Friday, December 18, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Dec 18, 2009

A team led by Yale University researchers has used nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in whole blood for the first time. Their findings could dramatically simplify the way physicians test for biomarkers of cancer and other diseases. The team demonstrated nanowire sensors to detect and measure concentrations of two specific biomarkers: one for prostate cancer and the other for breast cancer.

In another nanomedicine development, researchers have created a single nanoparticle that can be tracked in real time with MRI as it homes in on cancer cells, tags them with a fluorescent dye and kills them with heat. The all-in-one particle is one of the first examples from a growing field called "theranostics" that develops technologies physicians can use to diagnose and treat diseases in a single procedure.

A new microscopic system could provide a novel method for moving tiny objects inside a microchip, and could also provide new insights into how cells and other objects are transported around within the body. Inside organs such as the trachea and the intestines, tiny hair-like filaments called cilia are constantly in motion, beating in unison to create currents that sweep along cells, nutrients, or other tiny particles. The new research uses a self-assembling system to mimic that kind of motion, providing a simple way to move particles around in a precisely controlled way.

Scientists at Georgia Tech have developed a nanolithographic technique that can produce high-resolution patterns of at least three different chemicals on a single chip at writing speeds of up to one millimeter per second. The chemical nanopatterns can be tailor-designed with any desired shape and have been shown to be sufficiently stable so that they can be stored for weeks and then used elsewhere.

Not quite nanotechnology but still amazing: scientists use bacteria to power simple machines. ave discovered that common bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution, providing insights for design of bio-inspired dynamically adaptive materials for energy. The gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria. The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motions is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms.

Scientists film photons with electrons. Techniques recently invented by researchers at the California Institute of Technology – which allow the real-time, real-space visualization of fleeting changes in the structure of nanoscale matter – have been used to image the evanescent electrical fields produced by the interaction of electrons and photons, and to track changes in atomic-scale structures.

Friday, December 11, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Dec 11, 2009

Stanford scientists are harnessing nanotechnology to quickly produce ultra-lightweight, bendable batteries and supercapacitors in the form of everyday paper. Simply coating a sheet of paper with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires makes a highly conductive storage device. Like batteries, capacitors hold an electric charge, but for a shorter period of time. However, capacitors can store and discharge electricity much more rapidly than a battery.

Nanoscale machines expected to have wide application in industry, energy, medicine and other fields may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to important theoretical discoveries concerning the manipulation of famous Casimir forces. The groundbreaking research, conducted through mathematical simulations, revealed the possibility of a new class of materials able to exert a repulsive force when they are placed in extremely close proximity to each other. The repulsive force, which harnesses a quantum phenomenon known as the Casimir effect, may someday allow nanoscale machines to overcome mechanical friction.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have achieved a nanoscale laser structure they anticipate will produce semiconductor lasers in the next two years that are more than twice as efficient as current continuous-wave lasers emitting in the mid-infrared. These next-generation lasers could benefit a wide range of industries, as they could be used in biomedical devices, environmental monitoring devices, missile avoidance systems and even food packaging processes.

All existing forms of electronics are built on the two-dimensional, planar surfaces of either semiconductor wafers or plates of glass. Mechanically flexible circuits based on organic semiconductors are beginning to emerge into commercial applications, but they can only be wrapped onto the surfaces of cones or cylinders – they cannot conform to spheres or any other type of surface that exhibits non-Gaussian curvature. Applications that demand conformal integration, e.g. structural or personal health monitors, advanced surgical devices, or systems that use ergonomic or bio-inspired layouts, etc., require circuit technologies in curvilinear layouts like the ones developed by the Rogers Group at the University of Illinois.

molecular dynamics simulation of a protein embedded in water

Silicon circuit mesh wrapped onto a pyramidal substrate. (Image: Rogers Group, University of Illinois)

Scientists have developed a way to rapidly manipulate and sort different cells in the blood using magnetizable liquids. Ferrofluids are comprised of magnetic nanoparticles suspended throughout a liquid carrier. They have been used in industrial applications for years, including in hard disk drives and loudspeakers. Now, a biocompatible ferrofluid – one with the right pH level and salinity so that human cells can survive in it for several hours – and a device with integrated electrodes that generate a magnetic field pattern, allowing researchers to manipulate and separate red blood cells, sickle cells and bacteria contained in this unique solution.

Using a nanoparticle from corn, a Purdue University scientist has found a way to lengthen the shelf life of many food products and sustain their health benefits by successfully modifying the phytoglycogen nanoparticle, a starchlike substance that makes up nearly 30 percent of the dry mass of some sweet corn. The modification allows the nanoparticle to attach to oils and emulsify them while also acting as a barrier to oxidation, which causes food to become rancid.

Friday, December 4, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Dec 4, 2009

Researchers in Europe and Australia have succeeded in building a working single-atom transistor, whose active region composes only of a single phosphorus atom in silicon. The working principles of the device are based on sequential tunneling of single electrons between the phosphorus atom and the source and drain leads of the transistor. The tunneling can be suppressed or allowed by controlling the voltage on a nearby metal electrode with a width of a few tens of nanometers.

Single-walled nanotubes – cylinders of carbon about a nanometer in diameter – have been highly touted for potential applications such as ultrastrong fibers, electrical wires in molecular devices, or hydrogen storage components for fuel cells. Thanks to a new development , you can add one more application to the list: detection and destruction of an aggressive form of breast cancer.

An important new study raises the curtain on the hidden lives of proteins at the atomic level. The study reports that for the first time, researchers used x-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques to directly visualize protein structures essential for catalysis at the rare high-energy state. The study also showed how the motions of these rare, or hidden, structures collectively, directly contribute to enzyme catalysis.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have discovered a new, more precise method for measuring how much – or how little – nanoscale interfaces love water. This new method for measuring hydrophobicity at the nanoscale could have important applications for the future of drug discovery.

molecular dynamics simulation of a protein embedded in water

The above snapshot from a molecular dynamics simulation shows a protein (center) embedded in water.

A new understanding about nanoparticle behavior in sewage treatment plants could improve the environmental management of nanoparticle wastes from foods, cosmetics, medicines, cleaning and personal care products. Scientists have now studied how certain nanoparticles behave in wastewater and have now identified a way to potentially help remove them during primary sewage treatment.

Nanotechnology catalytical techniques are having a profound impact on clean energy research and development, ranging from hydrogen and liquid fuel production to clean combustion technologies. In this area, catalyst stability is paramount for technical application, and remains a major challenge, even for many conventional catalysts. Researchers have now overcame a major hurdle in developing more efficient nanoparticle catalysts by demonstrating high-temperature stability in metallic nanoparticles.

Friday, November 27, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Nov.27, 2009

Scientists at the Carnegie Institution have found for the first time that high pressure can be used to make a unique hydrogen-storage material. The discovery paves the way for an entirely new way to approach the hydrogen-storage problem. The researchers found that the normally unreactive, noble gas xenon combines with molecular hydrogen (H2) under pressure to form a previously unknown solid with unusual bonding chemistry.

hydrogen storage material Xe(H2)7

This schematic shows the structure of the new material, Xe(H2)7. Freely rotating hydrogen molecules (red dumbbells) surround xenon atoms (yellow).

Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a technique for fabricating three-dimensional, single-crystalline silicon structures from thin films by coupling photolithography and a self-folding process driven by capillary interactions. This is a completely different approach to making three-dimensional structures.

Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), A*STAR, in Singapore, have developed a new protocol for the synthesis of tiny metal and semiconductor crystals that are a few nanometers in size. The efficiency and structural control provided by this method could revolutionize the production of nanocrystals and their hybrids, which have diverse applications in medicine, electronics and energy.

