Friday, May 14, 2010

This week in nanotechnology, May 14, 2010

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have managed, with the help of an advanced X-ray flash, to photograph the movement of atoms during photosynthesis. Using the special X-ray camera, researchers can depict the position of atoms in a molecule and obtain a three-dimensional image of something that is smaller than a nanometer.

Further revealing the secrets behind photosynthesis, researchers in the U.S. have recorded the first observation and characterization of a critical physical phenomenon behind photosynthesis known as quantum entanglement. This is the first study to show that entanglement, perhaps the most distinctive property of quantum mechanical systems, is present across an entire light harvesting complex.

In a single day, a solitary grad student at a lab bench can produce more simple logic circuits than the world's entire output of silicon chips in a month. So says a Duke University engineer, who believes that the next generation of these logic circuits at the heart of computers will be produced inexpensively in almost limitless quantities. The secret is that instead of silicon chips serving as the platform for electric circuits, computer engineers will take advantage of the unique properties of DNA. DNA-based, waffle-like nanostructures will efficiently self-assemble, and when different light-sensitive molecules are added to the mixture, the waffles exhibit unique and "programmable" properties.

Self-assembling, waffle-like nanostructures

Self-assembling, waffle-like nanostructures.

MIT researchers find a way to calculate the effects of Casimir forces. Discovered in 1948, Casimir forces are complicated quantum forces that affect only objects that are very, very close together. They’re so subtle that for most of the 60-odd years since their discovery, engineers have safely ignored them. Now, the MIT team have developed a powerful new tool for calculating the effects of Casimir forces, with ramifications for both basic physics and the design of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).

Nanotechnology sensor detects type 1 diabetes in breath. Acetone is also found in a healthy person’s breath, but the concentration is only about 900 ppb (particles per billion); in people suffering from type 1 diabetes, however, the concentration is double that; and in the case of a ketoacidosis it can be even higher. That’s why the sensor developed at ETH Zurich works so well: it can detect as few as 20 ppb of acetone and even works at extremely high humidity levels of over 90 percent - like in the human breath.

Physicists at McGill University have developed a system for measuring the energy involved in adding electrons to semi-conductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots - a technology that may revolutionize computing and other areas of science. The team has developed a cantilever force sensor that enables individual electrons to be removed and added to a quantum dot and the energy involved in the operation to be measured.

Researchers from Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created and programmed robots the size of single molecule that can move independently across a nano-scale track. This development marks an important advancement in the nascent fields of molecular computing and robotics, and could someday lead to molecular robots that can fix individual cells or assemble nanotechnology products.