Category Archives: nanotechnology

Will Nanotubes Make You Super-Smart?

Researchers in Italy and Switzerland have found carbon nanotubes to be bio-compatible and that the can be attached to neurons to boost the natural signal-processing capabilities of those neurons.

“Our findings show that carbon nanotubes, which are as good an electrical signal conductor as the nerve cells of our brain, form intimate mechanical contacts with the cellular membranes, establishing a functional link to neuronal structures,” said University of Trieste (Italy) professor Laura Ballerini…

…the current results explaining the biocompatibility of carbon nanotubes hold the promise of enabling permanent repairs to be made to the faulty neurons, enhancing the performance of these networks and restoring their original functions…

The researchers propose engineering carbon nanotube scaffolds as electrical bypass circuitry, not only for faulty neural networks but potentially to enhance the performance of healthy cells to provide “superhuman” cognitive functions. [Emphasis added. From EE Times – Nanotubes shown to boost neuron signals by R. Colin Johnson.]

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‘4-D’ Microscope Revolutionizes The Way We Look At Nano World

More than a century ago, the development of the earliest motion picture technology made what had been previously thought “magical” a reality: capturing and recreating the movement and dynamism of the world around us. A breakthrough technology based on new concepts has now accomplished a similar feat, but on an atomic scale–by allowing, for the first time, the real-time, real-space visualization of fleeting changes in the structure and shape of matter barely a billionth of a meter in size.

Such “movies” of atomic changes in materials of gold and graphite, obtained using the technique, are featured in a paper appearing in the November 21 issue of the journal Science. A patent on the conceptual framework of this approach was granted to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2006.

The new technique, dubbed four-dimensional (4D) electron microscopy, was developed in the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, directed by Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics at Caltech, and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for pioneering the science of femtochemistry, the use of ultrashort laser flashes to observe fundamental chemical reactions–atoms uniting into molecules, then breaking apart back into atoms–occurring at the timescale of the femtosecond, or one millionth of a billionth of a second. The work “captured atoms and molecules in motion,” Zewail says, akin to the freeze-frame stills snapped by 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge of a galloping horse (which proved for the first time that a horse does indeed lift all four hooves off the ground as it gallops) and other moving objects.

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Living computers within your body

Project leaders Maung Nyan Win and Christina Smolke have revealed that, so far, they have tested the living computer on a living yeast cell.

The researchers believe that future models of the computer, made from the DNA-like molecule RNA, may be helpful in running calculations inside human cells to release drugs, or prime the immune system, at the first hint of illness.

They have revealed that the RNA device processes input signals in the form of natural cell proteins and produces an output in the form of green fluorescent protein (GFP).

At the computers heart is a ribozyme, a short RNA molecule able to catalyse changes to other molecules, which is attached to an RNA sequence that the cell can translate into GFP, and a third RNA molecule that acts like a trigger for the ribozyme.

The team say that the trigger can be designed to bind to specific molecules inside the cell like proteins or antibiotics.

When it does, the catalytic ribozyme destroys the GFP sequence, and prevents the cell from making any more glowing protein.

The presence of an input protein stops the production of GFP. Using two trigger sections produces a NAND gate, the output of which depends on the presence or absence of two input proteins.

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Making Skin for Robots

Like it or not, the day is coming when we’ll live side by side with humanoids. But although most modern robots can grip objects and avoid walls, they lack a vital quality in any companion: feeling. They don’t need to get your jokes or sense that you had a bad day, but without all-over sensors that can detect things like motion and body heat, there’s nothing to tell them that, for instance, they’re stepping on the baby.

That’s about to change. In August, University of Tokyo researcher Takao Someya made elastic conductors that could someday give robots humanlike skin. Until now, no one had succeeded in combining the conductivity of metals with the flexibility of rubber—most elastic materials have near-zero conductivity. The new skin combines a salty liquid with malleable single-walled carbon nanotubes that can stretch to 134 percent their original size and improve conductivity by 570 percent. Equipped with sensors, the material could detect pressure and heat to recognize a tap on the shoulder or gauge the strength of someone’s grip.

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Carbon Nanotube Manufacturing Breakthrough Could Mean Bye-Bye Steel

Carbon nanotubes have been popping on Giz for a while, touted as one of the next wonder-materials—but a new development in their manufacture means they may not remain “future technology” for long. In fact the work of a team at CSIRO and the University of Texas at Dallas means that commercial-scale production of sheets of carbon nanotube “textile” is possible at up to seven metres per minute.

And these are no ordinary textiles either: they’re transparent and way stronger than a sheet of steel. The team’s technique involves chemically-growing “forests” of nanotubes that self-assemble, and is reported in Science currently. If it proves true we may see nanotube materials replacing metals like steel pretty soon—though I’m not sure how many people would balk at flying in a plane with wings you can partly see through.

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Scientists Develop Brighter And Thinner LCDs Using Nanowires

The world of LCD screens could be changed for the better in the near future thanks to a breakthrough of two scientists from the University of Central Florida, Orlando. Zhibing Ge and Shin-Tson Wu used nanoimprinting technology to improve that contrast ratio in LCDs. Thanks to the nano-sized polarizers, soon we could have brighter, lighter, and thinner LCD TVs, mobile screens, and computer monitors.

