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article imageOp-Ed: Welding nano particles with ultrasound breakthrough

By Paul Wallis     Jul 29, 2013 in Technology
Montreal - Ultrasound can generate a lot of heat. Thousands of degrees, in fact. The question has been how to harness it, and that question has now been answered by McGill University Faculty of Dentistry and Medicine.
Science Daily:
Ultrasound induces short-lived bubbles (known as cavitation) that create, for a fraction of a microsecond, when they collapse, 'hotspots' of thousands of degrees. Because this bubble formation is a random and infrequent process, scientists have struggled with ways to harness this incredibly powerful phenomenon for assembling materials rather than for destroying them. The key to the McGill team's finding was developing a way to localize cavitation at the nanoparticles' surface. This led to the discovery that their phosphate coating interacts with unstable radicals created at these hotpots and makes the nanoparticles 'weld' together irreversibly.
There are a lot of ramifications here across whole ranges of technologies. Welding nanoparticles is no trivial issue. It’s potentially extremely useful. Nor is irreversible bonding to be sneered at, given the needs for high quality bonds in the new materials science. Anything capable of generating thousands of degrees of heat also has almost unlimited applications. It could well be the most cost-effective way of generating that sort of heat, if they can raise it to macro level.
Some people might consider McGill University is selling its new discovery a bit short.
Projected uses for ultrasonic welding include “…conductive ceramic catalysts, (See electroceramics) magnetic polymers, and drug-loaded metals” as products of the “ultrasonic bath”. Anything conductive/magnetic has a few uses in electronics, to start with, particularly if it’s cheaper or more efficient than existing materials.
As someone with a lifetime of service in the dentist’s chair, I could suggest that it might have a few uses in dentistry, too. Better materials, better bonds, it’s a gimme. There would also be a range of uses in medicine, optical materials, and a queue of engineers hanging around to see if it can solve their materials issues.
Somewhat mystifyingly, the article then mentions in passing that half the world’s annually mined platinum is used for catalytic converters for car exhausts and that the platinum gets lost in the atmosphere when used. They think the ultrasonic welding can help end that problem.
Nice to know, but catalytic converters? You might as well be talking about knitting better shawls for dinosaurs, compared to the value of the other uses. The internal combustion engine is old tech. Almost all of the other applications for this methodology are new tech.
Mentioned at the start of the Science Daily article but for some reason not further developed, nano particle pollution could also be controllable with ultrasonic “bathing”. One of the major forms of dangerous pollution, nano particles are real health hazards. The welding can apparently transform the particles into larger, accessible, and therefore manageable materials.
A working atmospheric version of the ultrasonic bath for large spaces would pose some technical problems, but it’d be worth it. It might even be possible to literally scrub air pollution with it. It could also be invaluable for manufacturers and researchers working with these infinitely small particles, too, reducing waste of unique nano materials.
I think McGill have discovered a library of intellectual property here. Just don’t focus on catalytic converters, guys. The rest of the Yellow Pages will be very interested in your discovery.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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