School of Chemical and Physical Sciences

2008 News

Going for gold, and silver

13 November 2008

"It is hard to think of a more desirable fibre for today's rapidly growing uber-rich: a luxurious Merino wool containing nanoparticles of gold or silver. Yet following extensive research at the Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, this dreamlike concept is close to becoming a commercial reality. Our New Zealand correspondent Wendy Mill outlines the development, and explains why the fibre could prove extremely valuable for both the luxury apparel and interiors sectors."

See full article

- Twist October 2008 article

Mechatronics Student Robot Battle

16 October 2008

On Monday 13 October the annual lego robot competition was held. This competition forms 20% of the assessment for the ECSE430 course, and requires the students to design, construct and program an autonomous robot. This year the competition was made more difficult in that the robots had to locate and physically up a puck then deliver them to a donut shaped goal. Pucks vary in value depending upon how hard they are to locate. Maximum points are scored if the robots deposit the puck in the donut centre (as opposed to the raised outer surface). As there were four robots in the arena at any one time, robustness and toughness were critical design issues.

The real difficulty is that the robots must operate completely independently of humans; points are deducted if a competitor touches the robot at any stage during the events.

The winner this year was Ren Yu with his robot affectionately called "Puck". During the three qualifying rounds, Ren incredibly scored in excess of 500 points. He was joined in the cup final by Asish Aravala with "Crabby", who had only narrowly trailed behind "Puck" in the initial rounds. In the end however, Puck took out the final with a margin of over 100 points.

Congratulations Ren, and to all the students in ECSE430 for an incredible effort.

Electric Alaskan sea-ice

14 October 2008

For scientists working on the frozen plains of Alaskan sea-ice, a crack-shot bear-guard is as essential as polar fleece.

"These guys have the most amazing vision-imagine trying to spot a white polar bear on white ice that stretches for miles," Dr Malcolm Ingham says of the armed Inupiat Eskimo guards he employed to protect him and PhD student Keleigh Jones.

A physicist in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Malcolm made four trips to Alaskan frontier town Barrow this year to study the electro-conductivity of sea-ice. An expert in the use of electrical and electromagnetic techniques to investigate environmental and geophysical problems, Malcolm is working with geophysicists at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to understand the physical properties of the ice.

Sea-ice-that which forms each year in winter to melt away in the spring-conducts electricity through saltwater that pools in pockets suspended throughout the ice's crystalline structure. These saltwater pockets connect to make channels and the conductivity of the sea-ice changes with the ratio of water to ice.

From conductivity measurements taken across unbroken ice using electrodes inserted vertically into boreholes, Malcolm, Keleigh and postdoctoral fellow Dr David Pringle will determine the changing structure of the ice as it gradually melts from April. This data, relating to the physical strength of ice, the way light penetrates it and how well it conducts heat, will provide information much needed by climate scientists.

"There's a surprising lack of information about sea-ice that is needed for climate change modelling. It's strongly evident that sea-ice is diminishing each year-the last northern summer saw the first ice-free passage through the Arctic and it's predicted to be this way again this summer."

Malcolm explains that Arctic sea-ice behaves differently from that in the Antarctic because of the dramatically different geography of the poles; the Arctic is essentially an ocean surrounded by land whereas the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean.

In Barrow, the United States' northernmost settlement where life revolves around traditional whaling, a climate change research institute has been established to house the scientists so interested in what the region can reveal about past and future climate patterns.

Malcolm's project is funded by the States' National Science Fund and contributes to a larger research programme at the University of Otago.

- Victorious Spring 2008 article

A closer look at carbohydrates

14 October 2008

Accumulating evidence showing that cancer growth and asthma can be controlled by the immune system prompted Drs Bridget Stocker and Mattie Timmer to investigate further.
To do so, Bridget and partner Mattie wrapped up postdoctoral fellowships at Switzerland's prestigious Federal Institute of Technology to establish a research platform in immunoglycomics in New Zealand.
The study of carbohydrate chemistry in relation to immunology, immunoglycomics is a relatively new discipline spread across the University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research-New Zealand's premier vaccine and immunology research centre.

This year Bridget and Mattie were awarded Emerging Researcher First Grants from the Health Research Council for their respective research on allergens (related to asthma) and cancer. This funding, among other grants received, recognises the importance placed on research that takes a closer look at carbohydrates.

"Up until the past 10 or so years, the role of carbohydrates in the immune system has been largely ignored and research has focussed on proteins," Bridget says. "It is only now that people are realising the significance of carbohydrates."

The team are researching intriguing carbohydrate structures, glycoconjugates, found on many allergens. Their preliminary findings suggest that these may trigger an allergic response that will aid in the understanding of asthma.

