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.