University of Missouri researchers invented a programmable clay material and “building-block” to advance discoveries in chemistry, engineering and other scientific fields.
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MU News Bureau

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Microscopic materials made of clay designed by researchers at the
University of Missouri could be key to the future of synthetic materials chemistry. By enabling
scientists to produce chemical layers tailor-made to deliver specific tasks based on the goals of
the individual researcher, these materials called nanoclays can be used in a wide variety of
applications, including the medical field or environmental science.

A fundamental part of the material is its electrically charged surface, said Gary Baker, co-
principal investigator on the project and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“Imagine a koosh ball where the thousands of rubber strands radiating from the ball’s core each
sport an electrically charged bead on the end,” Baker said. “It’s analogous to a magnet —
positively charged things will stick to negatively charged things. For instance, positively charged
nanoclays could attract a group of harmful fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, or “forever
chemicals” which are negatively charged. Or, by making the nanoclay negatively charged, it can
stick to things such as heavy metal ions like cadmium, which are positively charged, and help
remove them from a contaminated body of water.”