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Former pupil returns to talk nanobubbles

OB, Camilla Owens ('10) visited Bryanston recently to take part in the school’s Science Society Talks.

She came to talk to pupils about her research on nanobubbles, which are the order of magnitude of large molecules or a billionth of a metre, 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of hair. These bubbles survive at the surface of minerals and last for days. Measuring these bubbles requires an atomic force microscope that bounces a laser off a tiny cantilever to detect tiny objects down to the size if individual atoms.

Nanobubbles are important because they have been used in water-purifying treatments and cancer treatment among other technologies. Camilla is specifically interested in minerals. Separating minerals involves grinding them to a powder, mixing with water and then string while passing bubbles through the mixture. The froth on top enables different minerals to be collected. This interaction with water leaves nanobubbles on the surface and also aids with flotation.

As well as studying dolomite as part of her research, Camilla also looked at nanobubbles on graphene. Currently, there is uncertainty about when and where nanobubbles will form. Controlling bubbles on the surface if graphene is an important factor in using this miracle material as it could affect the channelling of currents when used in micorcircuitry. Its flatness makes it easier to use an atomic force microscope on it. Camilla and her team tried surface patterns of ribbons, dots and rings of graphene to compare with previous work on plastics to see how they affected the formation and appearance of nanobubbles. The results Camilla showed the pupils were so new that she has yet to analyse them and determine what is and is not a bubble and what the profile of the bubbles may be.

Around 100 pupils attended the talk and asked Camilla several questions about her research. Some even stayed behind to discuss materials science and other research in more detail.

Camilla left Bryanston in 2010 and read Physics and Astronomy at Southampton University. Wanting to work with something more applied she spent time on a Master’s degree in Volcanology in Bristol and then started a PhD in Materials at Exeter in the Engineering Department. She has collaborated with team in Germany, Colorado and more locally in Plymouth.