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.