I I wanted to make a difference And 25 years ago, I fully embraced the concept of green chemistry. The idea says, “Let’s start over and make the chemistry ‘benign by design’.”
As chemists, we can’t keep doing more of the same without looking at the environment. its enough. And I think the community finally understands it. Despite what some politicians were trying to tell us even a few years ago, climate change is real and measurable. We have wildfires and floods. We have plastic in the environment and in the oceans.
In chemistry, it has gone from being almost a moral obligation to go down this green path to a matter of time before it becomes a legal obligation.
As chemists, we can’t keep doing more of the same without looking at the environment.
The 12 principles of green chemistry, developed by Paul Anastas and John Warner, says that you’re not just tweaking the process to make it cleaner, because you only get that far — you’ll still be generating waste if you use the same toxic reagents in your process. Green chemistry is not a band-aid method. It’s making sure we don’t create something that has a negative environmental impact and is sustainable. When it was first proposed, it was a paradigm shift, and as President of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute I have helped involve a lot of people. This eventually led to the securing of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence in Green Chemistry.
Globally, it’s now a big movement. These days, if you do any kind of chemistry and apply to a funding agency, and you no Take into account the principles of green chemistry, you are unlikely to get this funding.
At the beginning of my research in green chemistry, I was interested in applying these green concepts in continuous flow processing. It’s a no-brainer: If you’re doing your research and you pass some liquid through a reactor and it just flows and flows out, then you can do all the basic science, and guess what? Unlike batch processing, scalability has already been taken into account from the start, so that the search device itself can be your processing device. This way you can speed up the production process, which can bypass the trial stages that you normally have to go through for traditional batch processing.
You’re not just tweaking a process to make it cleaner, because you’re only getting this far.
I was thinking of trying to make nanomaterials under continuous flow, and I wanted to do that by applying clean mechanical energy rather than adding any kind of auxiliary chemicals. This eventually led to the design vortex fluidic device – VFD. This is the device that won me and my colleagues Ig Nobel Prize in 2015.
Understanding how fluids flow has been one of the biggest unresolved scientific questions. Now, by understanding how fluids flow in a fluid vortex device, simply by applying mechanical energy, we take a huge step forward. The potential of the application is enormous.
We recently published research on chemical sciences It shows how immiscible liquids behave in very small dimensions. Immiscible liquids are liquids you wouldn’t normally think of mixing—like oil and water. But we showed How does VFD mix immiscible liquids down to the nanometer dimensions. It took more than 100,000 trials to find out, but the consequences are dire. We make emulsions that have implications for everything from drug delivery to salad dressings.
Understanding how fluids flow has been one of the biggest unresolved scientific questions.
We recently posted this on Nature: the science of food. We put nanoparticles of fish oil in apple juice. If you use a homogenizer, everyone can taste and smell the fish oil. But if you do it with a nanometer scale in a VFD, kids won’t be able to tell the difference between drinking applesauce and drinking applesauce with all the good omega-3s in it.
So, what is a VFD? It’s basically a rotating test tube with a small flange on top, and tilt it off-axis at a 45-degree angle. You have a fluid in there, and then you introduce rotating mechanical energy into that fluid. Now you have maximum cross-gravity pushing down, and you have centrifugal force holding the fluid against the tube.
The device has a diameter of 20 mm and a length of about 20 cm, but you can build larger units for high-volume processing. Thats all about it. You can have a jet feed that delivers reagent fluids into the tube. As they rotate in and out of the tube, they undergo all of these changes. This is your continuous flow process.
With this device, you get the formation of Faraday waves in the liquid, and you get Coriolis forces from the base of the tube. And all this mechanical energy is transferred to less than one micron in dimensional systems. Knowing this is the key to all these other great apps.
With a VFD, we can partially detach the egg, which we do by refolding the proteins.
With a VFD, we can partially detach the egg, which we do by refolding the proteins. protein folding It’s a huge deal for the pharmaceutical industry. We’ve also been able to speed up a variety of enzymatic reactions, which is another big problem.
A paper just came out showing how we can make graphene oxide. There are a lot of applications for graphene oxide, but the traditional way to make it uses concentrated sulfuric acid and toxic metals. We’ve developed a process using our own VFD with nearly zero waste. All you need is aqueous hydrogen peroxide and graphite. We call it GGO – green graphene oxide. It is a brand.
We have also published work using VFD to extract DNA from extinct species that have been preserved in formalin. Some of these species are over 150 years old.
The four-hour test drops to four minutes in the VFD.
We use VFD to amplify biomarker detection. Initially, the focus was on COVID-19 – the four-hour test at the VFD. In the future, there are some good applications of the optical frequency agent in wine processing because you are not adding chemicals. At certain processing parameters, we can cut carbon nanotubes to specific lengths for applications in devices. This is also very big.
As we now understand the fluid flow in the device, it is accelerating more and more applications. Although we have published over 100 research papers on VFD applications, we are not at the very end of the beginning.
My interest in chemistry exploded in the 12th grade at John Curtin High School in Perth in 1967. My chemistry teacher surprised me. He was very young, Mr. Stockdale. He was teaching in the country, but he came to Curtin – and he put it all together.
If you fully understand your chemistry, you understand your surroundings.
Our school overlooked Fremantle Harbor, at which time they were bursting in search of a deep-water channel. We would look out of the classroom window and periodically see these huge plumes of water rising after these explosions. And he’d say, “Oh, I can do better than that.”
Then he conducted experiments that were very exciting. But then we’d sit down and try all the chemistry to explain it. That’s when I realized that if you fully understand your chemistry, you understand your surroundings. I did not look back.
As told to Graem Sims for Cosmos Weekly.
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