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IFM’s Wei Wei Lei was a winner at the recent Smart Geelong Researcher of the Year Awards for 2013.
He won the early researcher category for his work on nanomaterials for future light emissions, energy storage and water cleaning.
Working with Professor Ian (Ying) Chen, Weiwei is part of the team whose ground-breaking research on boron nitride nanosheets was published in Nature Communications and has attracted worldwide interest for its potential application as an efficient and environmentally friendly method of cleaning oil spills.
The nanosheets could quickly and easily soak up floating oil – and do it over and over again using the same material, explains Dr Lei.
He says the nanosheets could revolutionise oil spill clean ups and water purification.
“Porous boron nitridenanosheets have a couple of properties that make them particularly suitable for absorbing organic (carbon-based) contaminants, such as oil or dyes,” says Dr Lei.
The nanosheets are made of a few layers of boron nitride atomic planes, and these sheets have a large number of holes, which increase the surface area to a huge 1,425m2 a gram. This means one gram of porous boron nitride nanosheets has the same surface area as nearly 5.5 tennis courts, allowing plenty of surface for absorption.
Another advantage is that the saturated boron nitride nanosheets can be cleaned for reuse by simply heating in air for two hours. The absorbed oil is burned off, leaving the sheets clean and free to absorb again.
As well as their high absorbent capabilities, the sheets are lightweight and repel water and will easily separate from the water surface.
The awards are part of the Smart Geelong Network’s annual research and learning expo to showcase research and learning initiatives in the Geelong region.