Scientists from the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente and the FOM Foundation have succeeded in transferring magnetic information directly into a semiconductor. For the first time, this is achieved at room temperature. This breakthrough brings the development of a more energy efficient form of electronics, so-called ‘spintronics’ within reach.

A new generation of ultrasmall transistors and more powerful computer chips using tiny structures called semiconducting nanowires are closer to reality after a key discovery by researchers at IBM, Purdue University and the University of California at Los Angeles. The researchers have learned how to create nanowires with layers of different materials that are sharply defined at the atomic level, which is a critical requirement for making efficient transistors out of the structures.

nanowires with sharply defined layers of silicon and germanium

The researchers have grown the nanowires with sharply defined layers of silicon and germanium, offering better transistor performance. As depicted in this illustration, tiny particles of a gold-aluminum alloy were alternately heated and cooled inside a vacuum chamber, and then silicon and germanium gases were alternately introduced. As the gold-aluminum bead absorbed the gases, it became "supersaturated" with silicon and germanium, causing them to precipitate and form wires.

A lot of the scientific knowledge in chemistry and biology comes from experiments on ensembles of molecules by which a vast number of duplicate behaviors are investigated and averaged responses are recorded. Researchers have now, for the first time, demonstrated direct and amplification-free single molecule detection of biomolecules in sub-nanolitre droplets through application of Cylindrical Illumination Confocal Spectroscopy (CICS) and droplet confinement within a retractable microfluidic constriction.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Nov.20, 2009

Lots of nanomedicine and nanobiotechnology this week! Let's start with cancer medicine: A team of researchers on the cutting edge of nanomedicine has found a way to capture tumor cells in the bloodstream that could dramatically improve earlier cancer diagnosis and prevent deadly metastasis. The way this works is that the scientists can inject a cocktail of magnetic and gold nanoparticles with a special biological coating into the bloodstream to target circulating tumor cells. A magnet attached to the skin above peripheral blood vessels can then capture the cells.

Research with a similar goal was carried out at UCLA. Just as fly paper captures insects, an innovative new device with nanosized features is able to grab cancer cells in the blood that have broken off from a tumor. Their nanopillar chip captured more than 10 times the amount of cells captured by the currently used flat structure.

Quite a number of serious medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and chronic pain, require medications that cannot be taken orally, but must be dosed intermittently, on an as-needed basis, and over a long period of time. Researchers have been trying to develop drug delivery techniques with 'on-off switches' that would allow controlled release of drugs into the body. By combining magnetism with nanotechnology, researchers have now created a small implantable device that encapsulates the drug in a specially engineered membrane, embedded with magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles.

The atomic-level action of a remarkable class of ring-shaped protein motors has been uncovered by researchers at Berkeley Lab using a state-of-the-art protein crystallography beamline at the Advanced Light Source. These protein motors play pivotal roles in gene expression and replication, and are vital to the survival of all biological cells, as well as infectious agents, such as the human papillomavirus, which has been linked to cervical cancer.

The genetic material found in cells is not in its free state, but is bound to large protein complexes and tightly wrapped. To activate genes that could well play a role in carcinogenesis, the genetic material first needs to be unwrapped and made accessible to other cell components. Using a new biophysical method called single molecule spectroscopy, scientists in Germany were the first to directly observe these mechanisms and characterise the intermediate stages leading to free genetic material.

Existing solid-state devices to convert heat into electricity are not very efficient. Researchers have been trying to find how close realistic technology could come to achieving the theoretical limits for the efficiency of such conversion. In everything from computer processor chips to car engines to electric powerplants, the need to get rid of excess heat creates a major source of inefficiency. But new research points the way to a technology that might make it possible to harvest much of that wasted heat and turn it into usable electricity.

The University of Ghent and the nanoelectronics research center IMEC demonstrated repulsive and attractive nanophotonic forces, depending on the spatial distribution of the light used. These fundamental research results might have major consequences for telecommunication and optical signal processing.

With a bit of leverage, Cornell researchers have used a very tiny beam of light with as little as 1 milliwatt of power to move a silicon structure up to 12 nanometers. That's enough to completely switch the optical properties of the structure from opaque to transparent, they reported. The technology could have applications in the design of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) – nanoscale devices with moving parts – and micro-optomechanical systems (MOMS) which combine moving parts with photonic circuits.

Scanning electron micrograph of two thin, flat rings of silicon nitride, each 190 nanometers thick and mounted a millionth of a meter apart

Scanning electron micrograph of two thin, flat rings of silicon nitride, each 190 nanometers thick and mounted a millionth of a meter apart. Light is fed into the ring resonators from the straight waveguide at the right. Under the right conditions optical forces between the two rings are enough to bend the thin spokes and pull the rings toward one another, changing their resonances enough to act as an optical switch.

Friday, November 6, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, Nov.6, 2009

New research reported this week has established an industrially relevant process for assembling carbon nanotubes that allows them to efficiently be made into fibers, coatings and films – the basic forms of material that can be used in engineering applications. By this advance, materials engineers can now access established technology that had been developed for processing polymers through solution phase methods – the industrial-scale processes that are at the heart of the plastics industry.

Duke University bioengineers have developed a simple and inexpensive method for loading cancer drug payloads into nanoscale delivery vehicles and demonstrated in animal models that this new nanoformulation can eliminate tumors after a single treatment. After delivering the drug to the tumor, the delivery vehicle breaks down into harmless byproducts, markedly decreasing the toxicity for the recipient.

Another nanomedicine report this week showed that a gold nanocage covered with a polymer can be employed as a smart drug delivery system. The smart nanocage is designed to be filled with a medicinal substance, such as a chemotherapy drug or bactericide. Releasing carefully titrated amounts of a drug only near the tissue that is the drug's intended target, this delivery system will maximize the drug's beneficial effects while minimizing its side effects.

Picture the ultimate in miniaturization—functional machines built out of individual molecules, mere atoms in size. In a breakthrough development, researchers from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore have reported the invention of an essential component for single-molecule mechanical machines: a molecular gear that can be controllably rotated with a 100% rate of success.

Representation of a molecular gear pinned to a gold surface, with an STM tip close to one of the gear's teeth

Representation of a molecular gear pinned to a gold surface, with an STM tip close to one of the gear’s ‘teeth’.

Converting sunlight to electricity might no longer mean large panels of photovoltaic cells atop flat surfaces like roofs. Using zinc oxide nanostructures grown on optical fibers and coated with dye-sensitized solar cell materials, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new type of three-dimensional photovoltaic system. The approach could allow PV systems to be hidden from view and located away from traditional locations such as rooftops.

University of Utah chemists demonstrated the first conclusive link between the size of catalyst particles on a solid surface, their electronic properties and their ability to speed chemical reactions. The study is a step toward the goal of designing cheaper, more efficient catalysts to increase energy production, reduce Earth-warming gases and manufacture a wide variety of goods from medicines to gasoline.

Imitating photosynthesis in plants? If we were to accomplish this, mankind would have a little less to worry about. Chemists from the University of Würzburg have now made progress on the road to achieving artificial photosynthesis. The structure that has been developed in the university's Organic Chemistry laboratory is fascinatingly complex: thousands of similar molecules are packed together to create a capsule that is filled with molecules of a different kind. The diameter of one capsule is a mere 20 to 50 nanometers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This week in nanotechnology Oct 24-30, 2009

Scientists have known how to manipulate light, and they've known how to manipulate sound. But they hadn't realized that one can manipulate both at the same time, and that the waves will interact very strongly within this single structure. Until now. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have created a nanoscale crystal device that, for the first time, allows scientists to confine both light and sound vibrations in the same tiny space.

