Friday, August 20, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - August 20, 2010

Researchers demonstrate that non-viral gene therapy can delay the onset of some forms of eye disease and preserve vision. The team developed nanoparticles to deliver therapeutic genes to the retina and found that treated mice temporarily retained more eyesight than controls.

Nanocorrosion causes implants to fail. Extra-hard coatings made from diamond-like carbon (DLC) extend the operating lifetime of tools and components. In artificial joints, however, these coatings often fail because they detach. Empa researchers found out why – and developed methods to both make the interface between the DLC layer and the metal underneath corrosion-resistant and to predict the lifetime of the implants.

Ultra- or supercapacitors are emerging as a key enabling storage technology for use in fuel-efficient transport as well as in renewable energy. Engineers hope that supercapacitors can bridge the gap between batteries and electrolytic capacitors, but contemporary devices have a lower specific energy than Li-ion batteries and are orders of magnitude slower than electrolytic capacitors. Researchers have now shown that by moving from porous carbon with a network of pores inside particles as electrode material to exposed surfaces of nanostructured carbon onions of 6-7 nm diameter, it is possible to reach the discharge rate (power) of electrolytic capacitors, but with volumetric capacitance about four orders of magnitude higher.

Clinical trials using patients' own immune cells to target tumors have yielded promising results. However, this approach usually works only if the patients also receive large doses of drugs designed to help immune cells multiply rapidly, and those drugs have life-threatening side effects. Now a team of MIT engineers has devised a way to deliver the necessary drugs by smuggling them on the backs of the cells sent in to fight the tumor. That way, the drugs reach only their intended targets, greatly reducing the risk to the patient.

drug-carrying pouches attached to the surfaces of cells

Engineers have developed a way to attach drug-carrying pouches (yellow) to the surfaces of cells.

As semiconductor manufacturers build ever smaller components, circuits and chips at the nano scale become less reliable and more expensive to produce. The variability in their behavior from device to device and over their lifetimes – due to manufacturing, aging-related wear-out, and varying operating environments – is largely ignored by today's mainstream computer systems. Now a visionary team of computer scientists and electrical engineers from six universities is proposing to deal with the downside of nanoscale computer components by re-thinking and enhancing the role that software can play in a new class of computing machines that are adaptive and highly energy efficient.