Friday, March 5, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - March 5, 2010

A new study reveals that thermocells based on carbon nanotube electrodes might eventually be used for generating electrical energy from heat discarded by chemical plants, automobiles and solar cell farms. Efficiently harvesting the thermal energy currently wasted in industrial plants or along pipelines could create local sources of clean energy that in turn could be used to lower costs and shrink an organization’s energy footprint.

Another decisive step forward in the development of quantum computers has been successful. For the first time ever, researchers have accomplished to place two nitrogen atoms in a distance of only few nanometers, so that laser excitation will be capable of creating a quantum mechanical coupling. The key to the solution: it works with high precision, reliably, and even at room-temperature only in a diamond.

Researchers made a significant step towards replacing electrical signals that communicate via copper wires between computer chips with tiny silicon circuits that communicate using pulses of light. The device, called a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector, is the fastest of its kind and could enable breakthroughs in energy-efficient computing that can have significant implications for the future of electronics.

The work by a team of geomicrobiologists paves the way for nanometer-size magnets – used in mobile phones and recording devices – to be made without the usual nasty chemicals and energy intensive methods. They studied iron-reducing bacteria that occur naturally in soils and sediments and found they can be used to create iron oxide nanoparticles with magnetic properties similar to those created through complex chemical processes.

Surface energy is ubiquitous in nature and it plays an important role in many scientific areas such as for instance surface physics, biophysics, surface chemistry, or catalysis. So far it has been impractical to consider utilizing surface energy as an energy source because there are few molecules or atoms involved in the surface interaction and the density of surface energy is low. However, due to the lower power consumption requirements of nanotechnology devices and the higher specific surface area for nanomaterials it appears attractive to use surface energy at the nanoscale.