The manipulation of materials at the nanoscale has led to the development of bulk products that exhibit improved properties. From clay to polymers, establishing the chemical makeup gives scientists much needed information to help fine-tune studies of new materials. The CSIR National Centre for Nanostructured Materials (NCNSM) has an enviable toolkit at their scientists’ disposal.
While many will focus on tools such as the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and X-ray Diffraction (XRD) to obtain structural information, the Centre’s Perkin Elmer Spectrum 100 Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer provides insight into the chemical composition of samples. The FTIR technique has been with us for a while, but perhaps this instrument warrants a look with fresh eyes in the nanoscience field.
The technique allows the analysis of samples in the form of powders or solids. It relies on differences in the manner in which chemical bonds between atoms in the samples stretch and vibrate selectively when illuminated with a wide range of wavelengths. The reflected or transmitted FTIR spectrum that results represents accurately the chemical characteristics of the sample. Additionally, the attached Spotlight 400 microscope allows graphical mapping of the chemical groups present. In this way, the degree of blending of two or more polymers, or the distribution of clays or other inclusions present in the matrix can be visualised, while also revealing the chemical makeup of any desired part of the sample.
It is safe to say that FTIR spectroscopy has been used for material analysis in the laboratory for over 70 years, and the technique is as relevant today as it was then, revealing useful information about materials present at the nano scale. Being a relatively quick analysis which is also non-destructive, the FTIR is here to stay in the nanotechnologist’s toolkit.
Writer: Bongani Thabethe