Have you ever reflected on all the interactions with your surrounding that take place at an interface? Have you ever thought about all the different types of surfaces and interfaces around you, and what is going on at these surfaces? In fact, many of the phenomena that we are able to perceive at the macroscale are determined by interactions at the nanoscale.
From the nanoscale to the macroscale
Surfaces and interfaces are all around us and everywhere (except in space). At basically all these surfaces and interfaces, nanoscale processes are taking place, and we often do not notice them until they reach the macroscopic scale. Like, for example, rust on a car, which we probably don’t notice until the paint starts falling off, but which started long before that.
Another example is the success or failure of a medical implant. The result depends on how small molecules, such as water, interact with the implant’s surface, which in turn determines how small proteins and other biomolecules will interact. Down the line, these interactions at the implant surface will determine if the implant will be seen kindly by the body’s cells or not. Surface processes taking place before the implant was inserted into the body, e.g., how it was cleaned after manufacturing and which gas molecules it has been exposed to, can also affect the success rate.
Natural and man-made surfaces and interfaces in our surrounding
As the examples above illustrate, the materials of the surfaces can range from metals and other elements to more complex materials including biological ones. In our surroundings, there is an abundance of man-made structures of various materials, sizes, and intended functionality, like cars, kitchenware and containers of drug components to name but a few. Each of these objects interacts with its immediate surrounding in ways that could be both in agreement as well as in disagreement with our liking. Being aware of this we, or the suppliers of the products that we use, may take measures to prevent or promote certain nanoscale processes. For example, we don’t want our car to rust, and to prevent rust damage, we may protect the car from rain and salt, or provide it with a protective coating. We want our kitchenware to be clean after having washed it with detergent in the dishwasher, but we don’t want the detergent to etch the surface of our glassware, so it looks dull. And, we most certainly do not want the drug that we are about to take, to have been stored in a container the triggers a change in the active ingredient so it becomes poisonous.
These are but a few examples of surface-related phenomena that could impact our everyday lives and which are at the center of research projects and product development. The ambition is to get a deeper understanding relevant interfacial processes - processes that may happen at the nanoscale, but which will impact us, and the world we live in, at the macroscale.
Science on surfaces - a bigger perspective on the small
Learn more about surface-related phenomena and how they affect us and our everyday lives by listening to the podcast Science on surfaces - a bigger perspective on the small, where we zoom in on since that impacts our everyday lives.
In this episode, we talk about what defines a surface and what different types of surface-related science there is. We also talk about how this field of research started, what key inventions that originate in this area, and why this kind of research is important.
Nanomaterials have found their way into ordinary products such as foods, cosmetics, and sportswear. Why did ‘nano’ become so popular? And what risks are involved when getting exposed to these nanoengineered entities?