Year/Course: 2016-2017, Lent 2017
Project type: Technology

Contacts: Professor Oren Scherman, Dr. Silvia Vignolini & Dr. Yang Lan, Department of Chemistry, & Dr. Erika Eiser, Department of Physics
Mentor: Adrian Swinburne, Quintaxion

A vast array of common products rely on a family of chemical particles known as colloids. From ice cream and mayonnaise, to washing liquid and hair dye, to paints and suncream, the properties of those colloids directly impact the functionality and usability of the products.

Colloids, due to their highly adaptable nature, have underpinned major advances in fields as diverse as more effective drug delivery to enhancements in water treatment. Despite the key role already played by colloids in over 7000 industrial processes, the majority of these colloids are very simple in form and there is a great deal of additional functionality that could be achieved with more advanced colloidal formulations.

The research team, which involves a collaboration between the Chemistry and Physics departments, have developed a technique to produce and tailor new colloid particles to meet the specific needs of a wide range of applications. The challenge for the i-Team is to help the researchers decide which applications to focus on first.

The new colloids are typically several hundred nanometres in size, with a very high surface area. They can be made in a hollow form, or with many internal cavities, to enable the particles to be loaded with other smaller molecules, which can either remain permanently within the structure or be released under pre-determined circumstances. For example if the small molecules are dyes, it would be possible to produce mayonnaise in any required colour! They are very stable in salt solutions, which allows them to be used in high salt concentrations without aggregating together, and are also mono-dispersed and easy to crystallise.

The researchers anticipate that this unique combination of properties, and their ability to tailor the colloid particles to have different properties in future, will open up many diverse applications from enhanced oil recovery to photonic inks to health and beauty products and beyond.

The role of the i-Team is to imagine and investigate the wide range of possible applications which are enabled by the colloid’s unique properties, and to recommend the best early market applications for the research team to target. In particular the team will be asked to identify applications that are enabled or enhanced by the unique salt properties of the colloid.