Graphene-based Quantum Dots from Coal for Biomedicine

Coal could be a source of cheap, nontoxic fluorescent nanoparticles useful for biomedicine.

Coal can be turned into large volumes of glowing quantum dots, according to Rice University researchers.

The new method could represent a very cheap way to produce fluorescent carbon nanoparticles that could be useful in biomedicine, and especially in the imaging of living human cells and tissues, saysJames Tour, a chemistry professor at Rice. Tour, who led the research, says early tests suggest that the particles are nontoxic, and says his group is working on developing the particles into fluorescent probes and drug-delivery vehicles.

The researchers used sound waves to agitate three types of coal—bituminous, anthracite, and coke—each treated with acid. They then heated the samples for 24 hours. The resulting particles, which range in size from two to 40 nanometers, were made of several layers of graphene oxide, an atom-thick carbon compound with a highly ordered structure. The size of the particles made from each type of coal was distinct, and each size emitted a different color of fluorescence.

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Co-founder and Co-Executive Director, Graphene Stakeholders Association