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Neutrons—Nanosize matters

From left, John Dutcher, Josh Sampson and John Atkinson of the University of Guelph prepare phytoglycogen nanoparticles found in corn to study on the EQ-SANS instrument at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source. The team’s findings could advance many biomedical and personal care applications. Credit: Genevieve Martin/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

December 4, 2018—A team of scientists, led by University of Guelph professor John Dutcher, are using neutrons at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source to unlock the secrets of natural nanoparticles that could be used to improve medicines. The nanoparticles, called phytoglycogen, are highly branched, water-soluble polymers of glucose produced by plants such as sweet corn and rice. At only 35 nanometers in diameter, phytoglycogen nanoparticles are a challenge to study. But discovering the source of their unique properties will enable the development of new technologies in personal care and biomedicine, which are being commercialized by spinoff company Mirexus Biotechnologies. “Neutrons are ideal for this research because they are sensitive to hydrogen, a key building block in phytoglycogen,” said Dutcher. “The EQ-SANS and BASIS instruments at the Spallation Neutron Source are providing new insights vital to understanding the anti-aging properties of particles in cosmetics and engineering the improved delivery of cancer medications and production of vaccines from live cells.”