our fingertips.”

Nanoparticles are also excellent semiconductors and are making their way into the entertainment industry by creating TV screens that produce lifelike colors.

Dawood also spoke about current medical research with nanoparticles that involves engineering therapeutics to attack cancer cells. Here she reiterated that size matters; the small size of nanoparticles makes them great candidates to approach and significantly damage large cancer cells.

At Hamilton, Dawood and her lab are exploring the applications of nanomaterials through their research with sensors designed to detect small levels of toxins, such as biochemical threats.

Her lab is building sensors with “silver dendrite” looking structures, and each “dendrite” has fine material features to sense low concentrations of toxins. From there the team is experimenting with both structure and function to increase surface area of the sensor; they want to see just how small they can make these nanomaterials and what concentrations they can measure.

Surface area is also a driving factor for clean energy research in Dawood’s lab. The team is working with nano electrodes to make clean fuels from the sun, carbon dioxide, and water. Dawood concluded her talk by once more relating these small-particles to the grand picture saying that “Nanoparticles open our eyes to things we can’t see.”

 After the talk Aida Shadrav ’17, a senior chemistry major, similarly expressed her excitement about working with nanoparticles as a part of her senior thesis with Dawood. “These particles are so versatile… from biohazards, to medicine, to technology. They can take these fields to the next level.”

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