Different types of glycoconjugates can also be used to prompt the immune system to destroy cancerous cells, another area of investigation within the immunoglycomics group.

To test their hypotheses, Bridget and Mattie have combined their expertise in synthetic chemistry and immunology to synthesise and test a range of glycoconjugates as both a stand-alone therapy and in combination with other treatments.

Mattie says that the time-consuming process of carbohydrate synthesis is one of the main reasons that they have been overlooked in the past.

"You don't synthesise carbohydrates unless you have a use for them, but it's the only way to study them at a molecular level-by making large batches of slightly different compounds to test in different biological assays," Mattie says.

He believes that cancer immunotherapy can be improved by selecting appropriate glycoconjugates to 'fine-tune' the immune responses to tumours.

The researchers will also investigate the application of glycoconjugates to tuberculosis, drawing on their time with the Swiss institute where Bridget worked on the development of tuberculosis vaccines and therapeutics with Mattie's involvement.

- Victorious Spring 2008 article

Nanotechnology - pure gold

14 October 2008

In a charming instance where technology meets tradition, merino wool coloured with nanoparticles of pure gold has been hand-spun by one woman and woven into a scarf by another.

As a tangible product of high technology, the scarf-a lovely shade of dusky rose-is exciting both scientists and fashion houses worldwide.
Why the scarf isn't gold is a question commonly asked of Professor Jim Johnston - research leader of a process and product the media were quick to nickname 'the golden fleece'.
"The scarf could have been any one of a range of colours, all dyed with pure gold nanoparticles," Jim says.

"Nanoparticles interact with light differently according to their size due to a phenomenon known as surface plasmon resonance, and this in turn generates different colours."

A Professor in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and a Principal Investigator with the MacDiarmid Institute of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, Jim began working with gold nanoparticles as colorants for textiles in 2006 with Dr Michael Richardson and postgraduate students Kerstin Burridge, Fern Kelly, Amy Watson and Daniela Kohler.
They found that gold nanoparticles 10 nanometres (nm) in size-10,000 times thinner than the average human hair-coloured the wool red. At 100nm the wool is grey, with the colours in between ranging from purple to blue.
Jim says the use of colloidal gold particles dates back many centuries, first explained by the English physicist Michael Faraday who, in 1857 attributed colloidal gold to the ruby-red stained glass famed in European architecture.
More than a century later, Jim decided to take the chemistry back to the bench to redevelop the process with textiles and high-end fashion in mind.
"We've added maximum value to New Zealand merino wool, and there are multiple benefits-gold is incredibly stable as a colorant, making it fade-resistant and colour-fast, as well as having anti-microbial and anti-static properties."

Jim describes the process as being smart, simple and environmentally-friendly.

"The scarf is made only of pure merino wool and pure gold nanoparticles-there are no dyes and no waste products."

The process has been patented and is currently under commercialisation by the University's commercial arm Victoria Link Ltd.

In October 2006 Jim presented the technology at an Institute of Nanotechnology conference in London. From there, the World Gold Council funded the production of a range of samples and these, with the scarf, have been exhibited at recent conferences in Boston and London by Jim and Milan by Fern and Kerstin to the intense interest from high-profile fashion houses and supply chain manufacturers.

AgResearch Ltd have tested the stability of the product and provided the wool, and Wools of NZ are looking at applications of wool dyed with silver nanoparticles for antimicrobial and antistatic carpets.

"Like gold, silver has desirable anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, and because it's cheaper to produce, the silver-dyed wool has greater functionality," Jim says.

Besides questioning the scarf's colour, people also want to know just how much a golden scarf costs. Jim assures them that it somewhat more expensive than the average wool sweater.

- Victorious Spring 2008 article

Top Doctoral Achiever Scholarships

8 August 2008

Three Victoria University PhD students were awarded with Top Doctoral Achiever Scholarships including two SCPS chemistry students, Teresa Vaughan and Emma Dangerfield.

Teresa Vaughan
Teresa Vaughan's PhD research will develop new catalysts that are water-soluble-making them more environmentally friendly-but that act in ways comparable to traditional catalysts. The successful synthesis of active water-soluble catalysts will enable two-phased catalyst systems. It will also solve two major problems encountered in the use of homogenous catalysts-product separation and problems recovering the catalyst.

Emma Dangerfield
Emma Dangerfield's PhD will examine potential new cancer therapies that may offer treatment without debilitating side-effects. She will determine at how the modification of glycolipids in relation to the enhancement of anti-tumour immunity-glycolipids are fat-soluble substances particularly abundant in nervous system tissues.

For more details see Vic News