Thrilling And Unsual Insights.

The images allow the viewer to explore structures that would otherwise only be seen by analytical chemists. State-of-the-art technologies such as scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy help to create a genuinely different view of the world. These spectacular pictures come all from current research at BASF.

A fungus as a living factory

The filamentous fungus Aspergillus niger has the natural capacity to produce various technically useful enzymes such as phytase, glucanase and xylanase. However it is only able to produce these biocatalysts in small quantities. The microorganism was genetically modified to enable it to manufacture large quantities of phytase and other enzymes – as a kind of living factory. Aspergillus niger is cultured in fermenters. These are special sterile reactors in which the fungus produces the enzyme phytase from sugar and salts in a series of biochemical reactions. The picture shows the so-called mycelium, a collection of filamentous cells, of Aspergillus niger. The filaments have a diameter of around two to five micrometers.

Crystalline forms of boscalid

The picture shows crystalline particles of the crop protectant boscalid, which fights fungi in crops such as fruit, vegetables and vines but also in cereals and canola (oil seed rape). Boscalid consists of one to 10 micrometer sized particles that are distributed evenly on the leaf surface, forming a protective coating. An extremely important area of application is viniculture, where boscalid is available under the brand name Cantus® and is mainly used against the fungus Botrytis cinerea, also known as gray mold.

Proteins for surfaces

The spherical spores produced by the fungus Emericella nidulans are coated in a thin layer of the protein hydrophobin. Hydrophobin ensures that water rolls off the spores. Other fungi, such as mushrooms, also have a layer of hydrophobin on their caps. BASF researchers have succeeded in transferring the gene responsible for hydrophobin production to Escherichia coli bacteria. With the help of the bacteria, hydrophobin can be produced as a so-called performance protein on a large scale. Hydrophobin has versatile properties. It can change surfaces to such a degree that they become water resistant. BASF is the world’s first company to manufacture hydrophobin on an industrial scale using biotechnology.

Switching off genes for improved starch

The genetically modified potato Amflora produces a special starch with potential applications in the paper, textile and adhesive industries. The starch in conventional potatoes consists of two components – amylopectin and amylose. Certain industrial applications require only amylopectin. However, separating the two components is energy intensive and thus uneconomical. BASF scientists have succeeded in using gene technology to switch off the gene responsible for synthesizing the undesired amylose in potatoes. This led to the development of Amflora, a potato that only produces the desired starch component amylopectin. This optimized starch makes printer paper glossier and keeps adhesives liquid for longer. The image shows the surface of a potato leaf covered with superfine hairs and glandular cells that are invisible to the naked eye.

Securing the integrity of rock formations

These tiny particles have enormous strength since they stabilize loose rock in mining or tunnel construction, for example. The material that makes it possible is Meyco® MP 364 Flex, a resin produced from the reaction of two liquid components: modified polyisocyanate and a water glass solution. Both components are mixed on site using a static in-line mixer and pressed into the rock on the construction site. It hardens in just a few minutes, stabilizing the rock. Another advantage of the resin is that it is extremely difficult to ignite, and thus plays an important role in fire control, for example in tunnels.

Spiky spheres used as an adhesive

These spiky structures are polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) spheres. They have a diameter of around 100 ┬Ám and are extremely porous. This means that they dissolve in water very quickly, which can save a lot of time during certain processes in which they are used. Researchers are still investigating potential applications for these spiky spheres but they could be similar to those of conventional polyvinylpyrrolidone, which has good adhesive properties and is used in the pharmaceutical industry for tablets or as a binder. The cosmetics industry uses it in hair gel and hair spray and it is also deployed as an oilfield chemical.

Microstructures made from designer proteins

Self-assembling R16 type proteins, pictured here, are able to form spherical structures. Because the R16 protein is not found in this form in nature, BASF scientists have designed the synthetic protein in the laboratory using gene technology. Nature however provided them with a template: The R16 protein is modelled on silk proteins as well as the elastic protein resilin found in insects. During the production of the one to 10 micrometer-sized spheres, individual protein units join together in a kind of self-organizing process. Because the protein spheres demonstrate a skin smoothening effect, for example, an application in the cosmetics industry is a possibility.

Healthy fatty acids from plants

Researchers at BASF Plant Science have succeeded in genetically optimizing canola (oil seed rape) plants to make them capable of producing unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have a positive effect on human health because they lower the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. The human body is unable to produce these unsaturated fatty acids itself. This can only be done by deep-sea algae. BASF scientists have transferred the genes of the deep-sea algae responsible for the production of the fatty acids into canola plants. The oil will be added to foods such as yogurt and cheese or sold as food supplements in the form of oil capsules, for example. The electron microscopic image shows canola pollen on a petal.

Elastic fibers

For more than forty years, spandex fibers have ensured the permanent elasticity of many textiles, such as swimsuits, sportswear and hosiery. Seen through an electron microscope, the fibers consist of several filaments. One of the raw materials of these fibers is PolyTHF®, which BASF supplies to spandex manufacturers. The textile producers often combine the spandex fibers with polyamide (nylon), cotton or polyester fibers to give the textiles the desired elasticity. A spandex fiber of the most common thickness has an average diameter of around 70 micrometers, which is equivalent to the diameter of a normal human hair. Just 250 grams of spandex fiber of this thickness wound onto a bobbin can be up to 45 kilometers long.

Thermal insulation with cavities

The insulating material Styrodur® C (XPS) protects buildings from high and low temperatures. This BASF product, in the form of green rigid foam panels, is directly available to end customers in the construction industry. Its material structure is more homogeneous and fine-pored than conventional Styropor and thus much more stable. This is why Styrodur C is mainly used for insulation in applications under pressure load, such as floors. The material is made from polystyrene and foamed with CO2. Thanks to its many small cavities, the foam weighs very little. In contrast to solid structures such as steel or glass, the air contained in the cavities is a poor conductor of heat, which makes Styrodur C a good insulating material.

Unique iridescent colors

These thin platelets create a special iridescent effect in cosmetics. Known as UltradescenceTM pigments, they are made of pure titanium dioxide and are found in many cosmetic articles, such as lip gloss, powder, luminous foundation or lotions. By varying the thickness of the titanium dioxide platelets, BASF scientists can create any color they want. Because the platelets are only around 5 micrometers long and 0.6 micrometers wide, they are especially well suited for cosmetic products. Users do not feel the particles. The iridescent effect is created by the titanium dioxide: It reflects light like myriads of tiny mirrors without absorbing any of it. Ultradescence is currently available in green, gold, red, violet and blue.

Spherical catalysts

These tiny spheres are zeolite crystals that act as catalysts to speed up the chemical reaction in the production of amines. The amines produced with this catalyst are used in the manufacture of automobile tires. wThe zeolite crystals are interspersed with micropores. Like many natural enzymes, these pores contain acidic centers that activate the starting materials and thus speed up the reaction. Producing amines with the help of zeolite catalysts conserves resources and is safe because, in contrast to conventional methods, there is no waste and problematic raw materials can be avoided.

Zinc oxide particles protect against sunburn

Z-COTE® is a special zinc oxide which, used in sun creams, offers protection against sunburn. The nanopowder is used as a broadband filter against harmful UVA and UVB radiation. The fine zinc oxide particles in Z-COTE act as inorganic UV filters by reflecting the incident UV light like tiny mirrors. Since conventional zinc oxide pigments are white, they can produce an undesired whitening effect on the skin. This is prevented by reducing the size of the pigment particles to about 200 nanometers which makes them transparent. An additional benefit: the zinc oxide particles have an antimicrobial action and can also relieve skin irritation.

Pickering emulsions: dispersing water insoluble substances in water

An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids such as water and oil. One liquid is present in the form of droplets and is dispersed in the other liquid. Depending on which liquid is in droplet form, we speak of an oil-in-water or a water-in-oil emulsion. Emulsifiers and surfactants are important components of emulsions, as they promote the formation of droplets and thereby stabilize the mixture. But certain solids can also be added to stabilize an emulsion, that is, to prevent it from separating out into two different liquids. These solid-stabilized and thus surfactant-free emulsions are called Pickering emulsions. They are named after their discoverer S.U. Pickering and can be seen in this picture. With this technique, a hydrophobic – in other words, not miscible with water – active agent is enclosed in micrometer sized oil droplets. These are stabilized by nanometer sized particles made of a biodegradable polymer. Systems like this are suitable for introducing hydrophobic agents such as agrochemicals, pharmaceutical active ingredients or vitamins into aqueous formulations. Pickering emulsions are also used in cosmetic products such as sun creams.

Paliocrom keeps cars gleaming

Because of their smooth surface, Paliocrom® Orange pigments are used mainly for automotive coatings. They consist of aluminum flakes coated with a thin layer of iron oxide measuring only a few nanometers. Even at 1600 fold magnification the extremely thin iron oxide films are still smooth – and thus optimally reflect the light. They also guarantee bright colors. The high covering power of the pigments is also important for automotive coatings. Paliocrom Orange is particularly suitable for orange shades and red metallics.

Astacin Novomatt keeps leather matt, supple and clean

The leather matting agent Astacin Novomatt® is used for coating leather surfaces. The dispersion is suitable for any leather surface. In particular, Astacin Novomatt is ideally suited for the treatment of automotive leather. The inorganic or organic matting agents based on the aqueous acrylate or polyurethane dispersions used for coating are distinguished by their long service life on the leather surface. Besides the matting effect, Astacin Novomatt also endows the leather with a soft handle and protects it against soiling.

