Ultra-small materials that look, act, and react differently when they are reduced to the nanoscale can solve big problems, according to Carla Meledandri, PhD, of the University of Otago’s chemistry department. She recently received the 2017 Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize for her work in using silver nanoparticles to treat and prevent dental disease and in improving clean energy technologies.
“I am particularly motivated by service-science where my chemistry can help solve a problem,” Meledandri said.
Silver nanoparticles developed in her lab are being incorporated into a range of products designed to fight tooth decay and infection through a startup company she founded, Silventum Limited, and a technology licensing deal with a multinational dental company.
“In all cases with dental decay, the source of the problems is bacteria,” she said. “Our technology treats the bacterial source of the disease, without staining teeth. It’s particularly exciting because of the growing problems with resistance to antibiotics, which are the usual treatment for bacterial infections. Our nanoparticles have a completely different mechanism that doesn’t allow them to become resistant.”
Meledandri further said that tooth decay is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world and that the products created through this science offer a new solution. Also, she said, these products have the potential to make dental care more affordable through the availability of reliable treatments that don’t require multiple trips to the dentist.
Meanwhile, in her fundamental science research, Meledandri is developing nanomaterials that could be used to enable the safe, efficient, and inexpensive storage of environmentally clean fuels. For example, these nanoparticles could play a role in capturing and separating carbon dioxide to remove it from the atmosphere, potentially mitigating global warming.
“Knowledge of the underlying fundamental science enables us to create things on the applied side, and the applied science reveals problems that the fundamental science can solve,” said Meledandri, who will be using $150,000 of the $200,000 prize to further her research group’s work in clean energy.