Aerogels are regarded as ideal candidates for the design of functional nanocomposites containing supported metal or metal oxide nanoparticles. The large specific surface area together with the open pore structure enables aerogels to effectively host finely dispersed nanoparticles up to the desired loading, to provide nanoparticle accessibility and/or to prevent nanoparticle agglomeration, as required to supply their specific functionalities.
The preparation of highly porous nanocomposite aerogels containing magnetic metal, alloy or metal oxide nanoparticles dispersed into amorphous silica, with high purity and homogeneity, was successfully achieved by a novel sol-gel procedure involving urea-assisted co-gelation of the precursor phases. This method allows fast gelation, giving rise to aerogels with 97% porosity, and it is very versatile allowing to vary composition, loading and average size of the nanoparticles.
The characterization of the morphological and structural features of the nanocomposite aerogels is carried out using different techniques, such as X-ray diffraction, Transmission Electron Microscopy and X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy. The characterization of the magnetic properties is carried out by SQUID magnetometry.