Tag Archives: high temperature materials

Toxic nanoparticles?

My obsession with kinematics and kinetics over the past few posts is connected to my recent trip to Italy [see my post last week] as part of a research project on the mechanics of nanoparticles.  We are interested in the toxicological effect of nanoparticles on biological cells.  Nanoparticles are finding lots of applications but we don’t completely understand their interaction with cells and organs in the body.  We are interested in particles with diameters around 10 nanometres.  The diameter of a human hair is 10,000 times bigger.  The small size of these particles has potential implications for their kinematics and kinetics as they move through the body.  We know that protein molecules can attach themselves to nanoparticles forming a corona and as part of our research we are looking at how that influences the motion of the particle.  For instance, it might be appropriate to use kinematics for a spherical metallic nanoparticle but kinetics for one with a corona.

Some of you might be thinking, why go to Italy?  Well, other than for the coffee, I have been working with a colleague there for some time on methods of tracking nanoparticles that are below the resolution of optical microscopes.  We have named the technique ‘nanoscopy’ and it allows us to look at live cells and nanoparticles simultaneously without damaging the cell.  So our current research is an extension of the earlier work (see the two papers referenced below).  Of course the more basic answer is that we get on and are very productive together.

BTW – we can’t ‘see’ our nanoparticles because visible light has wavelengths about fifty times larger than the particles, so light waves pass single particles without being reflected into our eyes or camera.  However, a particle does disturb the light wave and produce a weak optical signature, which we utilise in nanoscopy.

Research papers available on-line at:



Impossible perfection

Carnot's equation for ideal efficiency of a cyclic device converting heat to work and operating between two temperatures specified on the Kelvin scale

Carnot’s equation for ideal efficiency of a cyclic device converting heat to work and operating between two temperatures specified on the Kelvin scale

In my last post [National efficiency on 29th May, 2013] I calculated the efficiency of the nationwide process of electricity generation in the UK [35.8%] and made no comment on the relatively low value.  It will be similarly in all industrialised countries as a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics and the requirement for all real processes to increase entropy.  A French engineer / scientist, Sadi Carnot [1796-1832] demonstrated from the second law, that the maximum efficiency achievable in ideal conditions by a process operating in a cycle to convert heat into work is a ratio of the temperatures of the heat source and cold sink to which excess heat is dumped.  In a power station the heat source might be a fossil-fuelled furnace, a nuclear reactor or a solar concentrator.  The cold sink is usually the environment, perhaps in the form of river or sea water.  So both source and sink temperatures are limited.  The sink by the local climate and the source by the temperatures that modern materials can withstand.

The very best efficiency based on Carnot’s expression for a maximum material temperature of 350 degrees Centigrade [=623 Kelvin] and environment temperature of 5 degrees Centigrade [278 Kelvin] is 55%.  Of course a real power station will never operate at this level because ideal conditions are not achievable – perfection is impossible.

The ideal efficiency improves as the operating temperatures of the heat source and sink are moved further apart and this quest to raise this temperature difference drives a substantial proportion of materials research.  However, even operating with a heat source at 800 degrees Centigrade, using expensive, high temperature alloys, such as Hastelloy N  [a nickel-chromium alloy], on a winter day in the Canadian capital, Ottawa where the average January daytime temperature is -7 degrees Centigrade, the Carnot efficiency of a power station would be only 75%  [=1-(266/1073)].