During the course of this study, the WTEC panelists were privileged to hear of and to observe a wide variety of current work on nanostructured dispersions and coatings in various laboratories around the world. Descriptions follow of a number of research projects and the preparation issues being addressed in the United States and in some of the foreign laboratories that panelists visited. Table 3.1 outlines some of the nanoparticle preparation techniques that are currently in use, many of which will be discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

Work in the United States

Significant work on coatings of dispersions is underway in the United States, as described in the proceedings of the 1997 WTEC workshop report, R&D status and Trends in Nanoparticles, Nanostructured Materials, and Nanodevices in the United States (Siegel et al. 1998). Some of the highlights of that volume are summarized below. Similar work is ongoing in other countries.

Table 3.1
Nanoparticle Preparation for Dispersions/Coatings

Liquid Chemical Methods

Physical Methods

Elevated Temperature Methods

Sol-Gel *

Size reduction by mechanical means (low energy)


Chemical Precipitation

Ag-X (Eastman Kodak)

Colloidal Micelles *



Vapor phase condensation

* Wiltzius 1998; Trivelli and Smith 1930.

I.A. Aksay describes a ceramic thin film structure that would mirror-image a self-assembly process in many materials (Aksay et al. 1992). Here silica precursors when mixed with surfactants yield polymerized templates having structures similar to surfactant-water liquid crystals; what results are highly controlled pores on the 10 to 100 Å scale. Controlling the pore structure and synthesizing the building blocks are two technical challenges facing future work in this area. However, Aksay has shown that he can grow silicate films onto a wide variety of substrates. The layer structure of the bound surfactant molecules is key. Atomic force microscopy can reveal some details on the morphology of these films. The nanostructural patterns obtained in processing ceramics that contain organic/inorganic composites allow self-assembly to take place at lower temperatures.

Another example of thin films or coating is the work of Gell (1998, 124-130), focused on improving both the physical and the mechanical properties of materials. Nanostructured coating can lead to high diffusivity, improved toughness and strength, and better thermal expansion coefficients, with lower density, elastic modulus, and thermal conductivity. In comparisons of nanostructures and conventional materials, use of nanostructured WC/cobalt composites have resulted in as much as a two-fold increase in abrasion resistance and hardness. Deposition is often accomplished by utilizing a sputtering chamber where the nanomaterial is coated on substrates. This can lead to such benefits as resistance to oxidation and cracks in addition to resistance to wear and erosion.

An area that offers exciting possibilities in the area of dispersions is the sol-gel process described by P. Wiltzius (1998, 119-121). Here, a concentrated dispersion of colloids is chemically converted into a gel body. Drying followed by sintering produces a ceramic or glass product. This process can create nanoparticles, fibers, film, plates, or tubes. All processing is at low temperatures. Lucent Technologies has developed a silica casting process that is reproducible for making tubes of pure silica of one meter in length for use in manufacturing optical fibers. Technical challenges include obtaining pure starting materials, removing refractory particles that lead to breakage in the fiber drawing process, and achieving very tight dimensional tolerances. Colloidal dispersions of this type play a critical role in chemical mechanical polishing. To obtain good yield and high quality, it is necessary to achieve very tight process control.

R. Brotzman at Nanophase Technologies Corporation describes the gas phase condensation process for synthesizing inorganic and metallic powders (Brotzman 1998, 122-123). Such a process was invented by R. Siegel and his colleagues at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York (Siegel et al. 1994). The process involves production of physical vapor from elemental or reacted material followed by sudden condensation and reaction of the vapor into small nanometer particles. The condensation process is rapid and involves dilution to prevent the formation of hard agglomerates and coalescence.

Nanophase Technologies has developed a production system where forced convection flow controls the particle/gas stream and enhances particle transport from the particle growth region so as to generate more metal vapor (Parker et al. 1995). The convection flow helps in forming oxides and nitrides from metal crystallites. This process produces commercial quantities of nanosized inorganic powders that have a spherical shape with narrow size distributions. Table 3.2 shows some properties of these particles, and Figure 3.1 shows their transparency as a function of particle size.