A Spanish-US team of researchers has used a groundbreaking method to replicate the wings of butterflies and the colors of insects on a nanometric scale. The resulting technology has great potential to be used in a wide range of optical structures such as diffusers for solar panels or optical sensors.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a new measurement technology that makes use of optical resonances in nanoparticles. The method opens new possibilities in the field of catalytics.

A multidisciplinary team of University of Cincinnati researchers is the first to find an innovative and novel way to control an electron's spin orientation using purely electrical means. Controlling spin electronically has major implications for the future development of spin devices. This work is the first step.

Preventing the havoc wrought when freezing rain collects on roads, power lines, and aircrafts could be only a few nanometers away. A University of Pittsburgh-led team demonstrates a nanoparticle-based anti-freeze coating that thwarts the buildup of ice on solid surfaces and can be easily applied.

Researchers have now discovered that platinum nanoparticles selectively grow on carbon nanotubes in accordance with single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) locations. They have demonstrated that not only can ssDNA bind to nanotube surfaces but also disperse bundled single-walled carbon nanotubes into individual tubes. This finding suggests a method to synthesize other types of carbon nanotube-supported nanoparticles, such as palladium and gold for applications in fuel cells and nanoscale electronics.

Traditional techniques in cell biology involve chemical or pharmaceutical treatments of entire cells; however, in many cases it would be advantageous to target a single organelle or other structure within a cell without damaging overall cell structure. If scientists could inject a drug into a chosen organelle within the cell, or even destroy, extract or isolate the whole organelle without significantly harming the cell itself, new insight could be gained into the inner workings of the cell. In recent years, techniques have been developed which allow the manipulation of the individual nanoscale structures within biological cells. This manipulation, or “nanosurgery”, has the potential to provide new insight into the internal structure and dynamics of cells.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This week in nanotechnology October 16-23, 2009

To boldly go where no one has gone before: A University of Michigan professor is developing an electric rocket thruster, NanoFET, that uses nanoparticle electric propulsion and enables spacecraft to travel faster and with less propellant than previous technology allowed.

Chemists at Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho State University have invented a way to manufacture highly precise, uniform nanoparticles to order. The technology, Precision Nanoparticles, has the potential to vastly improve the solar cell and further spur the growing nanotechnology revolution.

More than 120 years after the discovery of the electromagnetic character of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz, wireless data transmission dominates information technology. Higher and higher radio frequencies are applied to transmit more data within shorter periods of time. Some years ago, scientists found that light waves might also be used for radio transmission. So far, however, manufacture of the small antennas has required an enormous expenditure. KIT scientists have now succeeded for the first time in specifically and reproducibly manufacturing smallest optical nanoantennas from gold.

Taking nanomaterials to a new level of structural complexity, scientists have determined how to introduce kinks into arrow-straight nanowires, transforming them into zigzagging two- and three-dimensional structures with correspondingly advanced functions.

Scanning electron microscope of nanowires ready for device assembly using optical tweezers

This is a false-color scanning electron microscope image of the zigzag nanowires in which the straight sections are separated by triangular joints and specific device functions are precisely localized at the kinked junctions in the nanowires. (Image: Bozhi Tian, Lieber Group, Harvard University)

In another advance in nanofabrication technology, researchers with the Berkeley Lab have found a simple and yet powerfully robust way to induce nanoparticles to assemble themselves into complex arrays. By adding specific types of small molecules to mixtures of nanoparticles and polymers, the researchers are able to direct the self-assembly of the nanoparticles into arrays of one, two and even three dimensions with no chemical modification of either the nanoparticles or the block copolymers. In addition, the application of external stimuli, such as light and/or heat, can be used to further direct the assemblies of nanoparticles for even finer and more complex structural details.

Since all good things come in threes, in a third nanomanufacturing advance reported this week, scientists at Caltech have uncovered the physical mechanism by which arrays of nanoscale pillars can be grown on polymer films with very high precision, in potentially limitless patterns. This nanofluidic process could someday replace conventional lithographic patterning techniques now used to build three-dimensional nano- and microscale structures for use in optical, photonic, and biofluidic devices.

And finally, for those of you who are interested in finding out more about successful founding and financing of nanotechnology start-ups, Nanowerk and Nanostart have developed a new mini-series "Funding for nanotechnology companies".

Friday, October 16, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, October 9-16, 2009

In an effort to make graphene more useful in electronics applications, Kansas State University engineers made a golden discovery – gold "snowflakes" on graphene. Functionalizing graphene with gold allows controlling its electronics properties.

Other graphene-related findings – previously considered possible by physicists but only now being seen in the laboratory – show that electrons in graphene can interact strongly with each other. The behavior is similar to superconductivity observed in some metals and complex materials, marked by the flow of electric current with no resistance and other unusual but potentially useful properties. In graphene, this behavior results in a new liquid-like phase of matter consisting of fractionally charged quasi-particles, in which charge is transported with no dissipation.

Diodes are critical components for a broad array of applications, from power conversion equipment, to radios, logic gates, photodetectors and light-emitting devices. In each case, diodes are components that allow current to flow in one direction around an electrical circuit but not the other. Researchers have now managed for a molecule to perform this feat – thereby creating a single-molecule diode.

Searching for biomarkers that can warn of diseases such as cancer while they are still in their earliest stage is likely to become far easier thanks to an innovative biosensor chip developed by Stanford University researchers. The sensor, which uses magnetic detection nanotechnology they had developed previously, can detect a given cancer-associated protein biomarker at a concentration as low as one part out of a hundred billion (or 30 molecules in a cubic millimeter of blood).

A team of scientists in Germany have succeeded in applying a novel optical method to nanomechanical oscillators. On-chip glass cylinders with diameters around 50 microns which are capable of storing light played a key role in the study. The scientists could show that the optical near-field, that is the light-field that is leaking out of the glass cylinders, can be used as actuator and sensitive probe for nanomechanical oscillators.

A team of chemists at the University of Rochester have begun work on a new kind of system to use artificial photosynthesis and carbon nanotubes to generate hydrogen fuel with sunlight.

Spider silk is a fascinating biopolymer that is stronger than steel and more elastic than rubber. Most of the world's 40,000 species of spiders produce a silken thread that possesses a unique combination of mechanical properties: strength (its tensile strength is about five times as strong a steel of the same density), extensibility (up to 30%) and toughness (its ability to absorb a large amount of energy without breaking). Researchers are working on fabricating high-performance artificial muscles from spider silk.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This week in nanotechnology, October 2 - 9, 2009

Building the super-fast computers of the future has just become much easier thanks to an advance by Australian researchers that lets them grab hold of tiny electronics components and probe their inner structure using only a beam of light.

Scanning electron microscope of nanowires ready for device assembly using optical tweezers

Scanning electron microscope of nanowires ready for device assembly using optical tweezers.

European researchers have created a CMOS (semiconductor) camera capable of filming individual photons one million times a second. The breakthrough will impact on all the most advanced areas of science and makes Europe the world leader in the technology.

A UT Dallas researcher envisions a time soon when plastic sheets of solar cells are inexpensively stamped out in factories and then affixed to cell phones, laptops and other power-hungry mobile devices. He and his team are exploring how nanoimprint lithography can not only impart a pattern to the solar cell material but also change properties of the material in ways that maximize light absorption, increasing the efficiency of the resulting cells well beyond what anyone has done to date with these so-called organic solar cells.

Electron microscopes are the most powerful type of microscope, capable of distinguishing even individual atoms. However, these microscopes cannot be used to image living cells because the electrons destroy the samples. Now, researchers propose a new scheme that can overcome this limitation by using a quantum mechanical measurement technique that allows electrons to sense objects remotely. Damage would be avoided because the electrons would never actually hit the imaged objects.

Scanning electron microscope of nanowires ready for device assembly using optical tweezers

An electron microscope image of a butterfly's wings.

Researchers are developing a new type of rocket propellant made of a frozen mixture of water and nanoscale aluminum powder that is more environmentally friendly than conventional propellants and could be manufactured on the moon, Mars and other water-bearing bodies.

Researchers have developed a self-sensing nanotechnology composite material for traffic monitoring by using piezoresistive multi-walled carbon nanotubes as an admixture. This nanocomposite cement has great potential for traffic monitoring use such as in vehicle detection, weigh-in-motion measurement and vehicle speed detection. An interesting aspect of this work is that, from the eventual traffic application's point of view, the pavement itself would become the traffic detection, thus eliminating the need for separate traffic flow detection sensors.

In an effort to build a nanoscale DNA sequencer, IBM scientists are drilling nano-sized holes in computer-like chips and passing DNA strands through them in order to read the information contained within their genetic code.

Friday, October 2, 2009

This week in nanotechnology Sept. 25 - Oct. 2, 2009

Imagine this: Chip-based credit cards and other smart cards on paper; intelligent sensors and electronics on doctors' surgical gloves; health monitors printed on T-shirts; diagnostic devices embedded in your baby's diapers; human machine interfaces on workers' leather gloves. These are just some of the nanoelectronic systems that researchers envision today and that will become reality tomorrow thanks to research teams like John Rogers' group at the University of Illinois.

University of Toronto researchers have used nanomaterials to develop a microchip sensitive enough to quickly determine the type and severity of a patient's cancer so that the disease can be detected earlier for more effective treatment.

Although graphene has become one of the most promising materials for future electronics, one stumbling block has been the lack of a ‘gap’ in its energy spectrum. This gap is characteristic of silicon and other materials currently used by the semiconductor industry. However, researchers have now found that simply stretching graphene can turn it into a good semiconductor.

Making progress with another carbon nanomaterial, researchers have overcome a major obstacle in efforts to use carbon nanotubes to create a new class of electronics that would be faster and smaller than conventional silicon-based transistors. They have learned how to control the formation of carbon nanotubes so that they have either metallic or semiconducting properties.

Using an RNA-powered nanomotor, biomedical engineering researchers have successfully developed an artificial pore able to transmit nanoscale material through a membrane. The engineered channel could have applications in nano-sensing, gene delivery, drug loading and DNA sequencing.

Brain implants coated with conducting polymer nanotubes that can more clearly record signals from surrounding neurons in rats have been created at the University of Michigan. The findings could eventually lead to more effective treatment of neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and paralysis.

neurons firing (green structures in the foreground) and communicating with nanotubes in the background

This illustration depicts neurons firing (green structures in the foreground) and communicating with nanotubes in the background.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has outlined a new research strategy to better understand how manufactured nanomaterials may harm human health and the environment. The strategy outlines what research EPA will support over the next several years to generate information about the safe use of nanotechnology and products that contain nano-scale materials. The strategy also includes research into ways nanotechnology can be used to clean up toxic chemicals in the environment.

If you want to try out your artistic talents, now is your chance with the 2009 NanoArt competition.

And finally, here is the book you all have been waiting for: Nano-Society - Pushing the boundaries of technology. Written by Nanowerk's Michael Berger, this book puts a spotlight on some of the scientists who are pushing the boundaries of technology and it gives examples of their work and how they are advancing knowledge one little step at a time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New research by MIT scientists suggests that carbon nanotubes could be formed into tiny springs capable of storing as much energy, pound for pound, as state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, and potentially more durably and reliably.

A sensitive new disposable chip built with carbon nanotubes detects low concentrations of the explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) and a close chemical cousin of the dreaded toxic nerve agent sarin in water samples.

Research at MIT has uncovered new information about how nanoscale patterns on the surface of a material can produce significant changes in the way it interacts with liquids. The discovery could be significant in understanding interactions that affect a wide variety of biological processes in living cells, as well as many manufacturing or energy storage systems.

nanoparticle coated with a single layer of molecules

Snapshot of a simulation of a nanoparticle coated with a single layer of molecules (thin lines projecting from sphere) composed of a 1:1 mixture of hydrophobic (yellow) and hydrophilic (blue) ligands. (Image: Stellacci Laboratory)

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, in collaboration with researchers from Hitachi High Technologies Corp., have demonstrated a new scanning electron microscope capable of selectively imaging single atoms on the top surface of a specimen while a second, simultaneous imaging signal shows atoms throughout the sample’s depth.

Nanoscientists in Denmark provide yet more clues to solve the mystery of how signaling proteins transport and organize in specific areas of the cell.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued a new ruler, and even for an organization that routinely deals in superlatives, it sets some records. Designed to be the most accurate commercially available "meter stick" for the nano world, the new measuring tool—a calibration standard for X-ray diffraction—boasts uncertainties below a femtometer or roughly the size of a neutron.

A new study that provides an overview of research on public perceptions of nanotechnology challenges some current ideas of how people view the risks and benefits of new technology. The work has implications for how policymakers talk about and regulate new technologies.

This week's opening of the very impressive King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia is an ambitious attempt by a conservative Islamic nation to create the nucleus of a modern society, free from the strict religious dictates of a conservative religious culture, and laying the foundation for a science and technology based society of future generations.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Researchers in Sweden have developed a paper battery that is fabricated with cellulose from algae. This completely non-metal battery could be a solution to the environmental damage cause by traditional batteries.

Cladophora algae

Cladophora, the algae used for the novel paper battery.

How much difference can a tenth of a nanometer make? When it comes to figuring out how proteins work, an improvement in resolution of that miniscule amount can mean the difference between seeing where atoms are and understanding how they interact.

Atoms have the habit of jumping through solids – a practice that physicists have recently been able to follow for the first time using a brand new method using cutting-edge X-ray sources, known as electron synchrotrons. The work unlocks new potential for the study of material ageing processes at the atomic level.

Being able to swing through the air like Spiderman on strands of ‘spider silk’ may be one step—or swing—closer with researchers discovering a way to strengthen plastic nanofibers with one of the world’s strongest materials, carbon.

For decades, researchers have been trying to combine semiconductor materials that have different and potentially complementary characteristics into a single microchip. Now, an MIT team has finally succeeded in this effort, an advance that could point to a way of overcoming fundamental barriers of size and speed facing today's silicon chips.

Many medical conditions, such as chronic pain, cancer and diabetes, require medications that cannot be taken orally, but must be dosed intermittently, on an as-needed basis, over a long period of time. A few delivery techniques have been developed, using an implanted heat source, an implanted electronic chip or other stimuli as an "on-off" switch to release the drugs into the body but none of these methods can reliably do all that's needed: repeatedly turn dosing on and off, deliver consistent doses and adjust doses according to the patient's need. Researchers have now devised a solution that combines magnetism with nanotechnology.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The burgeoning research fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology are commonly thought to be highly multidisciplinary because they draw on many areas of science and technology to make important advances. A recent report finds that nanoscience and nanotechnology indeed are highly multidisciplinary – but not much more so than other modern disciplines such as medicine or electrical engineering that also draw on multiple areas of science and technology.

IBM scientists have demonstrated a promising and practical method that effectively eliminates the mechanical wear in the nanometer-sharp tips used in scanning probe-based techniques. This discovery can potentially be used in the development of next generation, more advanced computer chips that have higher performance and smaller feature sizes. Scanning probe-based tools could be one approach to extend the capabilities, quality and precision beyond the projected limits of current production and characterization tools.

In your office, though, you have a choice between inkjet printers and (usually much faster) laser printers. And soon, nanotechnologists might have this choice, too. Researchers have demonstrated a novel technique for rapidly 'printing' various nanoparticles such as gold nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, and semiconducting and metallic nanowires, on a photoconductive surface by light, much like a laser printer prints toner powder on paper.

Another nanofabrication technique advances the previously reported NanoGripper. The folks at the European NanoHand project, whose nanogripper design we have covered in a previous Nanowerk Spotlight (Nanotechnology gets a grip), seem to have loved playing with their plastic toy kits as kids. At least that's the impression you get when watching their latest video explaining their proof-of-principle study of scanning probe tips defined by planar nanolithography and integrated with AFM probes using nanomanipulation:

Last week, four papers independently present evidence that magnetic monopoles really exist in nature. To find a magnetic monopole is a Holy Grail of physics. A magnetic monopole is the magnetic version of a charged particle like an electron, and for the last 70 years physicists have believed that one might exist somewhere in the universe. The monopoles discovered this week are not that Holy Grail, but are the next best thing. Rather than existing throughout the universe, they only exist within a special type of material called spin ice.

Advances reported last week have brought graphite's potential as a mass data storage medium a step closer to reality and created the potential for reprogrammable gate arrays that could bring about a revolution in integrated circuit logic design. A team at Rice University shows how they've used industry-standard lithographic techniques to deposit 10-nanometer stripes of amorphous graphite, the carbon-based, semiconducting material commonly found in pencils, onto silicon.

In nanomedicine, researchers have developed a new way to deliver drugs into cancer cells by exposing them briefly to a non-harmful laser. The scientists used cancer cells from mice, and grew them in culture. They then introduced gold nanoshells, with a peptide-lipid coating, that encapsulated "silencing ribonucleic acid" (siRNA), which was the drug that was taken up by the cells. Next, they exposed the cells to a non-harmful infrared laser to release the drugs.

Intriguing: You've heard about flower power – but what about tree power? It turns out that it's there, in small but measurable quantities. There's enough power in trees for researchers to run an electronic circuit. This is probably the first time someone reports powering something entirely by sticking electrodes into a tree.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Manipulating tiny objects like single cells or nanosized beads often requires relatively large, unwieldy equipment, but now a system that uses sound as a tiny tweezers can be small enough to place on a chip, according to Penn State engineers. Current methods for moving individual cells or tiny beads include such devices as optical tweezers, which require a lot of energy and could damage or even kill live cells. In contrast, the new manipulators - acoustic tweezers - are much smaller than optical tweezers and use 500,000 times less energy.

Acoustic tweezers enable flexible on-chip manipulation and patterning of cells

"Acoustic tweezers" enable flexible on-chip manipulation and patterning of cells using standing surface acoustic waves.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have reached a new milestone in laser physics by creating the world's smallest semiconductor laser, capable of generating visible light in a space smaller than a single protein molecule. These plasmon lasers represent an exciting class of coherent light sources capable of extremely small confinement. This work can bridge the worlds of electronics and optics at truly molecular length scales.

Small, smaller, nano data storage! Interest is growing in the use of metallofullerenes – carbon cages with embedded metallic compounds – as materials for miniature data storage devices. Researchers in Switzerland have discovered that metallofullerenes are capable of forming ordered supramolecular structures with different orientations. By specifically manipulating these orientations it might be possible to store and subsequently read out information.


Metallofullerenes – when deposited on a surface – form ordered islands of identically orientated molecules. This scanning tunnelling microscopy image has been reproduced in colour in order to improve visual analysis – a different colour has been used for each individual orientation of the molecules.

Another advance in nanoelectronics was reported by an international team of researchers that has designed a new graphite-based, magnetic nanomaterial that acts as a semiconductor and could help material scientists create the next generation of electronic devices like microchips. Using theoretical computer modeling, they designed the new material they called graphone, which is derived from graphene.

Recently, metamaterials, by means of which electromagnetic waves, including light, can be manipulated, have fired the researchers’ imagination. These artificial structures possess properties that cannot be found in nature. Perfect lenses without aberrations and even invisibility cloaks à la Harry Potter can be made of metamaterials, at least theoretically. Now, scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) describe, for the first time, three-dimensional metamaterials that could really be applied in spectroscopic measurement instruments.

lung cancer is the leading cancer-related cause of death, accounting for 18 percent of cancer deaths and killing about 1.3 million people worldwide every year. A research team has now demonstrated a "lung cancer breathalyzer" - highly sensitive, stable, relatively inexpensive, and fast-response nine-sensor array that consists of gold nanoparticles functionalized with different organic groups that respond to various volatile organic compounds that are relevant to lung cancer.

And finally, if you need something to read for the weekend, the Human Enhancement Ethics Group released a new, NSF-funded report that addresses questions and issues surrounding human enhancement, an area that will become more prominent as advances in nanotechnology, nanomedicine, bionics, synthetic biology and related fields move from the lab to real-world applications.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lots of developments in nanomedicine this week: Scientists have discovered a potential new drug delivery system. They developed a peptide, a small piece of protein that can carry "cargo" for delivery into the cell. The cargo could be a nanoparticle, or even a cell. Riding on the peptide, the cargo gets out of the blood vessel and penetrates the tissue.

New DNA test uses nanotechnology to find early signs of cancer. Based on quantum dots, a new test, which detects both the presence and the quantity of certain DNA changes, could alert people who are at risk of developing the disease and could tell doctors how well a particular cancer treatment is working.

DNA test uses quantum dots to find early signs of cancer

In this illustration, quantum dots are depicted as gold spheres that attract DNA strands linked to cancer risks. When the quantum dots are exposed to certain types of light, they transfer the energy to fluorescent molecules, shown as pink globes, that emit a glow. This enables researchers to detect and count the DNA strands linked to cancer.

In a third nanomedicine-related story, researchers have successfully developed a novel electronic sensor array – called the Nanogap Sensor Array – for more rapid, accurate and cost-efficient testing of DNA for disease diagnosis and biological research.

On to nanoelectronics: Stanford researchers have developed a method of stacking and purifying crystal layers that may pave the way for three-dimensional microchips. The scientists added tiny germanium crystals in the shape of nanowires to a sheet of silicon, and then topped it with a layer of germanium. With heat, the nanowires and the germanium topping took on the crystal structure of the silicon.

A hybrid of silicon nanocircuits and biological components that mimics some of the processes that control the passage of molecules into and out of cells has been created by a team of scientists from UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Berkeley. The lipid-coated nanocircuits could lead to the development of new classes of bio-sensing tools and biological applications, such as comprehensive blood-chemistry tests that fit on the point of a needle or screening tools for the development of new drugs.

IBM scientists have been able to image the 'anatomy – or chemical structure – inside a molecule with unprecedented resolution, using a complex technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy. Watch the video:

Solar cells could soon be produced more cheaply using nanoparticle "inks" that allow them to be printed like newspaper or painted onto the sides of buildings or rooftops to absorb electricity-producing sunlight.

Chinese researchers demonstrate that nanofabrication technologies can be advanced by ingenious structure of biofilms. While biofilms are mostly seen from a point of view of pathogenic threats, their complex frameworks with biological behavior, chemical heterogeneity, and physical structure at micro- or even nanoscopic level, could also be useful in nanofabrication – each of these properties can be an attractive avenue for the development of nanotechnology and material science.

And, of course, don't miss Nanowerk's new series: Ten things you sould know about nanotechnology.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lots of news in the area of nanoelectronics this week. Current lasers can't be made small enough to integrate them into electronic chips. Now researchers have overcome this obstacle, harnessing clouds of electrons called "surface plasmons," instead of the photons that make up light, to create tiny "spasers". This is the first of its kind to emit visible light, representing a critical component for possible future technologies based on nanophotonic circuitry.

Nanochemists have developed nanoscale electric contacts out of organic and inorganic nanowires. In the contact they have crossed the wires like Mikado sticks and coupled several contacts together in an electric circuit. In this way they have produced prototype computer electronics on the nanoscale. This nanowire transistors could become an alternative to silicon for computer chips.

In order to further improve current lithographic chip production technology, researchers are adapting the same methods used in fusion-energy research to create extremely thin plasma beams for a new class of nanolithography required to make future computer chips. The new plasma-based lithography under development generates "extreme ultraviolet" light having a wavelength of 13.5 nanometers, less than one-tenth the size of current lithography.

DNA origami, tiny shapes and patterns self-assembled from DNA, have been heralded as a potential breakthrough for the creation of nanoscale circuits and devices. One roadblock to their use has been that they are made in solution, and they stick randomly to surfaces – like a deck of playing cards thrown onto a floor. Researchers have now demonstrated a way to put DNA origami exactly where they want it on a surface, to line them up like little ducks in a row.

It appears that bacteria can squeeze through practically anything. In extremely small nanoslits they take on a completely new flat shape. Even in this squashed form they continue to grow and divide at normal speeds.

Nanoscale devices capable of measuring the mass of a single biological molecule and the heavier elements have already been developed. Yet, significant advances are still required to reach the ultimate goal of weighing the lightest elements such as hydrogen. By studying gold nanoparticles of highly uniform size and shape, scientists now understand how they lose energy, a key step towards producing nanoscale detectors for weighing any single atom.

In nanomedicine, researchers have used magnetic nanoparticles to guide stem cells to sites of cardiovascular injury in a new method designed to increase the capacity of cells to repair damaged tissue. Following magnetic targeting, there was a five-fold increase in cell localization at a site of vascular injury in rats.

Scary news coming out of China: A study has for the first time claimed a concrete link between exposure to nanoparticles in adhesive paint and development of severe pulmonary fibrosis in a group of young female workers; two of whom went on to suffer fatal lung failure.

And finally, at Nanowerk there is a new series called "Ten things you should know about nanotechnology" – a brief overview of some important aspects and issues, and answers to some of the basic questions on nanotechnologies. Remember how it all started with Feynman's speech?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Researchers at MIT have for the first time shown that carbon nanotubes can grow without a metal catalyst. The researchers demonstrate that zirconium oxide, the same compound found in cubic zirconia "fake diamonds," can also grow nanotubes, but without the unwanted side effects of metal. Another advance on fabricating carbon nanomaterials has been reported by a Northwestern University professor and his students, who have found a new way of turning graphite oxide – a low-cost insulator made by oxidizing graphite powder – into graphene, a hotly studied material that conducts electricity. In this flash reduction process, researchers simply hold a consumer camera flash over the graphite oxide and, a flash later, the material is now a piece of fluffy graphene.

If man-made devices could be combined with biological machines, laptops and other electronic devices could get a boost in operating efficiency. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have devised a versatile hybrid platform that uses lipid-coated nanowires to build prototype bionanoelectronic devices.

nanobioelectronic device

An artist's representation of a nanobioelectronic device incorporating alamethycin biological pore. In the core of the device is a silicon nanowire (grey), covered with a lipid bilayer (blue). The bilayer incorporates bundles of alamethicin molecules (purple) that form pore channels in the membrane. Transport of protons though these pore channels changes the current through the nanowire. (Image: Scott Dougherty, LLNL)

When bees sting, they pump poison into their victims. Now the toxin in bee venom has been harnessed to kill tumor cells by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers attached the major component of bee venom to nano-sized spheres that they call nanobees.

In other news in cancer-fighting nanomedicine, researchers at Wake Forest University have increased the tumor-killing power of carbon nanotubes by encasing them in DNA. The DNA-encasement of the tubes actually increased the amount of heat produced upon irradiation of the nanotubes with near-infrared light and appears to be a promising new tool for hyperthermia applications.

Growing – and precisely aligning – spear-shaped zinc oxide crystals with a diameter of 100-200 nm on a surface of single-crystal silicon, researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology may have developed a method to make more efficient solar cells. By growing zinc oxide on top of the silicon, you're putting two semiconductors on top of each other, thereby widening the spectrum from which a solar cell could draw light.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The engineers‘ dream of self-healing surfaces has taken another step towards becoming reality – researchers have produced a electroplated layer that contains tiny nanometer-sized capsules. If the layer is damaged, the capsules release fluid and repair the scratch.

The world's smallest computers, made of DNA and other biological molecules, just got more "user friendly" thanks to research at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The world's smallest electric motor runs on only two atoms. The principle is easy: one starter and one motor atom in a ring of laser light - and a bit of fine tuning, in order to move always into the right direction.

Researchers at the University of Washington report progress in mapping brain tumors: theyhave been able to illuminate brain tumors by injecting fluorescent nanoparticles into the bloodstream that safely cross the blood-brain barrier – an almost impenetrable barrier that protects the brain from infection. The nanoparticles remained in mouse tumors for up to five days and did not show any evidence of damaging the blood-brain barrier.

Neurons communicate with each other with the help of nano-sized vesicles. Disruption of this communication process is responsible for many diseases and mental disorders like e.g. depression. Nerve signals travel from one neuron to another through vesicles - a nano-sized container loaded with neurotransmitter molecules. A vesicle fuses with the membrane surrounding a neuron, releases neurotransmitters into the surroundings that are detected by the next neuron in line. Researchers can now make "live recordings" of cell communication by quantifying contact areas formed between vesicles and determine the vesicle size and shape with nano-scale resolution.

evolutionary tree for nanoparticles

Researchers determine shape and size of the contact area between vesicle and membrane by measuring colour intensity from flourescent molecules. Right: Vesicle marked by acceptor flourescent molecules that light up when close to donor molecules (left). Middle: A plot of the same, calculated FRET.

The veil is being lifted from the once unseen world of molecular activity. Not so long ago only the final products were visible and scientists were forced to gauge the processes behind those products by ensemble averages of many molecules. The limitations of that approach have become clear with the advent of technologies that allow for the observation and manipulation of single molecules. A prime example is the recent first ever direct observations in real-time of the growth of single nanocrystals in solution, which revealed that much of what we thought we knew is wrong.

Scientists at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen and Harvard University have thrown the lid off a new toolbox for building nanoscale structures out of DNA, with complex twisting and curving shapes. They report a series of experiments in which they folded DNA, origami-like, into three-dimensional objects including a beach ball-shaped wireframe capsule just 50 nanometers in diameter. The result is a variety of nanoscale structures folded, origami-like, from DNA:

evolutionary tree for nanoparticles

Friday, July 31, 2009

One of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Harry Potter and his cloak is … invisibility. Now researchers in Spain have developed a device that makes objects invisible under a certain kind of light. Called 'dc metamaterial', the device brings the inside of the magnetic field down to zero but does not change the exterior field.

Staying in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, ‘transparent aluminium’ previously only existed in the movie Star Trek IV, but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion. Oxford scientists have created a transparent form of aluminium by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser.

By studying gold nanoparticles with highly uniform sizes and shapes, scientists now understand how they lose energy, a key step towards producing nanoscale detectors for weighing any single atom. Such ultrasensitive measurements could ultimately be used in areas such as medical research and diagnostics, enabling the detection of minuscule disease-causing agents such as viruses and prions at the single molecule level.

An interesting development in nanoparticle synthesis is the concept of an 'evolutionary tree'. The tree not only displays the relationship between different shapes, but also offers designing principles for producing more complex shapes by crossing over different pathways during nanoparticle growth.

evolutionary tree for nanoparticles

Driven by the vision of our society one day being basically self-propelled, a team of University of Houston scientists has set out to both amplify and provoke that potential in materials known as piezoelectrics, which naturally produce electricity when literally subjected to strain. The goal is to use piezoelectrics to create nanodevices that can power electronics, such as cell phones, MP3 players and even biomedical implants.

Researchers are working on ways to make lasers smaller and smaller. This ultimately opens up possibilities for using nanoscale lasers to significantly improve the performance of computers and speed up Internet access.

Researchers at UC Riverside report the first direct observation and controlled creation of one- and two-dimensional ripples in graphene sheets. This study is first to experimentally quantify thermal contraction of graphene. Using simple thermal manipulation, the researchers produced the ripples, and controlled their orientation, wavelength and amplitude. Another research team provides two new reasons for using graphene ribbons as interconnects in future computer chips. They found that in widths as narrow as 16 nanometers, graphene has a current carrying capacity approximately a thousand times greater than copper – while providing improved thermal conductivity.

Nanoparticles are being developed to perform a wide range of medical uses – imaging tumors, carrying drugs, delivering pulses of heat. Rather than settling for just one of these, researchers at the University of Washington have combined two nanoparticles in one tiny package. The result is the first structure that creates a multipurpose nanotechnology tool for medical imaging and therapy.

In the classic fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Hans Christian Andersen uses the eyes of a child to challenge conventional wisdom and help others to see more clearly. In similar fashion, researchers at the University of Illinois have now revealed the naked truth about a classic bell-shaped curve used to describe the motion of a liquid as it diffuses through another material ('Brownian motion').

A team of Japanese scientists have developed a biodegradable nanosheet of only about 20 nanometers thickness that could replace surgical stitches and result in scar-free wound healing. In experiments they found that the sealing operation repaired the incision completely without scars and tissue adhesion. This approach would constitute an ideal candidate for an alternative to conventional suture/ligation procedures, from the perspective not only of a minimally invasive surgical technique but also reduction of operation times.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lots of nanomedicine news this week:

In future therapies, synthetic nanoparticles may well be able to ferry medicines and even genes to targets inside the body. These nanovehicles can now be directly tested and optimized using a highly sensitive microscopic method that can trace single particles all the way into a cell. In related news, physicists at New York University have developed a technique to record three-dimensional movies of microscopic systems, such as biological molecules, through holographic video. The work has potential to improve medical diagnostics and drug discovery.

Surgical removal of a tissue sample is now the standard for diagnosing cancer. Such procedures, known as biopsies, are accurate but offer only a snapshot of the tumor at a single moment in time. Monitoring a tumor for weeks or months after the biopsy and tracking its growth and how it responds to treatment would be much more valuable, says MIT professor Michael J. Cima, who has developed the first implantable cancer monitoring device that can do just that. One of the earliest events that changes a normal cell into a malignant one is known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) hypermethylation, a biochemical alteration that inactivates critical tumor-suppressor genes. Other progress in early identification of cancer cells was reported at Johns Hopkins University: A team there has developed a quantum dot-based method that can quantify DNA methylation in premalignant cells harvested from human patients.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star: A new approach to biomedical imaging with magnetically responsive gold nanostars has been reported by Purdue University researchers who have created magnetically responsive gold nanostars that may offer a new approach to biomedical imaging. The nanostars gyrate when exposed to a rotating magnetic field and can scatter light to produce a pulsating or "twinkling" effect. This twinkling allows them to stand out more clearly from noisy backgrounds like those found in biological tissue.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists led by Princeton engineers has been awarded a $3 million grant to study how fuel additives made of nanocatalysts can help supersonic jets fly faster and make diesel engines cleaner and more efficient.

Nanoscale mass spectrometer: using a carbon nanotube, Caltech researchers have developed a technique to determine the mass of a single molecule, in real time. In a not too different set-up, a Dutch team has succeeded in measuring the influence of a single electron on a vibrating carbon nanotube.

Staying with carbon nanotubes, the fundamental issue of large-scale carbon nanotube device fabrication remains the biggest challenge for effective commercialization of CNT-based nanoelectronic devices. A research team in Israel reports a new method to to achieve the integration of carbon nanotubes into micro-fabricated devices.

The first artificial graphene has been created at the NEST laboratory of the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter (INFM-CNR) in Pisa. It is sculpted on the surface of a gallium-arsenide semiconductor, to which it grants the extraordinary properties of the original graphene.

And some nanoelectronics: A Rice University lab is manipulating molecules that might just be the ticket to extending Moore's Law, the theory that dictates the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years.

international coalitions of NGOs, the European Environmental Bureau and the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) Nanotechnology Working Group, have challenged industry claims about the potential environmental benefits provided by nanotechnology products: Nanotechnologies are presented as providing unprecedented technological solutions to many environmental problems including climate change, pollution and clean drinking water. Proponents claim that it enables economic growth through better products and new markets while dramatically reducing our ecological footprint. However there is emerging evidence these claims do not provide the whole picture, with serious environmental risks and costs being trivialized or ignored.

Friday, July 17, 2009

This week in nanotechnology July 11-17, 2009

Lots of news in nanoelectronics and nanophotonics this week: Light-based computing took another step forward with the discovery by Yale scientists of a "repulsive" light force that can be used to control components on silicon microchips. Researchers had theorized the existence of both the attractive and repulsive forces since 2005, but the latter had remained unproven until now. These novel repulsive and attractive nanophotonic forces were also reported by a European team.

Computers with no need of cooling? They haven't come into existence yet. However, physicists in Germany are paving the way for them: they demonstrate a semiconductor that transmits electric current without heating up in the process.

Capturing electrons in action – scientists at RIKEN in Japan have developed a way to measure the wavelike properties of ultrafast (attosecond) light pulses—an important step toward being able to probe the dynamics of electrons, atoms and molecules.

Relieving some concerns that nanotechnology manufacturing might be quite a 'dirty' industrial process, Singapore's Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has discovered a new environmentally friendly method to synthesize a wide variety of nanoparticles inexpensively.

Moving on to green energy – this week a group of 20 large industrial companies, banks and insurance companies met in Germany to kick of project Desertec that, if realized, will cost 400-500 billion euros ($550-700 bn) and deliver its first energy in about 10 years. The basic idea is to install a huge network of nanotechnology-enabled concentrating solar-thermal power plants in the Sahara desert and build a network of High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines to carry the electricity to Europe.

Empa in Switzerland has published a brief summary of the main conclusions reached at its third NanoConvention event held last week in Zürich. The aim of the NanoConvention is to establish nanotechnology as a secure and safe motor of innovation for the Swiss economy and society.

NanoTecNexus and the University of California, San Diego NanoTumor Center (NTC) have received the 2009 Bronze Telly Award for the production of a video on approaches to fighting cancer using nanotechnology:

And finally, staying with videos, the American Chemical Society announces its second nanotechnology video contest after the wildly successful winner of the first contest clocked almost half a million YouTube views:

Friday, July 10, 2009

This week in nanotechnology July 4-10, 2009

Computer simulations shed light on nanosized minerals. The red and blue images appear ghostly, like a fleeting glimpse of something that’s never been seen before – which is true. Using computer simulations, Berkeley Lab scientists have developed the first predicted images of water molecules surrounding a nanoparticle, in this case an iron-oxide mineral called hematite.

In nanoelectronics, the use of molecules as elements in electronic circuits shows great potential. One of the central challenges up until now has been that most molecules only start to conduct once a large voltage has been applied. An international research team has shown that molecules containing an odd number of electrons are much more conductive at low bias voltages.

