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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Stephanie L. Brock





February 2012

Advisor: Dr. Stephanie L. Brock

Major: Chemistry

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

The dissertation research is focused on (1) uncovering the mechanism of metal chalcogenide nanoparticle gel formation; (2) extending the cation exchange reaction protocol to zinc sulfide gel networks, with the goal of accessing new aerogel chemistries and understanding the factors that drive the process; and (3) conducting a quantitative analysis of the ability of ZnS aerogels to remove heavy metal ions from aqueous solutions.

The mechanism of metal chalcogenide nanoparticle gel formation was investigated using Raman spectroscopy and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy to probe the chemical changes that occur during the gelation process. These techniques suggest that the bonding between the particles in the CdSe nanoparticle gels is due to the oxidation of surface selenide species, forming covalent Se-Se bonds. Treating the gel networks with a suitable reducing agent, such as a thiol, breaks the covalent bond and disperses the gel network. The addition of sodium borohydride, a "pure" reducing agent, also breaks down the gel network, strengthening the hypothesis that the reducing character of the thiols, not their ligation ability, is responsible for the gel network breakdown. UV-Vis spectroscopy, Transmission Electron Microscopy and Powder X-ray Diffraction were used to analyze the particles after successive gelation-dispersion cycles. The primary particle size decreases after repeated oxidation-reduction cycles, due to nanoparticle surface etching. This trend is observed for CdSe and CdS gel networks, allowing for the proposition that the oxidative-reductive mechanism responsible for the formation-dispersion of the gels is general, applying to other metal chalcogenide nanocrystals as well.

The cation exchange reaction previously demonstrated for CdSe gels was extended to ZnS gel networks. The exchange occurs under mild reaction conditions (room temperature, methanol solvent) with exchanging ions of different size, charge and mobility (Ag+, Pb2+, Cd2+, Cu2+). The overall reaction is kinetically controlled, since systems with similar solubility, and thus similar thermodynamic driving force (e.g. PbS and CdS) exchange at very different rates. A correlation exists between the speed of the reaction and the difference between the reduction potential of the incoming cation and that of Zn2+; the larger the difference, the faster the exchange. At the same time, the porosity of the aerogels and the surfactant-free surfaces hold great importance for the exchange reactions, allowing for exchange between cations of similar size and charge (i.e. Pb2+ for Zn2+), a phenomenon that was previously reported as impossible in ligand-capped metal chalcogenide nanoparticles. These observations allowed for a better understanding of the factors governing the cation exchange reaction in nanoscale metal chalcogenides. Quaternary ZnS-CuInS2 gels were obtained by cation exchange with Cu+ and In3+, but the pure CuInS2 phase was not obtained under the mild reaction conditions used, probably due to the very different mobility of the two exchanging cations.

The kinetically fast cation exchange process and the propensity of the soft chalcogenide gel networks to bind heavy metal ions selectively, suggest that these materials could also be suitable for the removal of heavy metal ions from the environment. The dissertation research studied the capacity of ZnS aerogels to sequester heavy metal ions such as Pb2+ and Hg2+ from water. The materials are efficient in removing the heavy metal ions from aqueous solutions with a wide range of initial concentrations. For initial concentrations that mimic an environmental spill (i.e. 100 ppb Pb2+), the treatment with the aerogel affords a final concentration lower than the 15 ppm action level recommended by the EPA. Under thermodynamically forcing conditions, the water remediation capacity of the ZnS nanoparticle aerogels was determined to be 14.2 mmol Pb2+ / g ZnS aerogel, which is the highest value reported to date.