Nanophase Technologies Corporation has developed a coating process that encapsulates nanoparticles with a surface treatment that ensures individual integrity of the particles in subsequent coating steps. Applications span their use in low dielectric media all the way to water and, if needed, steric stabilizers.

Nanophase also has directed efforts in the electronics and industrial catalyst areas. Friedlander (1998, 83-8) describes in good detail aerosol reaction engineering where attention is paid to design of the process and the importance of material properties and process conditions. Key process parameters include time, temperature, and volume concentration. Most commercially produced particles have polydispersity. Important full-scale processes are flame reactors for preparing pigments and powdered materials for optical fibers. Pyrolysis reactors have long been used to prepare carbon blacks.

Kear and Skandan (1998, 102-4) have discussed two divergent approaches toward fabrication of bulk materials. The first is a powder processing route involving preparations by physical or chemical means followed by condensation and sintering. Materials for cutting tools such as tungsten carbide/cobalt powders were prepared in a controllable way to about 50 nm. Liquid phase sintering completes the formation of the solid dispersion phase. However, a gap in fabrication technology remains that of controlling grain growth during liquid phase sintering.

A second approach to fabrication of bulk materials is spray forming. This procedure avoids contamination and coarsening of the dispersion and its particles when the process has a controlled atmosphere of inert gas at low pressure. In this approach there is need to establish process/product co-design where we understand cause-effect relationships between processing parameters and properties of nanophase spray/deposited materials.



Table 3.2
Particle Properties

Particle Properties




Refractive Index




Density (gm/cc)




Molecular Weight ()




Particle Sizes (see Figure 3.1 below)

Optical Density (D) = Absorbance (A) = log 10 (lo/l = e Cl)

C = concentration

l = optical path length

e = molar absorption coefficient/2.303

Source: R. Brotzman, Nanophase Technologies


Figure 3.1.
Transparency as a function of particle size (Nanophase).

In summary, particle preparation in the United States utilizes a wide variety of methods-both chemical and physical, at both high and low temperatures-all having unique considerations for scale-up and process control. Researchers in other countries are tackling many of these same issues.

Work in Europe and Japan

Due to time constraints, the WTEC panel was able to visit only a few labs in Europe and Japan that deal with issues associated with dispersions and coatings. Cited below are a visit to the Institute for New Materials at Saarbrücken in Germany and a visit to Japan's Industrial Research Institute of Nagoya, both of which are exploring direct applications of nanostructured dispersions and coatings.

Drs. Rudiger Nass and Rolf Clasen at the Institute for New Materials at Saarbrücken make specific use of the sol-gel process in which liquid starting materials are utilized at low temperatures for nanoscale metal, ceramic, glass, and semiconductor nanoparticles (Clasen 1990). The advantages, besides temperature, include the isolation of high purity powders. The institute has focused on four basic areas for spin-off and adaptation towards commercialization:

  1. New functional surfaces with nanomers. Properties such as corrosion protection, wettability, coloration, micropatterned surfaces, porosity, and the ability for selective absorption of molecules produce multifunctionality.
  2. New materials for optical applications. This area combines properties of lasers and ceramics with polymers. Such features as optical filters, transparent conducting layers, materials for optical telecommunications, photochromic layers, and holographic image storage are under investigation.
  3. Ceramic technologies. In this area, a simple precipitation process such as sol-gel provides for pilot-scale production of agglomerate-free powder.
  4. Glass technologies. Chemical incorporation of metal colloids with intelligent properties into glasslike structures is clearly possible.

During the WTEC team's site visits to the Industrial Research Institute of Nagoya, S. Kanzaki and M. Sando described methods for preparing synergy ceramics using nanoporous silica particles that are used to fabricate thin films with one-dimensional throughput channels (Kanzaki et al. 1994). The channels had 10-20 nm sizes. High temperature Fe2SiO4 oxides were prepared as both molecular sieves and particulate fibers. Japan plans to pursue the preparation of nanoporous materials for absorbing oil and identified particulates.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian