Friday, January 28, 2011

This week in nanotechnology - January 28, 2011

Van der Waals forces are fundamental for chemistry, biology and physics. However, they are among the weakest known chemical interactions, so they are notoriously hard to study. This force is so weak that it is hard to notice in everyday life. But delve into the world of micro-machines and nano-robots, and you will feel the force – everywhere. To study the van-der-Waals force, researchers have designed a sophisticated experimental setup that can measure the interactions between single atoms and a surface.

Researchers developed a molecular machine constructed in a similar way to a record player. The team has succeeded for the first time in directly controlling the magnetic state of a single molecule at room temperature. The switchable molecule could be used both in the construction of tiny electromagnetic storage units and in the medical imaging.

Curved carbon for electronics of the future. A new scientific discovery could have profound implications for nanoelectronic components. Researchers from the Nano-Science Center at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, in collaboration with Japanese researchers, have shown how electrons on thin tubes of graphite exhibit a unique interaction between their motion and their attached magnetic field – the so-called spin. The discovery paves the way for unprecedented control over the spin of electrons and may have a big impact on applications for spin-based nanoelectronics.

Despite the sophistication and range of contemporary microscopy techniques, many important biological phenomena still elude the precision of even the most sensitive tools. The need for refined imaging methods for fundamental research and biomedical applications related to the study of disease remains acute. Researchers at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have pioneered a new technique capable of peering into single cells and even intracellular processes with unprecedented clarity. The method, known as electrochemical impedance microscopy (EIM) may be used to explore subtle features of profound importance for basic and applied research, including cell adhesion, cell death (or apoptosis) and electroporation—a process that can be used to introduce DNA or drugs into cells.

Researchers from Boston College, MIT, Clemson University and the University of Virginia have used nanotechnology to achieve a 60-90 percent increase in the thermoelectric figure of merit of p-type half-Heusler, a common bulk semiconductor compound. The dramatic increase in the figure of merit, used to measure a material's relative thermoelectric performance, could pave the way for a new generation of products – from car exhaust systems and power plants to solar power technology – that runs cleaner.

Northwestern University researchers have developed a new technique for rapidly prototyping nanoscale devices and structures that is so inexpensive the "print head" can be thrown away when done.
Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography (HSL) rolls into one method the best of scanning-probe lithography -- high resolution -- and the best of polymer pen lithography -- low cost and easy implementation.

And finally, some Friday fun. Take a look at some of the winning images from a recent nano-image competition, like this 'stem of nanoflowers'.