Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Grassian, Vicki H.

First Committee Member

Larsen, Sarah C.

Second Committee Member

Cheatum, Christopher M.

Third Committee Member

Haes, Amanda J.

Fourth Committee Member

Cwiertny, David M.


Nanoscience and nanotechnology offer potential routes towards addressing critical issues such as clean and sustainable energy, environmental protection and human health. Specifically, metal and metal oxide nanomaterials are found in a wide range of applications and therefore hold a greater potential of possible release into the environment or for the human to be exposed. Understanding the aqueous phase behavior of metal and metal oxide nanomaterials is a key factor in the safe design of these materials because their interactions with living systems are always mediated through the aqueous phase. Broadly the transformations in the aqueous phase can be classified as dissolution, aggregation and adsorption which are dependent and linked processes to one another. The complexity of these processes at the liquid-solid interface has therefore been one of the grand challenges that has persisted since the beginning of nanotechnology. Although classical models provide guidance for understanding dissolution and aggregation of nanoparticles in water, there are many uncertainties associated with the recent findings. This is often due to a lack of fundamental knowledge of the surface structure and surface energetics for very small particles. Therefore currently the environmental health and safety studies related to nanomaterials are more focused on understanding the surface chemistry that governs the overall processes in the liquid-solid interfacial region at the molecular level.

The metal based nanomaterials focused on in this dissertation include TiO2, ZnO, Cu and CuO. These are among the most heavily used in a number of applications ranging from uses in the construction industry to cosmetic formulation. Therefore they are produced in large scale and have been detected in the environment. There is debate within the scientific community related to their safety as a result of the lack of understanding on the surface interactions that arise from the detailed nature of the surfaces. Specifically, the interactions of these metal and metal oxide nanoparticles with environmental and biological ligands in the solutions have demonstrated dramatic alterations in their aqueous phase behavior in terms of dissolution and aggregation. Dissolution and aggregation are among the determining factors of nanoparticle uptake and toxicity. Furthermore, solution conditions such as ionic strength and pH can act as controlling parameters for surface ligand adsorption while adsorbed ligands themselves undergo surface induced structural and conformational changes. Because, nanomaterials in both the environment and in biological systems are subjected to a wide range of matrix conditions they are in fact dynamic and not static entities. Thus monitoring and tracking these nanomaterials in real systems can be extremely challenging which requires a thorough understanding of the surface chemistry governing their transformations.

The work presented in this dissertation attempts to bridge the gap between the dynamic processing of these nanomaterials, the details of the molecular level processes that occur at the liquid-solid interfacial region and potential environmental and biological interactions. Extensive nanomaterial characterization is an integral part of these investigations and all the materials presented here are thoroughly analyzed for particle size, shape, surface area, bulk and surface compositions. Detailed spectroscopic analysis was used to acquire molecular information of the processes in the liquid-solid interfacial region and the outcomes are linked with the macroscopic analysis with the aid of dynamic and static light scattering techniques. Furthermore, emphasis is given to the size dependent behavior and theoretical modeling is adapted giving careful consideration to the details of the physicochemical characterization and molecular information unique to the nanomaterials.


Adsorption, Aggregation, Dissolution, Environment, Nanomaterials, Surface Chemistry


xv, 156 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 136-156).


Copyright 2013 Imali Ama Mudunkotuwa

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