Friday, April 30, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - April 30, 2010

Researchers have found a way to make carbon nanotube membranes that could find wide application as extra-fine air filters and as scaffolds for catalysts that speed chemical reactions. These filters can remove up to 99 percent of particulates with diameters of less than a micrometer.

Though scientists argue that the emerging technology of spintronics may trump conventional electronics for building the next generation of faster, smaller, more efficient computers and high-tech devices, no one has actually seen the spin – a quantum mechanical property of electrons—in individual atoms until now. Now, physicists have presented the first images of spin in action.

nanoscale world map

The different shape and appearance of these individual cobalt atoms is caused by the different spin directions.

Tiny, melanin-covered nanoparticles may protect bone marrow from the harmful effects of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. But because radiation also damages normal cells, doctors must limit the dose. Melanin, the naturally occurring pigment that gives skin and hair its color, helps shield the skin from the damaging effects of sunlight and has been shown to protect against radiation.

Three new studies illustrate why graphene should be the nanomaterial of choice to strengthen composite materials used in everything from wind turbines to aircraft wings. Composites infused with graphene are stronger, stiffer, and less prone to failure than composites infused with carbon nanotubes or other nanoparticles, according to the studies. This means graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged like a nanoscale chain-link fence, could be a key enabler in the development of next-generation nanocomposite materials.

Scientists have established a revolutionary nanocrystal-making robot called WANDA (Workstation for Automated Nanomaterial Discovery and Analysis), capable of producing nanocrystals with staggering precision. This one-of-a-kind robot provides colloidal nanocrystals with custom-made properties for electronics, biological labeling and luminescent devices.

Watching a living brain in the act of seeing - with single-synapse resolution: Pioneering a novel microscopy method, neuroscientists have shown that individual neurons carry out significant aspects of sensory processing: specifically, in this case, determining which direction an object in the field of view is moving. Their method makes it possible for the first time to observe individual synapses, nerve contact sites that are just one micrometer in size, on a single neuron in a living mammalian brain.