Friday, April 9, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - April 9, 2010

HP Labs researchers have discovered that the “memristor“ – a resistor with memory that represents the fourth basic circuit element in electrical engineering – has more capabilities than was previously thought. In addition to being useful in storage devices, the memristor can perform logic, enabling computation to one day be performed in chips where data is stored, rather than on a specialized central processing unit.

Nanobio chip checks for oral cancer: The gentle touch of a lesion on the tongue or cheek with a brush can help detect oral cancer with success rates comparable to more invasive techniques, according to preliminary studies by researchers at Rice University, the University of Texas Health Science Centers at Houston and San Antonio and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

A simple cotton T-shirt may one day be converted into tougher, more comfortable body armor for soldiers or police officers. Researchers drastically increased the toughness of a T-shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron – the third hardest material on earth. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, the same material used to protect tanks.

Carbon nanotubes, long touted for applications in materials and electronics, may also be the stuff of atomic-scale black holes. Physicists at Harvard University have found that a high-voltage nanotube can cause cold atoms to spiral inward under dramatic acceleration before disintegrating violently. Their experiments are the first to demonstrate something akin to a black hole at atomic scale.

atomic-scale black holes

Launched laser-cooled atoms are captured by a single, suspended, single-wall carbon nanotube charged to hundreds of volts. A captured atom spirals towards the nanotube (white path) and reaches the environs of the tube surface, where its valence electron (yellow) tunnels into the tube. The resulting ion (purple) is ejected and detected, and the dynamics at the nanoscale are sensitively probed.

Silicon has dominated solid-state electronics for more than four decades but now a variety of other materials are being explored in photonic devices to expand the wavelength range of operation and to improve performance. Graphene is such a material – although most research on graphene so far has focused mainly on electronics. IBM researchers have now shown that graphene-based devices can be used in optical communications. Introducing this new material system into photonics could have a significant impact on mainstream optical applications.