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F. Marc Michel

Associate Professor of Nanoscience
Marc Michel
5057 Derring Hall

My primary scientific and teaching interests lie at the intersection of mineralogy, environmental science, and nanoscience and technology. Overall, I am most interested in understanding how the smallest minerals (i.e., nanoparticles, NPs) are formed, how they react with their surroundings and change with time and space in complex systems and the environment. The questions that inspire and direct my work are important for three primary reasons: 1) NPs are abundant in nature and integral to understanding the past, present, and future evolution of many Earth systems, 2) unintended releases of NPs from applications of nanotechnology have the potential to impact human and ecosystem health, and 3) engineered NPs are crucial to developing next-generation technologies associated with energy production, radioactive waste disposal, and water treatment, just to name a few, and therefore are important to the sustainability of our planet.


Ph.D., Geosciences, Stony Brook University, 2007

B.A., Geology, Colgate University, 1998

My work in environmental nanoscience revolves around two fundamental and interrelated questions: “How do different crystallization processes affect the basic atomic structural, physical and chemical attributes of nanosized and nanostructured materials?” and, in turn, “How do these factors relate to and affect the fundamental behavior and/or function of nanomaterials in natural or artificial (applied) systems?” My research related to these questions can be partitioned into 3 main categories that address significant challenges in our understanding of nanoparticle formation and behavior: (i) quantitative assessment of structure-property relationships in natural and engineered nanomaterials, (ii) deciphering the diversity of pathways and mechanisms involved in nanoparticle crystallization, and (iii) developing new methodologies for probing novel mechanisms of nanoparticle formation in real time (i.e., in situ). I implement a suite of advanced scattering, spectroscopic, imaging, and computational tools to obtain and interpret atomic-scale information that I use to develop holistic, 3D models of nanoparticle structure. I pursue both empirical and methodological questions, often combining the two. A unique and key aspect of my current research is that I am striving to understand the concomitant evolution of nanoparticle structure and properties by measuring crystallizing systems in real time. Developing new knowledge in these areas will benefit our understanding of geological and environmental processes, the potential impacts of engineered nanoparticles to human and ecosystem health, and potentially to new energy-related applications involving NPs.

  • Alexandria Hoeher, MSc. - Aly is pursuing a Ph.D. with a thesis project aimed at understanding crystallization of phosphate and carbonate minerals from amorphous precursors.
  • Rui Serra Maia, MSc. - Rui is pursuing a Ph.D. with a thesis project focused on developing structure-property relationships in industrially produced platinum nanocatalysts.
  • Karel Kletetschk will be joining the group as an MSc. student in the Fall 2016.
  • De Yoreo, J. J., Gilbert, P. U. P. A., Sommerdijk, N. A. J. M., Penn, R. L., Whitelam, S., Joester, D., Zhang, H., Rimer, J. D., Navrotsky, A., Banfield, J. F., Wallace, A. F., Michel, F. M., Meldrum, F. C., Cölfen, H., Dove, P. M. (2015) Crystallization by particle attachment in synthetic, biogenic, and geologic environments. Science 349, 6247.
  • Caraballo, M.A., Michel, F.M., Hochella, Jr., M.F. (2015) The rapid expansion of environmental mineralogy in unconventional ways: Beyond the accepted definition of a mineral, the latest technology, and using nature as our guide. American Mineralogist 100, 14-25.
  • Michel, F.M., Total scattering studies of natural and synthetic ferrihydrite. In Advanced Applications of Synchrotron Radiation in Clay Science (2014) (vol. ed. Glenn A. Waychunas, series ed. Joseph W. Stucki), Vol. 19, 89-131.
  • Ma, R., Levard, C., Marinakos, S., Chen, Y., Liu, J., Michel, F. M., Brown, Jr., G. E., and Lowry, G. V. (2012) Size-controlled dissolution of silver nanoparticles. Environmental Science & Technology, 46, 752-759.
  • Toner, B. M., Berquó, T. S., Michel, F. M., Sorenson, J. V., and Edwards, K. J. (2012) Mineralogy of iron microbial mats from Loihi Seamount. Frontiers in Microbiology, 3, 118, 1-18. Levard, C. Reinsch, B. C., Michel, F. M., Oumahi, C., Lowry, G. V., Brown, Jr., G. E. (2011) Sulfidation processes of PVP-coated silver nanoparticles in aqueous solution: Impact on dissolution rate. Environmental Science & Technology, 45, 5260-5266.
  • Michel, F. M., Barrón, V., Torrent, J., Morales, M. P., Serna, C. J., Boily, J.-F., Liu, Q., Ambrosini, A., Cismasu, C. A., and Brown, Jr., G. E. (2010) Ordered ferrimagnetic form of ferrihydrite reveals links among structure, composition, and magnetism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America, 107, 2787-2792.
  • Goodwin, A. L., Michel F. M., Phillips, B. L., Keen, D. A., Dove, M. T., and Reeder, R. J. (2010) Nanoporous structure and medium-range order in synthetic amorphous calcium carbonate. Chemistry of Materials, 22, 3197-3205.
  • Michel, F. M., MacDonald, J., Feng, J., Ehm, L., Tarabrella, C., Phillips, B. L., Parise, J. B., and Reeder, R. J. (2008) Structural characteristics of synthetic amorphous calcium carbonate. Chemistry of Materials, 20, 4720-4728.
  • Michel, F. M., Ehm, L., Antao, S. M., Lee, P. L., Chupas, P. J., Liu, G., Strongin, D. R., Schoonen, M. A. A., Phillips, B. L., and Parise, J. B. (2007) The structure of ferrihydrite, a nanocrystalline material. Science, 316, 1726-1729.

Research in nanoscience and nanotechnology is inherently interdisciplinary and collaborative. My teaching directly reflects my work in this area, with structure-property relationships essential to VT undergraduate (GEOS 3504/MSE 3104: Mineralogy; NANO 3124: Nanoscience and the Environment; NANO 2124: Nanoscience Research Rotations) and graduate (Earth Materials Analysis) courses that I teach or plan to teach in the near future, respectively.

  • GEOS 3504/MSE 3104: a 3-credit lecture and laboratory course I teach every fall semester that is directly built on how the fundamental atomic and electronic structures of minerals link to their physical, mechanical, chemical, and optical properties.
  • NANO 3124: a 3-credit lecture course (laboratory component in development) I teach every spring semester that uses structure-property relationships of natural, incidental, and engineered nanominerals to explain their reactivity and chemical behavior at environmental conditions, which have implications for ecosystem and human health. 
  • GEOS 6504 Earth Materials Analysis: This graduate course will cover using advanced structure analysis methods for understanding the atomic structure of Earth materials ranging from crystalline to partially crystalline and nanosized to amorphous (disordered). It will teach skills in the modern analysis of various types of synchrotron and laboratory-based scattering, spectroscopic and imaging data. The topics covered will be relevant to research aimed at understanding the past, present and future evolution of Earth systems, understanding the transformations and behavior of anthropogenic solids in the environment, and in developing materials that will be important for next-generation technologies

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