Structure of a Silver Nanoparticle

The structure of the newly discovered silver nanoparticle | photo via LA Times (Bokwon Yoon / September 4, 2013)

By way of an accident—as so many great scientific discoveries are—researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio have found a way of synthesizing ultrastable silver nanoparticles that could eventually perform the functions of their more typically used gold counterparts.

While silver boasts of many useful physical properties, relative abundance, and a lower cost than gold, its tendency for oxidation, or tarnishing, has always made building stable silver nanoparticles very difficult. Gold, on the other hand, is both durable and easy to use. Therefore, gold nanoparticles are currently favored for drug delivery, cell imaging, and many other applications.

However, while investigating how silver interacts with light, these Toledo scientists instead stumbled upon the formula for silver nanoparticles with much-increased stability.

Accidents Happen

After attaching sulfur-containing molecules to silver nanoparticles to measure the metal’s light-absorbing properties, they noticed a peculiar effect—the resultant silver nanoparticles were all the same size.

Since silver degrades relatively easily, silver nanoparticles usually contain varying numbers of atoms and are of a considerable range of sizes. However, each time the scientists repeated their process, they continued to yield the same-sized nanoproduct. In fact, the team states in the scientific journal Nature that, “The stability, purity and yield are substantially better than those for other metal nanoparticles, including gold, owing to an effective stabilization mechanism.”

While they still need to conduct further research to test the versatility of this new nanoparticle, they are hoping that this discovery will mean that silver nanoparticles may one day replace gold for certain applications.

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