University of Toronto
Nanocrystals, or quantum dots, are essential to the next great leap in information processing—quantum computing. The technology would make it possible to build much more powerful computers, as well as smaller mobile devices with more capabilities. Currently used in LED devices, quantum dots also show promise in biomedical applications such as drug delivery and treatment of tumours, and in improving efficiencies in solar energy.
Melanie Mastronardi is working to make nanotechnology more environmentally friendly so that when the technology is adopted for wider use, it will have a smaller environmental footprint. Currently, nanocrystals are made mainly from heavy metals. So, while there is great promise with the technology, there is already concern over potential environmental consequences in manufacturing and disposal.
Mastronardi, the first recipient of NSERC’s newly established Gilles Brassard Doctoral Prize for Interdisciplinary Research, is exploring ways of using silicon-based nanomaterials as a “greener” and less expensive option than heavy metals.
The University of Toronto graduate student in chemistry is solving the important problem of developing a method for separating silicon nanocrystals by size to produce samples of uniform dimensions. She can then study size-dependent trends of various optical and electrical properties of silicon nanocrystals. This will lead the way to microscopic quantum dots that are tailored to suit specific requirements, the first step towards developing silicon as a nanomaterial for use in state-of-the-art smart phones, computers and other devices.