Syracuse University chemists have discovered a new way to visualize and monitor chemical reactions in real time. The team's advanced nanomaterial changes color when it interacts with ions and other small molecules.

The discovery enables researchers to monitor reactions qualitatively with the naked eye, and quantitatively with simple instrumentation.

“When the reactions occurs, the nanoparticle fluoresces at a different color, allowing us to gauge kinetics by eye, instead of with a million-dollar spectrometer,” said Mathew Maye, associate professor of chemistry and the experiment’s team leader.

Central to the group’s work is an emerging class of nanomaterials called perovskites. A perovskite is a special class of crystal, typically made up of metal ions and oxygen. The group's perovskites are composed of metal ions and a halide.

At the nanoscale, perovskites are photo-luminescent, meaning that they emit light when “excited” by a laser or lamp. The emitted colors are determined, in part, by their ion concentrations.

Research groups in industry and academia see potential for perovskites in solar cells, light-emitting diodes, lasers, and photo detectors.

“No one, right now, is thinking about monitoring a chemical reaction this way,” said Maye. “Our team is able to measure very precise chemical kinetics by monitoring the color change with nothing more than an ultraviolet lightbulb or a cheap fluorescence spectrometer.”

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Also: Learn about Electrical Switching of Perovskite Thin-Film Resistors.