I was going to post about my PhD supervisor, Prof. Jim Johnston, winning a Bayer Innovator of the Year award, but was pipped at the post by the Gold Innovations Blog here! As the post points out, this was largely for his work on the innovative use of gold and silver nanoparticles as colourants for wool textiles.
As I've recently become involved in this research (along with current PhD students Fern Kelly and Kerstin Burridge), it may be a perfect time to explain a little bit more about it and what we're trying to achieve here.
As I've said before, when we shrink the constituent particles of a material down to the nano scale, we start to see new and interesting properties. This is because the particles can be considered closer to the size of atoms than to bulk materials - thus we see "quantum effects". One effect we see with gold or silver particles at this scale is a phenomenon called "surface plasmon resonance" which alters the way light interacts with the particles. Hence, instead of seeing the lustrous yellow colour we are all familiar with when we think of gold, we see a range of colours - red through blue. We then use these particles of different colour to "dye" wool (and a number of other materials too!).
The aim here is to link the high quality of NZ wool with the prestige of precious metals like gold and silver and sell into high value markets. Silver has the added benefit of being antimicrobial and so the resultant textiles are capable of killing bugs, making them ideal for medical textiles.
The work was funded by the World Gold Council's GROW Program (which I made a comment about here), and we are now progressing it towards commercialisation with a number of interested parties both in NZ and internationally. If you have any questions please leave a comment!