On to new findings in improving solar panel efficiency. In 1907 German physicist Gustav Mie realized that tiny metal particles in stained glass scattered light in ways that produced beautiful colors. Now, a related interplay between light and matter explains why incredibly thin nanowires made of semiconductors like germanium may prove to be effective components for solar cells. Combining Mie's work with more recent theory, the Stanford team has discerned how to tune and improve the light absorption efficiency of the wires. Over at the Berkeley Lab, researchers have demonstrated a way to fabricate efficient solar cells from low-cost and flexible materials. The new design grows optically active semiconductors in arrays of nanoscale pillars, each a single crystal, with dimensions measured in nanometers

In nanomedicine, a study of human colon, pancreatic and lung cells is the first to report that cancer cells and their non-cancerous cell neighbors, although quite different under the microscope, share very similar structural abnormalities on the nanoscale level. The most striking findings were that these nanoscale alterations occurred at some distance from the tumor and, importantly, could be identified by assessing more easily accessible tissue, such as the cheek for lung cancer detection.

Researchers in Switzerland have now demonstrated novel cell biology applications using hollow force-controlled AFM cantilevers – a new device they have called FluidFM. This novel device combines AFM and nanofluidics for single cell applications.

Nanotoxicology studies on aquatic ecosystems have been scarce – although everything winds up in the water eventually. Now a team of Canadian scientists and engineers, led by the University of Alberta and the National Research Council of Canada, will collaborate on a $3.39 million, three-year study to assess the potential effects of nanoparticles in specific water environments.

Speaking about possible nanotechnology risks, there still is a lot we don't know yet about the environmental, health and safety impact of nanomaterials, but at least scientists are making progress in identifying the gaps – the 'known unknowns' as they call it.

Purification of carbon nanotubes still is a major headache for CNT producers. A team of researchers from DuPont and Lehigh University says it has developed a DNA-based method that sorts and separates specific types of CNTs from a mixture.

Not really nanotechnology but still cool stuff: Physicists have overcome a major hurdle in quantum computer development, having devised a viable way to manipulate a single "bit" in a quantum processor without disturbing the information stored in its neighbors. The approach, which makes novel use of polarized light to create effective magnetic fields, could bring the long-sought computers a step closer to reality.

And finally, for all you Harry Potter fans, a new metamaterial brings us closer to the dream of invisibility. A group of researchers in Spain have designed a device, called a dc metamaterial, which makes objects invisible under certain light by making the inside of the magnetic field zero but not altering the exterior field. The device, which up to date has only been studied in theoretical works, thus acts as an invisibility cloak, making the object completely undetectable to these waves.

Friday, July 3, 2009

This week in nanotechnology June 27 - July 3, 2009

An international team of researchers has modified chlorophyll from an alga so that it resembles the extremely efficient light antennae of bacteria. The team was then able to determine the structure of these light antennae. This is the first step to converting sunlight into energy using an artificial leaf.

Scientists have been trying for some time to find ways to produce integrated circuits that operate on the basis of photons instead of electrons. The reason is that photons do not only generate much less heat than electrons, but they also enable considerably higher data transfer rates. Researchers in Switzerland have now made a big step in this direction by successfully creating an optical transistor with a single molecule.

A tiny grid pattern has led materials scientists to an unexpected finding – the surprisingly strong and long-range effects of certain electromagnetic nanostructures used in data storage. This may add new scientific challenges to the design and manufacture of future ultra-high density data storage devices.

Finding a way to observe and record the behavior of matter at the molecular level has long been one of the holy grails among physicists. That ability could open the door to a wide range of applications in ultrafast electron microscopy used in a large array of scientific, medical and technological fields. Now, a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has figured out a possible way to do that.

It's not just the material and devices that advances nanotechnologies. A new statistical analysis technique that identifies and removes systematic bias, noise and equipment-based artifacts from experimental data could lead to more precise and reliable measurement of nanomaterials and nanostructures likely to have future industrial applications.

In nanomedicine, researchers have demonstrated a novel ROS-sensitive gold nanoprobe. Environmental and behavioral factors such as excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to toxins and drugs, smoking and lack of sleep, may lead the body to produce superoxide radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS) that could cause cell damage through oxidation. Oxidative stress from ROS is implicated in aging and most diseases including cancer, heart disease, liver fibrosis, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune disorders.

More nanomedicine applications: Imagine being able to spray a compound fracture with tiny capsules that deliver a drug to bolster the immune system, stopping infection before it starts. This technology might be around the corner. A research team has developed a drug-delivery technology involving microcapsules – and a second technique, nanocoating – that have been shown to work in animal studies.

Hate your silver tooth fillings but are not happy with shorter-lived white ceramic ones? One researcher hopes a new nanotechnology technique will extend the white fillings' longevity.

How can you weigh a single atom? European researchers have built an exquisite new device with carbon nanotubes that can do just that. It may ultimately allow scientists to study the progress of chemical reactions, molecule by molecule.

Finally, not really nanotechnology but still pretty cool: A team led by Yale University researchers has created the first rudimentary solid-state quantum processor, taking another step toward the ultimate dream of building a quantum computer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

This week in nanotechnology June 20-26, 2009

Another advance with nanodiamonds in medical applications has been reported: A new study shows a way in which nanodiamonds can be applied towards enhancing water dispersion of otherwise poorly watersoluble therapeutics. This could open the door to broad application of a wide range of important drugs for cancer or regenerative medicine. One more report on cancer-related nanomedicine came out of the University of Massachusetts where Vincent Rotello an his team have developed a a 'chemical nose' array of nanoparticles and polymers that differentiates not only between healthy and cancerous cells but also between metastatic and non-metastatic cancer cells.
Roasted chicken à la nanotech: Scientists in Delaware say they have developed a new hydrogen storage method – carbonized chicken feather fibers – that can hold vast amounts of hydrogen. Chicken feather fibers are mostly composed of keratin, a natural protein that forms strong, hollow tubes. When heated, this protein creates crosslinks, which strengthen its structure, and becomes more porous, increasing its surface area. The net result is carbonized chicken feather fibers, which can absorb as much or perhaps more hydrogen than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides, two other materials being studied for their hydrogen storage potential. Plus, they are cheap.
A problem with existing gas nanosensors is the cross-interference of other gas analytes such as for instance water vapor (humidity). A team at Duke University has now shown how to manufacture gas nanosensors that can eliminate cross-interference from other gases.
For a long time it has been thought that if the accelerating voltage of electrons could be reduced to 80 kV in an electron microscope, then the electrons would not possess sufficient energy to cause knock-on damage in carbon nanomaterials. A team in Europe shows that this belief is wrong and that under certain circumstances nanotubes can be damaged even at this threshold level.
On the regulators' side, the The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA) has published "Literature Review - Workplace exposure to nanoparticles" which reviews the most recent publications on nanoparticles and focuses on the possible adverse health effects of workplace exposure. The report presents the regulatory background and activities taken to manage this emerging risk.
Speaking about risks, a new survey shows that in the U.S., scientists and public differ on need for nanotechnology regulation. While the public tends to focus on the benefits – rather than potential environmental and health risks – when making decisions about nanotechnology regulation, scientists mainly focus on potential risks and economic values.
Singularity University – the new academic institution with the goal of preparing the next generation of leaders to address "humanity's grand challenges" – has announced the selection of 40 students to represent the inaugural class for the Graduate Summer Program. One of the 10 tracks offered of course deals with nanotechnologies.
The Journal of Consumer Policy is planning a special issue on "Nanotechnologies and the Consumer" and is looking for papers. The objective of this special issue will be to discuss the impact of nanotechnologies on consumer behavior, policy and law. Papers can be submitted until August 15, 2009.
And finally to the fun part: we've posted some amazing images from the nanoworld in one of our posts last week, like these nano teddy bears (they are actually zinc oxide nanostructures):