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Mass-producing nanomaterials

Nanoparticles are critical to industry and scientific research — but they’re also expensive and tricky to make. However, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have created a new way to manufacture nanoparticles that will transform the process from a painstaking, batch-by-batch process into a large-scale, automated assembly line.
 
The method, developed by a team led by Noah Malmstadt of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Richard Brutchey of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, was published in February.
 
Consider, for example, gold nanoparticles — a single milligram of gold nanoparticles currently costs about $80 (depending on the size of the nanoparticles). That places the price of gold nanoparticles at $80,000 per gram – while a gram of pure, raw gold goes for roughly $50.
 
“It’s not the gold that’s making it expensive,” Malmstadt said. “We can make them, but it’s not like we can cheaply make a 50 gallon drum full of them.”
 
Right now, the process of manufacturing a nanoparticle typically involves a technician in a chemistry lab mixing up a batch of chemicals by hand in traditional lab flasks and beakers.
 
Brutchey and Malmstadt’s new technique instead relies on microfluidics – technology that manipulates tiny droplets of fluid in narrow channels.
 
“In order to go large scale, we have to go small,” Brutchey said. 
 
The team 3D printed tubes about 250 micrometers in diameter – which they believe to be the smallest, fully enclosed 3D printed tubes anywhere. They then built a parallel network of four of these tubes, side-by-side, and ran a combination of two non-mixing fluids (like oil and water) through them. As the two fluids fought to get out through the openings, they squeezed off tiny droplets. Each of these droplets acted as a micro-scale chemical reactor in which materials were mixed and nanoparticles were generated. Each microfluidic tube can create millions of identical droplets that perform the same reaction.
 
This sort of system has been envisioned in the past but its hasn’t been able to be scaled up because the parallel structure meant that if one tube got jammed, it would cause a ripple effect of changing pressures along its neighbors, knocking out the entire system. 
 
Brutchey and Malmstadt bypassed this problem by altering the geometry of the tubes themselves, shaping the junction between the tubes so that the particles come out a uniform size and the system is immune to pressure changes.
 
 
 
Edited from source
 
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