The University of Scranton Research Shows Shape Matters at Nano Level

Understanding how structures interact at the microscopic and even molecular scales has been studied for decades, with applications developed for numerous products ranging from pharmaceuticals and medical treatments to dry cleaning. In researching nanostructure interactions, certain approximations of structural properties that could not be precisely measured were commonly used.

New research by John Deák, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry at The University of Scranton, combined two existing techniques for the first-time to test the approximations used for reverse micelle structural properties, which are often applied in studying microscopic interactions. The research, published in October in the Journal of Molecular Liquids, shows that assumptions of the shape of the structure at a certain scale range were incorrect.

“The research finding means a lot of text books will have to be updated,” joked Dr. Deák of the significance of his research, which will actually lead to more precise calculations of nano-level interactions that can be applied to drug delivery systems and other life-saving, or life-changing, applications.

Dr. Deák explained that approximations used for the reverse micelle structure assumed a spherical shape, which his research confirmed is correct in certain scale ranges. However, his research showed that the structure changes to an ellipsoidal or egg-like shape at another range of the scale. He said the research explains variations found in data collected in numerous other studies conducted over decades.

“There was speculation about the assumed shape of the reverse micelle structures, because data collected in studies didn’t always fall in the expected range of calculations, but we didn’t have the ability to determine the shape,” said Dr. Deák, who worked on this project for five years. He combined two existing research techniques to examine various shape considerations for the first time which revealed a decades-long misunderstanding about the structure.

“This shows that we cannot assume shapes of nanostructures. We must determine the shapes and develop techniques to enable us to do this,” said Dr. Deák.

His study is titled “Volumetric determination of reverse micelle structural properties and the validity of commonplace approximations.”

Dr. Deák’s research interests include the molecular dynamics of condensed phases and interfaces, energy transfer mechanisms over self-assembled liquid boundaries, and permeation enhancement of biological tissue. His research has been published in dozens of academic journals, including the prestigious journal Science. He is an inventor on more than two dozen patents.

A faculty member at Scranton since 2002, Dr. Deák earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Buffalo and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Rochester. He completed post-doctoral studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign.