tanarill: (Science!)
[personal profile] tanarill
So, I am a senior. At my school, being in your last two semesters means that you have to apply to a professor for an then be accepted to a senior research project. Basically, you lab monkey for a prof and learn all kinds of tricks.

My prof is attempting to make hollow gold nanoparticles. A gold nanoparticle, as we have known since the Renaissance, will absorb light differently than large gold nuggets, and therefore appear red; thus, "ruby gold," a very difficult to make and therefore massively expensive form of glass (at the time).

What we are trying to do is make a gold shell, only 6-10 nanometers thick, but empty on the inside. How do you do it?! you may well ask.

It involves making a cobalt nanoparticle first. Cobalt(II) ions are easily soluble, so we put those in solution, and then add a reducing agent. Reducing agents donate electrons, and therefore the cobalt(II) ions become very, very tiny particles of metallic cobalt. Nanoparticles, even.

Then we add some gold(III) ions. See, cobalt doesn't really like to be metallic; the second you add something which will accept electrons, it will give them up. Therefore, whenever a gold atom hits a cobalt nanoparticle, the cobalt immediately gives up the electrons and the gold becomes metallic. Thus, a gold shell forms around what was the cobalt nanoparticle. At the same time, the cobalt becomes cobalt(II) and floats off into solution.

Of course, it's far more complicated than that. Cobalt, as I have said, really likes giving away electrons, to anything that will accept them. Unfortunately, this includes oxygen out of the air, so before beginning the reaction you have to spend about an hour removing oxygen and replacing it with nitrogen gas (which, on the whole, doesn't react). And then you have to keep oxygen from getting it when you add the gold . . .

Then there is the issue of forming cobalt nanoparticles. Sure, they start off that way, but what is to keep them from sticking together and forming large cobalt particles? The answer is acid (or rather, conjugate bases, but since you're mostly not-chemists . . . ). If you add an acid, it will stick to the outside of the nanoparticles. And, since all the acids have a negative charge, they repel each other, preventing any of the cobalt particles from getting close enough to stick. To make ruby glass, Renaissance glassmakers suspended the gold in a mix of nitric and hydrochloric acids! Fortunately, it's possible to use very a non-toxic acid called citric acid, which is incidentally vital to every cell in your body for getting energy out of food. So we add some citrate and call it good.

And, if we do it right, and keep the oxygen away, and add enough acid to keep the cobalt particles apart but not enough to acid-dissolve them, and everything is perfect . . . then the bright red gold nanoparticles can be turned into purple, blue, or even green nanoparticls.

Of course, that is what happens if we do it right, but when have we ever done that?

Yesterday, we managed to make: solid gold nanoparticles, at low concentration, which made a very pretty pink color; what are quite possibly nanorods, which are a lovely royal purple; and, somehow, gold plate the magnetic stir bar, which is a strange accomplishment all on its own that I blame on the citrate, or lack thereof. We also managed to explode the nitrogen hose (we have more of that, though, so it is okay). And finally, I neutralized the acid (which must be done before it is safe to put down the drain) in the test tube instead of a beaker, which resulted in a few seconds of amusing foamy hiss.

Altogether, a successful day.

Date: 2010-04-20 10:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tsaiko.livejournal.com
I bet you could sell the gold plated stir bar as some sort of chemist award. Just attach it to a plaque or something.

Date: 2010-04-24 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rtydmartel.livejournal.com
That sounds like magic.

Have I mentioned how much I love your explanations? They're always so simple and easy to understand. <3

Date: 2010-04-24 02:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tanarill.livejournal.com
Heh. The real magic is what you do with them . . . which is another post.

I am always here if you need help with Science! Unless I do not know, in which case I can but try.

Date: 2010-04-24 07:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rtydmartel.livejournal.com
Thank you!

I'm beginning to suspect my brain wasn't built for awesome science stuff, though. I've been re-reading my old notebooks -I wrote down your explanations in one of them!- and I didn't understand a thing. ._.

I'm having this problem with Math too. I mean, while I was in school and we were constantly using that knowledge I sort of had a grasp on it, but I stop thinking about it for a few months and the information just fades. I tried again and I realized that sometimes it takes only a few hours.

I remember simple things well enough (things I learned about 5 or 6 years ago at school), but anything more complicated than a quadratic equation (and I actually have to look up the formulas for that) just doesn't seem to stick. I suspect this happens because I have trouble remembering concepts that are too abstract, which I hadn't noticed before. So, um, yes. >_>

My math teacher told me that I understood the most difficult concepts but not the simple ones. (And I wanted to tell him that no, I actually didn't understand a thing, I just looked for known patterns in the processes he taught us, but I had no idea how to explain this to him.)

This scared me a lot because I used to consider myself a smart (book smart) person, and now I'm rethinking my career choices (if I'm having trouble with Calculus, I don't stand a chance in any Engineering).

I'm in a new school for this last semester of high school, because the other one went bankrupt. The math classes were "optative", so only the schools that chose those specifically taught them. This school has instead microbiology, anatomy and histology. Sadly, the school sucks. At this point I just want to graduate and be done with it. :\

Oh, sorry, this comment turned into a rant. Er... tl;dr: Turns out my brain can't handle pure science. This saddens me. I still enjoy reading your Science! posts, though.

Date: 2010-04-25 02:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tanarill.livejournal.com
Ah, well, math is something that is simple in one dimension, okay in two, and suddenly explodes into complicated mutant triple integrals in three. I had lots of trouble once I got further than simple calculus also. That's why I went into biochemistry - there very nearly isn't any math.

Still, I can help with the microbiology, since it is biochemistry from the top-down instead of the bottom-up. Anatomy is just a lot of memorizing, so I can't help there. Histoloy looks to be more mermorizy as well, being able to tell what a tissue is by looking at it . . .

Ah well. I am here for helping, if I can.

Date: 2010-04-25 11:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rtydmartel.livejournal.com
I'm relieved to hear that advanced math really is that difficult. Now I get why so many people complain about it.

Oh, thank you so much! I will let you know if something comes up.

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