It’s closer than we think

Last year, Dr. Timur Atabaev received a very prestigious Scopus Award — “Young Researcher Award 2018”. Dr. Atabaev is an Assistant Professor of the NU School of Science and Technology, whose research interests include studying the synthesis and characteristics of multifunctional inorganic nanostructures for applications in biomedicine, energy, and photocatalysis. Recently we interviewed Dr. Atabaev all about his work and research related to Nanotechnology.

– Timur, could you please reveal the secret of popularity of nanotechnology in modern research?

– About two decades ago, many leading international universities and companies began to actively fund research projects in the field of nanotechnology. Much of this research was focused on the exceptional practical properties of nanomaterials, such as strength, conductivity, as well as magnetic, optical and catalytic properties. The nano-level is one of the smallest units because less than the nano-level are molecules and atoms of which these nanostructures consist. A large portion of today’s nanotechnology market consists of electronic components. These are things such as thin-film based technology for computers and phones, magnetic hard disk drives, nanosensors, etc. Another part of the market is occupied by products of the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and chemical industries, i.e. absorbents, sunscreens, antibacterial agents, wear and corrosion-resistant coatings, membranes for water purification and neutralization of gas emissions, catalysts for the industry, etc. In addition, there are a lot of other examples where nanotechnologies can be very useful, for example, green energy, ecology, medicine, and in the food and agricultural industry.

– As far as we know, you are working on the application of nanotechnology in oncology.
– Yes, currently I am part of a team with several researchers from South Korea that is working to create nontoxic multifunctional nanoparticles that can predominantly attach to cancer cells for controlled drug delivery and destroy cancer cells under the infrared radiation. Why it is important? The fact is that today, many procedures for diagnosing and treating cancer around the world involve using chemical contrast agents that possess a number of undesirable side effects. In particular, they poison the body with toxic elements. For example, during the scanning procedure, the wife of a famous American actor Chuck Norris was exposed to a high concentration of gadolinium-based contrast agent and experienced terrible side effects, in some cases, exposure to such agents can even prove fatal. Our research could help to minimize undesirable side effects and cure cancer patients more efficiently.

– At which stage is your research now?
– We tested a large number of different nanoparticles for toxicity and identified several biocompatible materials suitable for our tasks. Now our group is working on optimizing several parameters at once: these are nanoparticle size, mesoporosity, nanosystem stability and reproducibility of results. As soon as we finish the optimization of parameters, our partners will proceed to preclinical studies. It should be noted that preclinical and clinical studies may take a long time, but we are quite optimistic.

– Dust is a big environmental problem in our city. Today, the capital’s markets has offers of nanosets for windows that protect houses from dust intrusion. Are they really effective?

– Nanostructures have been used for water purification for a long time, usually in filters and membranes, and air can also be cleaned with nanoscreens. Nanoscreens actually are made from nanosized polymeric fibers. Due to the small size of the holes between the fibers, larger dust particles will not be able to enter the room and remain on the surface of the window nanoscreen. By the way, consumers in South Korea are able to buy a protective plastic film with nanoparticles to protect themselves from electromagnetic radiation of mobile phones.

– What equipment do you use in your research?
– Nazarbayev University has a very good laboratory base, which allows us to conduct complex research in the field of nanotechnology. We often work with an X-ray diffractometer and electron microscopes in the new C-4 Building. In addition, we actively use infrared, UV-visible, and fluorescent spectrophotometers, which are housed in our school. I would like to note that expensive equipment is not always necessary for nanotechnology. Last summer, my colleagues and I conducted open presentations for schoolchildren, where they were shown how to use fluorescent carbon nanoparticles to detect lead ions Pb (II) in water. It is well known that lead is an extremely toxic element for the human body, and can often be found in drinking water. But, not everyone knows that lead detection in water can be achieved with carbon nanoparticles made from ordinary sugar. We demonstrated how to use ordinary sugar to make these carbon nanoparticles. Prepared carbon nanoparticles have green fluorescence under ultraviolet light excitation. Even in the presence of a small amount of lead ions in the water the green signal is fading out. Other metal ions besides lead in the water do not affect the fluorescent properties of these nanoparticles. This is one example of how to conduct a quick, selective, and inexpensive analysis of water samples for the presence of lead ions. And yes – this is also nanotechnology.

About the speaker: Timur Atabaev received a PhD degree from the College of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Pusan National University in 2012. From 2012 to 2017, he had worked as a research professor at the Pusan and Seoul National Universities (South Korea). Dr. Atabaev has been teaching at the School of Science and Technology of Nazarbayev University since 2017.