Tiny particles of titanium dioxide are found as key ingredients in wall paints, sunscreens, and toothpaste; they act as reflectors of light or as abrasives. However with decreasing particle size and a corresponding change in their surface-to-volume ratio, their properties change so that crystalline titanium dioxide nanoparticles acquire catalytic ability: Activated by the UV component in sunlight, they break down toxins or catalyze other relevant reactions.
Now, Dr. Katja Henzler and a team of chemists at the Helmholtz Centre Berlin have developed a synthesis to produce nanoparticles at room temperature in a polymer network. Their analysis, conducted at BESSY II, Berlin's synchrotron radiation source, has revealed the crystalline structure of the nanoparticles. This represents a major step forward in the usage of polymeric nanoreactors since, until recently, the nanoparticles had to be thoroughly heated to get them to crystallize. The last synthesis step can be spared due to the special environment inside the PNIPAM network.