Wait a nanosecond! UND scientist scores another patent in study of ultra-tiny particles

Julia Zhao

A University of North Dakota scientist was awarded a patent for a breakthrough method that reliably produces nanoparticles that may prove useful in medical, environmental and many other creative biotech applications.

The University of North Dakota Office of Intellectual Property Commercialization and Economic Development is reporting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently issued patent number 8,183,300 for a “Method for Producing Nanoparticles of a Selected Size” to UND.

The inventors are Julia Zhao, associate professor of chemistry, and Yuhui Jin, a former graduate student in the UND Department of Chemistry, currently employed by Corning Inc. (of Pyrex fame) in New York. The technology was developed under a grant awarded to Zhao by the National Science Foundation.

This is Zhao’s second patent in the last three years and is based on her extensive ongoing research in the field of nanoparticles. Zhao’s latest patent describes a synthetic method for producing nanoparticles of reproducible, multiple sizes over a specific range.

Producing consistent, predictable sizes of nanoparticles is vital in nanotechnology and nanoscience.

Nanoparticles are at the heart of rapid changes in materials science. They range in size from 1 to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter; a 6 foot person would be about 2 billion nanometers tall. A human hair is about 60,000 nanometers in diameter. A major challenge is to produce nanoparticles that are consistent in both quality and size; Zhao and her colleagues invented a breakthrough process to do just that. There are dozens of practical uses for the kind of nanoparticles: let’s start with modern sunscreens—the best contain nanoparticles of zinc oxide which are practically invisible, compared with the old screens that layered on thick and white. Nanoparticles are used in scratchproof eyeglasses and stain-repellent fabrics; they’re also used in coatings for solar cells. Gold nanoparticles—Zhao has worked on these, too—can be used as part of a process that cleans many toxic chemicals out of air.

UND is actively seeking to license this technology as well as Zhao’s other creations in the field of nanotechnology.

Zhao began her chemical studies in the People’s Republic of China in the early 1980s and obtained her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Jilin University there. She was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Florida before joining the Chemistry faculty at UND, where she began an intense research program in nanotechnology.

“Our group is interested in the development of various luminescent nanomaterials and applications of the nanomaterials in biomedical and environmental studies,” said Zhao, who incorporates many undergraduates in her research projects.

One key goal of her research team is the design and synthesis of novel nanoparticles, including the methods for which she has now been awarded two patents.

“For my first patent, the objective of this project was to develop more effective luminescent nanomaterials as labeling regents for ultra-sensitive bioanalysis,” Zhao said. “Nanocrystals and fluorescent nanoparticles have shown great potential for use as efficient bionanomaterials. We will take advantage of both nanocrystals and nanoparticles to develop new types of luminescent nanomaterials.”

Zhao also is looking at how some nanomaterials around us can be harmful. Just like all other chemicals, some nanoparticles can be toxic to living organisms. A potential concern is the growing list of nanoparticles used in food, cosmetic and personal care products. how to reduce the risks of exposure.

“We are interested in the toxicity of nanomaterials to living cells at the cellular and molecular levels, such as the effects of nanomaterials on DNA damage and cell proliferation and death,” Zhao said. “We expect that this study will provide critical information for biotechnological and biomedical applications of nanomaterials.”

Contacts:

Tara Kopplin, licensing assistant
UND Office of Intellectual Property Commercialization and Economic Development
701-777-3267
tara.kopplin@research.und.edu

Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor
University of North Dakota |Office of University Relations
264 Centennial Drive Stop 7144 | Grand Forks, ND 58202-7144
P 701.777.6571| C 701.740.1321
juan.pedraza@und.edu

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