The Department of Chemistry at Rice University places a strong emphasis on nanomaterials synthesis, characterization, assembly, and their applications. Historically this started in the 1980s with the discovery of C60, buckminsterfullerene, which led to the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Rice Professors Richard Smalley, Robert Curl and then visiting Professor Harold Kroto. This launched a carbon nanomaterials emphasis at Rice that rapidly expanded to nanomaterials of many types. This includes anisotropic noble metal nanoparticles, metal oxide nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, semiconductor nanocrystals, 2D materials such as graphene and metal chalcogenides, MXenes, mixed-metallic nanoparticles, graphene quantum dots, graphene nanoribbons, and boron-nitride nanomaterials. New growth mechanisms are developed for the bottom-up fabrication of these materials, such as the laser-induced synthesis of graphene, colloidal wet-chemistry approaches to highly-crystalline nanoparticles of well-defined size and shape, and the synthesis of nanomaterials at the jet-head of 3D printers en route to 3D monoliths.
Methods for incorporating nanomaterials into larger three-dimensional architectures include the generation of graphene foams, carbon nanotube carpets, and self-assembled nanoparticle superlattices. Intense research efforts include the synthesis of stimuli-responsive or reconfigurable nanostructures such as nanosubmarines that enable the actuated opening of cells and non-equilibrium nanoparticle assemblies that undergo constant restructuring as they consume external sources of energy.
Applications of these structures abound and, in many cases, are pursued in collaboration with the world-class aerospace (NASA), energy (Shell, Exxon, Apache), and biomedicine (MD Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, UT Health) industries that are local to Houston, TX. For example, multifunctional composites such as fibers, foams, and coatings form the basis of radiation shielding and memory/communications devices for space travel applications. A variety of energy applications include cleaner oil and gas extraction, fuel cells research, water splitting systems, batteries, supercapacitors and photovoltaic cells. Nanomaterials are also being used for environmental applications such as CO2 capture and sequestration, water purification, sequestration of radionuclides from water, and sorption of oil from water. Finally, gold nanoparticles and carbon nanomaterials are finding use in drug delivery, cancer therapy, and as imaging contrast agents. The opportunities for new science and novel applications of nanomaterials are vast and the Department of Chemistry at Rice continues to be at the forefront of this quickly-evolving and impactful field.