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.