NIST scientists gain new 'Core' understanding of nanoparticles news
01 June 2010

While attempting to solve one mystery about iron oxide-based nanoparticles, a research team working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stumbled upon another one. But once its implications are understood, their discovery* may give nanotechnologists a new and useful tool.

 
Schematic of a spherical magnetite nanoparticle shows the unexpected variation in magnetic moment between the particle's interior and exterior when subjected to a strong magnetic field. The core's moment (black lines in magenta region) lines up with the field's (light blue arrow), while the exterior's moment (black arrows in green region) forms at right angles to it. Credit: NIST

Schematic of a spherical magnetite nanoparticle shows the unexpected variation in magnetic moment between the particle's interior and exterior when subjected to a strong magnetic field. The core's moment (black lines in magenta region) lines up with the field's (light blue arrow), while the exterior's moment (black arrows in green region) forms at right angles to it.

The nanoparticles in question are spheres of magnetite so tiny that a few thousand of them lined up would stretch a hair's width, and they have potential uses both as the basis of better data storage systems and in biological applications such as hyperthermia treatment for cancer. A key to all these applications is a full understanding of how large numbers of the particles interact magnetically with one another across relatively large distances so that scientists can manipulate them with magnetism.

''It's been known for a long time that a big chunk of magnetite has greater magnetic 'moment'-think of it as magnetic strength-than an equivalent mass of nanoparticles,'' says Kathryn Krycka, a researcher at the NIST Center for Neutron Research. ''No one really knows why, though. We decided to probe the particles with beams of low-energy neutrons, which can tell you a great deal about a material's internal structure.''

The team applied a magnetic field to nanocrystals composed of 9 nm-wide particles, made by collaborators at Carnegie Mellon University. The field caused the particles to line up like iron filings on a piece of paper held above a bar magnet. But when the team looked closer using the neutron beam, what they saw revealed a level of complexity never seen before.

''When the field is applied, the inner 7 nm-wide 'core' orients itself along the field's north and south poles, just like large iron filings would,'' Krycka says. ''But the outer 1 nm 'shell' of each nanoparticle behaves differently. It also develops a moment, but pointed at right angles to that of the core.''





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NIST scientists gain new 'Core' understanding of nanoparticles