A futuristic application of nanoparticles is the 4-D detection of petroleum deposits within a reservoir, in which nanoparticles are released into an injection well and recovered at the production well. These nanoparticles would "record" the conditions of their ensemble trajectory based on their physical and/or chemical changes, which may provide a more detailed assessment of a production site. A materials challenge that impedes such developmental work is the conventional lack of colloidal and chemical stability of nanoparticles at mild temperatures (~100 C), high pressures (100 atm), and high salinities (ranging from seawater to brine). In a first step, we recently developed a processing method that successfully takes any solvent-suspended, bilayer-coated nanoparticles into high-salinity water. A breakthrough is the recognition that high-salinity conditions are conducive towards an outer bilayer coating with a high charge density, important to enhanced nanoparticle stability. In a second step, nanoparticles can be rationally designed to contain a marker molecule that leaches into oil deposits nearby which the nanoparicles travel. The synthesis and transport of carbon nanoreporters were successfully carried out to demonstrate the proof-of-concept.
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