Nanocubes act as a storage medium for hydrogen

The desire to be mobile and yet not to be without communication and entertainment had led to ever smaller and lighter electronic devices. Whether it’s laptops, cell phones or CD players, a key issue is how to power these portable devices. What batteries do today could in the future be done by mini fuel cells. Hydrogen could act as a source of energy provided that the problem of storage for its use in mobile devices can be solved. A possible storage medium for hydrogen would be nanocubes made of metal organic frameworks (MOFs), whose properties are currently being tested by BASF researchers.


BASF is working on a new generation of foams with a cell size no longer in micro but in nanometer size. The idea behind these nanocellular foams is to reduce the cell size until they correspond to the mean free path of a gas molecule. This would cause the exchange of heat, which is the result of collisions between gas molecules, to come to a virtual standstill. The resulting foams would have thermal insulating properties similar to those of vacuum plates without the need to use a vacuum. This would improve the insulating performance of a foam by more than 50 % or reduce by more than half the material thickness required for a given insulating performance.

SlurryGloss - an environmentally friendly automotive coating

The clearcoat SlurryGloss is used in automotive production line coating. Unlike other car coatings, it is environmentally friendlier because organic solvents were replaced by water. The coating particles seen in the picture are formed during a certain production step known as dispersing of the binders in the aqueous phase. After the coating is applied, the particles melt during the baking process to produce a colorless, high-gloss clearcoat. This coat is particularly resistant to light, weatherproof and scratch-resistant and is also resistant to aggressive contaminants such as bird droppings. The network outside the coating particles consists of additives which – in combination with the adjusted particle size – are important for application of the clearcoat film and for its flow characteristics on the substrate.

Versatile range of uses for carbonyl iron powder

Carbonyl iron powder (CIP) was industrially produced for the first time by BASF 80 years ago. It has a wide variety of applications, for example in metal injection molding in conventional powder metallurgy, in the production of diamond tools, microwave absorbing materials and in inductor cores of electronic components. CIP is also incorporated in magnetic printing inks used to create security features on credit cards, tickets, banknotes or passports. CIP's unique electromagnetic properties, among others, make it superior to competitor materials. CIP is produced by the thermal decomposition of iron pentacarbonyl. During this decomposition process, spherical iron particles with the characteristic shell structure are formed.

Nanotechnology makes textile fibers dirt-repellent

Nanoparticles give the surface of these textile fibers a structure with an effect similar to that of the lotus plant’s leaves. From the leaves of this plant water and dirt just roll off. This effect makes the fibers water- and dirt-repellent. Tiny particles measuring less than 100 nanometers on the textile fibers produce a similar self-cleaning effect. These surfaces are coated with billions of these nanoparticles so close together that a speck of dust wouldn't fit between them. Between a particle of dirt and the surface of the textile fibers, a layer of air is formed on which the impurities "hover" – and can simply be washed off with water. Even stubborn dirt is then easy to remove. The nanocoating has so far been applied mainly to engineering textiles, such as fabrics for tents, awnings or sunshades. But materials used for work clothing and home textiles will also be benefiting from this new technology in future.

Keroflux optimizes diesel fuels

Diesel fuels are complex mixtures of hydrocarbons containing wax particles known as paraffins. At low temperatures these paraffins form large plate-like crystals that adversely affect the flow properties of diesel fuel. The consequence: after cold winter nights diesel engines may have difficulty starting. To prevent this happening, flow improvers like Keroflux® are used to reduce the crystalline growth of the paraffins. More precisely: the Keroflux wax dispersers can disperse and reduce the size of paraffin crystals and prevent paraffin deposits forming in diesel tanks. Diesel powered vehicles then start without problem even at low temperatures

Neopor insulates better

Neopor® is the improved form of Styropor®, BASF's classic among insulating materials. Neopor is made of blowing agent-containing and thus expandable polystyrene granules. The photo shows the bead-shaped particles after processing into foam blocks. Using an innovative technique, BASF has succeeded in integrating infrared absorbers and reflectors into the foam. They prevent the conduction of heat even at low material densities. Thus, Neopor provides a much better insulating performance than classical material because it insulates as good as, for example, Styropor, using much less material. This means that foam manufacturers save up to 50 percent on raw materials. Neopor panels are also approximately half the weight of their Styropor counterparts.

Silver flakes make plastics conductive

Silver is the most electrically conductive of all metals. When tiny flakes of silver are combined with non-conductive materials - such as plastics - the conductivity of the silver flakes can greatly extend the range of possible uses of plastics. Conductive plastics are in demand in the electronics industry, for example, as they are highly suitable for applications in which high-quality components have to be protected against electrostatic discharge or stray electromagnetic radiation – in the housings of electric motors, for instance. Conductive plastics also open up new possibilities for designing electronic components and equipment. Acknowledgements to BASF

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