The scientists were able to develop such a display thanks to a so-called nanowire grid polarizer, or NWGP, which is used for backlight recycling and which improves the optical efficiency of a LCD which also leads to a decrease of the power consumption.

“The method for fabricating large area wire-grid polarizers is advancing rapidly, benefiting from the huge research momentum of nano-imprinting technology. Nowadays, it is possible to fabricate NWGPs with a pitch of 100 nanometers or smaller. Different from the reflective polarizers made from multilayer films, WGP is a grating structure which can exhibit a very high transmission contrast ratio. As a result, it holds potential for replacing the bottom sheet LP which is close to the backlight side in a LCD,” said Shin-Tson Wu.

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Beyond Nano Breakthrough, MIT Team Quietly Builds Virus-Based Batteries

In a surprise development that could have implications for powering electronics, cars and even the military, researchers at MIT have created the world’s first batteries constructed at the nano scale by microscopic viruses.

A much-buzzed-about paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month details the team’s success in creating two of the three parts of a working battery—the positively charged anode and the electrolyte. But team leader Angela Belcher told PM Wednesday that the team has been seriously working on cathode technology for the past year, creating several complete prototypes.

“We haven’t published those yet, actually. We’re just getting ready to write them up and send them off,” says Belcher, who won a MacArthur genius grant for her work in 2004 and a Breakthrough Award from PM in 2006. “The cathode material has been a little more difficult, but we have several different candidates, and we have made full, working batteries.”

Instead of physically arranging the component parts, researchers genetically engineer viruses to attract individual molecules of materials they’re interested in, like cobalt oxide, from a solution, autonomously forming wires 17,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper that pack themselves together to form electrodes smaller than a human cell.

“Once you do the genetic engineering with the viruses themselves, you pour in the solution and they grow the right combination of these materials on them,” Belcher says.

The team is working on three main architectures: Filmlike structures—as small as a human cell—could form a clear film to power lab-on-a-chip applications to laminate into smart cards, or even to interface with implanted medical devices. Meshlike architectures—billions of tiny nano-components all interfaced together—might one day replace conventional batteries in larger applications such as laptops and cars. And fiberlike configurations—spun from liquid crystal like a spider’s silk—might one day be woven into textiles, providing a wearable power source for the military. “We definitely don’t have full batteries on those [fiber architectures]. We’ve only worked on single electrodes so far, but the idea is to try to make these fiber batteries that could be integrated into textiles and woven into lots of different shapes,” Belcher says.

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Intel ready to announce six-core chip

Intel is expected to announce the “Dunnington” processor later this month, the first six-core processor and last of its Penryn-class chips.

Intel on September 15 is expected to roll out the Intel Xeon 7400 series Dunnington processor targeted at the server market, the final member of the “Penryn” family of processors, according to sources at server vendors. Penryn will be followed by the Nehalem microarchitecture, due to appear initially as the Core i7 processor in the fourth quarter.

Server vendors announcing products will include Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, according to Intel senior vice presiden Pat Gelsinger, speaking at the Intel Developer Forum last month. Other server makers such as IBM and Unisys are also expected to have systems.

The Xeon 7400 boasts significantly better performance due to its large 16MB cache memory and half a dozen cores

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Nanotech Gets Funding For Diamondoid Mechanosynthesis Experiments

Finally experiments have been funded to test the viability of diamond mechanosynthesis as described in detail by Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle. This is a major step towards achieving the long held vision of molecular nanotechnology as envisioned by Eric Drexler.

Professor Philip Moriarty of the Nanoscience Group in the School of Physics at the University of Nottingham (U.K.) has been awarded a five-year £1.67M ($3.3M) grant by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to perform a series of laboratory experiments designed to investigate the possibility of diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS). DMS is a proposed method for building diamond nanostructures, atom by atom, using the techniques of scanning probe microscopy under ultra-high vacuum conditions. Moriarty’s project, titled “Digital Matter? Towards Mechanised Mechanosynthesis,” was funded under the Leadership Fellowship program of EPSRC. Moriarty’s experiments begin in October 2008.

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This is an important step for nanotechnology.

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Could a Contact Lens Save Your Vision?

Drug dispenser?

Soon contact lenses won’t just correct eyesight; they could save your vision.

By applying electrically conductive, antibiotic nanosilver particles to contact lenses, researchers at the University of California, Davis, can continuously map the pressure inside a human eye while administering medication directly and painlessly into it.

The new lenses promise to advance understanding of diseases like glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, and could save the eyesight of millions, say the researchers.

“It would be really helpful to measure the pressure inside the eye continuously,” said Tingrui Pan, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of a paper describing the lenses in Advanced Functional Materials.

Pressure inside the eye, the leading indication of glaucoma, can vary widely from day to day, even minute to minute. Currently, doctors only measure pressure every few months (depending on the patient), said James Brandt, a physician at UC Davis who is involved in the research.

“Compare that to another chronic disease like diabetes, where we can have blood sugar measurements several times a day,” he added.

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My own contact lenses have been bugging the crap out of me for as long as I can remember.

Every time a new and better generation of contacts is brought to the market, my life gets a tiny bit more comfortable.

Just imagine… contacts that work with you, instead of against you.