Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Eric Grulke


Ceria (cerium oxide) nanomaterials, or nanoceria, have commercial catalysis and energy storage applications. The cerium atoms on the surface of nanoceria can store or release oxygen, cycling between Ce3+ and Ce4+, and can therefore act as a therapeutic to relieve oxidative stress within living systems. Nanoceria dissolution is present in acidic environments in vivo. In order to accurately define the fate of nanoceria in vivo, nanoceria dissolution or stabilization is observed in vitro using acidic aqueous environments.

Nanoceria stabilization is a known problem even during its synthesis; in fact, a carboxylic acid, citric acid, is used in many synthesis protocols. Citric acid adsorbs onto nanoceria surfaces, capping particle formation and creating stable dispersions with extended shelf lives. Nanoceria was shown to agglomerate in the presence of some carboxylic acids over a time scale of up to 30 weeks, and degraded in others, at pH 4.5 (representing that of phagolysosomes). Sixteen carboxylic acids were tested: citric, glutaric, tricarballylic, α-hydroxybutyric, β-hydroxybutyric, adipic, malic, acetic, pimelic, succinic, lactic, tartronic, isocitric, tartaric, dihydroxymalonic, and glyceric acid. Each acid was introduced as 0.11 M, into pH 4.5 iso-osmotic solutions. Controls such as ammonium nitrate, sodium nitrate, and water were also tested to assess their effects on nanoceria dissolution and stabilization.

To further test stability, nanoceria suspensions were subject to light and dark milieu, simulating plant environments and biological systems, respectively. Light induced nanoceria agglomeration in some, but not all ligands, and is likely to be a result of UV irradiation. Light initiates free radicals generated from the ceria nanoparticles. Some of the ligands completely dissolved the nanoceria when exposed to light. Citric and malic acids form coordination complexes with cerium on the surface of the ceria nanoparticle that can inhibit agglomeration. This approach identifies key functional groups required to prevent nanoceria agglomeration. The impact of each ligand on nanoceria was analyzed and will ultimately describe the fate of nanoceria in vivo.

In addition, simulated biological fluid (SBF) exposure can change nanoceria’s surface properties and biological activity. The citrate-coated nanoceria physicochemical properties such as size, morphology, crystallinity, surface elemental composition, and charge were determined before and after exposure to simulated lung, gastric, and intestinal fluids. SBF exposure resulted in either loss or overcoating of nanoceria’s surface citrate by some of the SBF components, greater nanoceria agglomeration, and small changes in the zeta potential.

Nanocomposites are comprised of a polymer matrix embedded with nanoparticles. These nanoparticles can alter material and optical properties of the polymer. SR-399 (dipentaerythritol pentaacrylate) is a fast cure, low skin irritant monomer that contains five carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C). It is a hard, flexible polymer, and also resistant to abrasion. It can be used as a sealant, binder, coating, and as a paint additive. In this case, metal oxide nanoparticles were added to the monomer prior to polymerization. Titania nanoparticles are known to absorb UV light due to their photocatalytic nature. Titania nanoparticles were chosen due to their high stability, non-toxicity, and are relatively quick, easy, and inexpensive to manufacture. Channels in thin monomer films were created using a ferrofluid manipulated by magnetic fields.

The mechanical properties of a microfluidic device by rapid photopolymerization is dependent on the crosslinking gradient observed throughout the depth of the film. Quantitative information regarding the degree of polymerization of thin film polymers polymerized by free radical polymerization through the application of UV light is crucial to estimate material properties. In general, less cure leads to more flexibility, and more cure leads to brittleness. The objective was to quantify the degree of polymerization to approximate the C=C concentration and directly relate it to the mechanical properties of the polymer. Polymerization of C=C groups was conducted using a photoinitiator and an UV light source from one surface of a thin film of a multifunctional monomer. The C=C fraction in the film was found to vary with film depth and UV light intensity. The extents of conversion and crosslinking estimates were compared to local mechanical moduli and optical properties. A mathematical model linking the mechanical properties to the degree of polymerization, C=C composition, as a function of film depth and light intensity was then developed. For a given amount of light energy, one can predict the hardness and modulus of elasticity. The correlation between the photopolymerization and the mechanical properties can be used to optimize the mechanical properties of thin films within the manufacturing and energy constraints, and should be scalable to other multifunctional monomer systems.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Chapters 1-3 – NIH Grant #R01GM109195, 2016-19

Chapters 4-6 – Hummingbird Nano, Inc./NSF SBIR #1555996, 2016-18

Appendix D – US EPA Contract #PR-ORD-15-01848/DP-16-D-000038, 2016