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.