Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tiny silicone spheres come out of the mist


Technology in common household humidifiers could enable the next wave of high-tech medical imaging and targeted medicine, thanks to a new method for making tiny silicone microspheres developed by chemists at the University of Illinois.

Led by chemistry professor Kenneth Suslick, the researchers published their results in the journal Advanced Science.

Illinois chemists developed a method to make tiny silicone microspheres using misting technology found in household humidifiers. The spheres could have applications in targeted medicine and imaging.

Credit: Kenneth Suslick

Microspheres, tiny spheres as small as a red blood cell, have shown promise as agents for targeted drug delivery to tissues, as contrast agents for medical imaging, and in industrial applications.

One prime contender as a material for microspheres is silicone, the rubbery plastic found in everything from bathtub caulk to kitchenware to medical implants, but a method of making silicone into microspheres has eluded scientists.

Silicone owes its versatility to its unique combination of properties: It is biocompatible, heat resistant, chemically stable, waterproof and environmentally benign. Yet some of those same qualities have frustrated researchers attempting to make silicone microspheres.

The traditional microsphere-making method of suspending tiny droplets of material in another liquid does not work with silicone.

"For silicone, creating a stable emulsion of small droplets is very difficult," Suslick said. "Even if a stable emulsion is achieved, you run into even bigger problems when it is heated, which is necessary to polymerize into solid spheres. Upon heating, small droplets of silicone starting material will coalesce with other droplets and produce only bigger spheres."

The Illinois team uses a technique called ultrasonic spray pyrolysis, which employs technology found in household humidifiers to create a mist of ultrafine droplets. Suslick's group has pioneered the technique for a variety of materials, and teamed up with U. of I. chemistry professor Catherine Murphy to tackle the problem of silicone.

The researchers send a mist containing all the ingredients of silicone through a heated tube, which solidifies the mist into tiny spheres of silicone. Because the droplets are all separate within the mist, they don't stick together like they do in an emulsion, so the resulting microspheres are roughly 100 times smaller than any previously reported.

The researchers made silicone microspheres with a variety of properties for different applications, including colored, fluorescent and magnetic spheres. Because the spheres are bio-inert - they do not react with chemicals in the body - and the researchers believe they would be excellent vessels for extended-release pharmaceuticals. They are also exploring potential applications of solid, hollow and magnetic microspheres.

"The applications for silicone microspheres, to date, have been almost entirely speculative, simply because no one has been able to actually make them," said Jacqueline Rankin, the lead graduate student on this project. "With this new method, silicone microspheres can be easily and readily synthesized, facilitating the exploration of technologies that have only been speculated upon and creating novel technologies and new science in a number of scientific disciplines."


Graduate students Nitin Neelakantan, Elissa Grzincic and Kimberly Lundberg were co-authors of the paper. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, James R. Beck Fellowship, and the Robert C. and Carolyn J. Springborn Endowment.

Editor's note: To reach Ken Suslick, call 217-333-2794; email:

The paper, "Magnetic, Fluorescent, and Copolymeric Silicone Microspheres," is available online at

Media Contact

Liz Ahlberg


Liz Ahlberg | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>