Friday, August 27, 2010

This week in nanotechnology - August 27, 2010

Scientists and engineers seek to meet three goals in the production of biofuels from non-edible sources such as microalgae: efficiency, economical production and ecological sustainability. Syracuse University researchers have uncovered a process that is a promising step toward accomplishing these three goals. They have discovered a method to make algae, which can be used in the production of biofuels, grow faster by manipulating light particles through the use of nanobiotechnology. By creating accelerated photosynthesis, algae will grow faster with minimal change in the ecological resources required.

Just as cilia lining the lungs help keep passages clear by moving particles along the tips of the tiny hair-structures, man-made miniscule bristles known as nano-brushes can help reduce friction along surfaces at the molecular level, among other things. In their latest series of experiments, Duke University engineers have developed a novel approach to synthesize these nano-brushes, which could improve their versatility in the future. These polymer brushes are currently being used in biologic sensors and microscopic devices, such as microcantilevers, and they will play an important role in the future drive to miniaturization, the researchers said.

In a step toward more efficient, smaller and higher-definition display screens, a University of Michigan professor has developed a new type of color filter made of nano-thin sheets of metal with precisely spaced gratings. The gratings, sliced into metal-dielectric-metal stacks, act as resonators. They trap and transmit light of a particular color, or wavelength. Simply by changing the space between the slits, the researchers can generate different colors. Through nanostructuring, they can render white light any color.

An optical microscopy image of seven color filters illuminated by white microscope light

An optical microscopy image of seven color filters illuminated by white microscope light.


If a drug can be guided to the right place in the body, the treatment is more effective and there are fewer side-effects. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have now developed magnetic nanoparticles that can be directed to metallic implants such as artificial knee joints, hip joints and stents in the coronary arteries. The team has shown that the principle works in animal experiments. They have succeeded in attaching a clot-dissolving drug to the nanoparticles and, with the help of magnets, have directed the particles to a blood clot in a stent in the heart to dissolve it. Thus the nanoparticles have been able to stop an incipient heart attack.

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed extremely small microneedles that can be used to deliver medically-relevant nanoscale dyes called quantum dots into skin – an advance that opens the door to new techniques for diagnosing and treating a variety of medical conditions, including skin cancer.

Using a cutting edge nanotechnology, researchers at MIT have created a robotic prototype that could autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site. The system, called Seaswarm, is a fleet of vehicles that may make cleaning up future oil spills both less expensive and more efficient than current skimming methods.



NanoEngineers at the University of California, San Diego are designing new types of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries that could be used in a variety of NASA space exploration projects – and in a wide range of transportation and consumer applications. The nearly $600,000 program builds upon expertise in the UC San Diego Department of NanoEngineering in modeling new nanocomposite structures for next generation electrode materials, and NEI's capability to reproducibly synthesize electrode materials at the nanoscale.