Friday, April 2, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - April 2, 2010

By combining a new generation of piezoelectric nanogenerators with two types of nanowire sensors, researchers have created what are believed to be the first self-powered nanometer-scale sensing devices that draw power from the conversion of mechanical energy. The new devices can measure the pH of liquids or detect the presence of ultraviolet light using electrical current produced from mechanical energy in the environment.

Scientists have discovered the world's smallest superconductor, a sheet of four pairs of molecules less than one nanometer wide. This study provides the first evidence that nanoscale molecular superconducting wires can be fabricated, which could be used for nanoscale electronic devices and energy applications.

This image shows the smallest superconductor, which is only .87 nanometer wide


This image shows the smallest superconductor, which is only .87 nanometer wide.


A nanometer-scale probe designed to slip into a cell wall and fuse with it could offer researchers a portal for extended eavesdropping on the inner electrical activity of individual cells. Everything from signals generated as cells communicate with each other to "digestive rumblings" as cells react to medication could be monitored for up to a week. Current methods of probing a cell are so destructive they usually only allow a few hours of observation before the cell dies. The researchers are the first to implant an inorganic device into a cell wall without damaging it.

A tiny defect in graphene may create smaller, faster electronics. When most of us hear the word 'defect', we think of a problem that has to be solved. But a team of researchers have created a new defect that just might be a solution to a growing challenge in the development of future electronic devices. They found a way to create a well-defined, extended defect several atoms across, containing octagonal and pentagonal carbon rings embedded in a perfect graphene sheet. This defect acts as a quasi-one-dimensional metallic wire that easily conducts electric current. Such defects could be used as metallic interconnects or elements of device structures of all-carbon, atomic-scale electronics.

An artist's conception of a row of intentional molecular defects in a sheet of graphene


An artist's conception of a row of intentional molecular defects in a sheet of graphene. The defects effectively create a metal wire in the sheet. This discovery may lead to smaller yet faster computers in the future.


Nanotechnology-enabled pill signals it has been swallowed. Seeking a way to confirm that patients have taken their medication, engineering researchers have added a tiny microchip and digestible antenna to a standard pill capsule. The prototype is intended to pave the way for mass-produced pills that, when ingested, automatically alert doctors, loved ones or scientists working with patients in clinical drug trials.

And finally, again some amazing images. During the 2009 MRS Fall Meeting in Boston, MA last year, the MRS conducted the eigth installment of the popular "Science as Art" competition. The six first-place and second-place winners are shown here.

single crystalline diamond grain that is anisotropically etched by hot spheres of molten nickel


Easter eggs? The imaged object is a single crystalline diamond grain that is anisotropically etched by hot spheres of molten nickel (red). Self-organized nickel particles are obtained by sintering a thin Ni film (100 nm) that is evaporated on a polished diamond substrate.