The Environmental Chemical Sciences Program in the Chemistry Division and the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) in the Office of Interdisciplinary Activities (OIA), both at the National Science Foundation, supports the research of Professor Kevin D. Ausman at Oklahoma State University who will establish a focused research effort aimed at thoroughly describing the environmentally-relevant chemistry of key biologically, commercially, and environmentally significant nanomaterials. This proposal hopes to develop a comprehensive understanding of the environmental behavior of a key nanomaterial: colloidal aggregates of C60, termed nC60. The nanomaterial nC60 is a poorly-understood system with subtle contributions of synthetic method and surface chemistry to its stability and reactivity. Recently published work from the PI's laboratory reports, (a) a new synthetic methods for nC60 and (b) that C60O, formed by reaction of the fullerenes with trace levels of atmospheric ozone, is the key component of many nC60 samples that renders the particles water-stable. This work will develop a deeper understanding of the hydrophilic surface chemistry of this critical nanoscale model system, with particular emphasis on a low-level fullerene derivative that has been discovered to play a vital, previously-unrecognized role in colloid formation, stability, and reactivity. In addition, methods for particle size control to allow size-dependent property studies will be developed, and the proper laboratory storage and handling conditions for these systems will be evaluated. This work leverages the PI's core expertise in nanomaterial detection and characterization, and his ability to enter into productive collaborations with health and environmental scientists who will develop and commercialize nanomaterials in biologically relevant contexts.
The proposed research will be coupled with an educational collaboration designed to develop hands-on exploration of nanoscale chemistry and spectroscopy for the "Museum Without Walls" outreach program for the Oklahoma WONDERtorium, Stillwater's children's museum. Recent fullerene studies have generated substantively conflicting predictions of this material's health and environmental hazards. Regardless of the eventual commercial significance of pristine, underivatized fullerenes, the high-profile nature of this controversy has elevated C60 to a touchstone nanoparticle, in many ways serving as a proxy for the scientific community's responsible development of nanomaterial-based applications. The success of the scientific community in proactively and convincingly elucidating the extent and mechanisms of fullerene/biological interactions will significantly impact the success of future commercialization efforts that span all of nanotechnology.