By Trisha Radulovich
Scientists at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering will collaborate with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and other institutions on a multi-disciplinary National Science Foundation (NSF) study on the novel class of 2D nanomaterials.
Natalie Arnett, Ph.D., an associate professor in the college’s Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, leads the team of scientists developing novel MXene materials for batteries, radiation shielding and supercapacitors. They also aim to improve the performance of existing MXene applications.
“We want to develop MXenes by characterizing their electronic and magnetic properties,” Arnett said. “These materials hold great promise for a number of applications.”
MXenes are an intriguing new family of two-dimensional, high-performance electronic materials that could be key to advances in the field of energy conversion and storage. The atoms-thin ceramics are already used in medicine and optoelectronics, but recently have emerged as a promising nanomaterial in the development of sustainable energy technologies. The Mxenes research is funded by a three-year, $700,000 grant from the NSF to Florida A&M University.
First discovered in 2011, MXenes are created from 3-dimensional crystals called MAXs, often consisting of titanium or chromium, aluminum, and carbon or nitrogen, arranged in microscopic layers.
To produce a MXene, the aluminum of a MAX is selectively removed by microscopic chemical etching, resulting in a 2D (one or two atoms-thin) layered ceramic nanomaterial with good electrical conductivity. The resulting MXene’s underlying structure allows transition metals to be interlayered, creating new materials, properties, and applications. Researchers in the field are exploring the most stable combinations among millions of possibilities.
Unfortunately, the etch process often uses fluorine, a toxic element. Finding a way to make the process safer is what interests Subramanian Ramakrishnan, a FAMU-FSU College of Engineering chemical and biomedical engineering professor and investigator on the study.
“We have determined a way to break up these clumps to form single sheets using an organic solvent in a non-toxic process,” Ramakrishnan said. “This is an important development, since the uniform surface chemistry of the MXene is critical.”
Ramakrishnan wants to study the use of an organic solvent in more detail to establish design rules for creating novel MXene structures and devices.
Arnett and Ramakrishnan are working with several researchers from the college, including Okenwa Okoli, chair and professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, and Theo Siegrist, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering. Dinadayalane Tandabany, an associate professor of chemistry at Clark Atlanta University and project collaborator, will focus on predicting the properties and performance of the materials.
The MXenes research at the college and its associated laboratories are a boon to the FAMU and FSU students at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Graduate and undergraduate engineering students will work with the group on the new synthesis and exfoliation techniques. They will have the opportunity to work with instrumentation at the nearby National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and use state-of-the-art equipment to fabricate MXene structures and devices.
“The project will provide postdoctoral researchers, minority graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to gain valuable experience in new technologies in material research,” Ramakrishnan said.
Arnett’s contributions to research represent not only advances in science but also the forward momentum of female and underrepresented minorities in engineering. Because of her specialized expertise and early career success, she was recruited to join the faculty in 2019 from Fisk University, where she focused her research on polymers for use in fuel cells, reverse osmosis for water purification, and for solar cells.
At FAMU and the FAMU-FSU Engineering, she researches polymers for membrane applications and tissue engineering and also holds a joint appointment in the FAMU Department of Chemistry. She received her doctorate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University and brought with her a coveted NSF CAREER Award. She is also a member of the scientific staff at the Applied Superconductivity Center, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee.