DOST moves to whet interest of Pinoy researchers in nanotechnology

In science, it is all about the small details. This adage is particularly relevant in the nanotechnology field that studies and aims to produce materials, structures, and devices by manipulating nanoparticles, minuscule molecules that measure at one-millionth of a meter.

Dr. Varun Natu from India’s National Chemical Laboratory

While this field has diverse applications, there are relatively few Filipino scientists who have undertaken to study it. To stimulate young Filipino’s researchers’ interest in this field, the Department of Science and Technology Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) has been hosting online nanotechnology webinars where scientists from across Asia share their research in this field.

The government agency held the series’ fifth webinar on Friday, January 13. Here, scientists from India, Taiwan, and the Philippines showcased how they are using nanotechnology to optimize energy storage and generation, encourage sustainability, and even accelerate advances in this field through the application of machine learning.

Dr. Varun Natu, a scientist from India’s National Chemical Laboratory, began his talk by introducing his current research subject: engineering MXenes to boost their performance in batteries.

MXenes are a large family of nanomaterials prized for their conductivity and general non-toxicity. These properties attract researchers as they make MXene a potential replacement material in energy storage solutions like batteries.

Yet, there was a problem. When Dr. Natu tested the theory that a certain MXene has a high capacity in sodium ion batteries, but his experiment showed that the MXene had zero capacity.

His ongoing experiments have been testing how differences in the production and synthesis of the MXene can alter its capacity.

Dr. Cheng-Ying Chen from the National Taiwan Ocean University

The next speaker, Dr. Cheng-Ying Chen, an assistant professor from National Taiwan Ocean University, is exploring how nanotechnology can improve thin film solar cells utilized in solar energy generation.

Compared to mature solar cell technology, these cells are flexible, light, and thus, have a high power-to-weight ratio. Current constituent materials for these solar cells, however, are either expensive and scarce or dangerous heavy metals.

Dr. Chen’s present experiments are testing the viability of other materials that are both earth abundant and safe. While prospective materials have been identified, Chen is trying to address some emerging issues, including the nanomaterials’ complex production process and reducing defects in the material decrease the cell’s efficiency.

From the first two experiments, nanotechnology clearly opens possibilities for more effective energy storage and generation.

Dr. Chosel Lawagon from the University of Mindanao

Dr. Chosel Lawagon, director at the University of Mindanao’s Center of Green Nanotechnology Innovations for Environmental Solutions, has a different, greener focus to her research.

Her experiments are proving that carbon nanomaterials can be sustainably synthesized from petrochemical waste oil.

Not only does her experiment allow for waste reduction, the carbon nanomaterials she and her team have synthesized can be recycled for promising applications like cement reinforcement, energy storage devices, and catalytic conversion of biomass into beneficial chemicals.

When asked, though, what challenges came with studying this field in the Philippines, Lawagon noted that resource procurement is difficult and this issue needs to be solved to support the country’s researchers and scientists.

“It is difficult for us to find the supplier for our equipment or for our chemicals,” she emphasized.

Dr. Jer-Lai Kuo from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica

Lastly, the keynote speaker for the event, Dr. Jer-Lai Kuo, a professor and research fellow from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, has been investigating how artificial intelligence (AI) can improve the nanotechnology field, specifically its material discovery and design aspect.

Using his project studying sugars, he demonstrated how the use of AI and machine learning has enabled he and his teams to simulate multiple sugar categories per year when before 2018, it would take them a year to simulate a single sugar.

“The standard method in physical chemistry, they are good but they are expensive.” Kuo stated. “Using AI and the neural network…then we have a much faster, automatic [process].”

DOST-PCIEERD science and technology fellow Dr. Ryan Corpuz

DOST-PCIEERD science and technology fellow, Dr. Ryan Corpuz, wrapped up his own speech by repeating the hope that drove the creation of the webinar series.

“By creating a platform for nanoeducation wherein the latest developments in material synthesis, characterization techniques, fabrication methods, processes, and applications of nanotechnology will be discussed and promoted to stimulate awareness, we believe that we could fill up or at least narrow the gap in understanding in this emerging field,” Corpuz said.

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