Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: March 1, 2006
In this issue:
Foresight has articulated six critical challenges that humanity faces which can be addressed by nanotechnology. In the Weekly News Digest we identify news items, research breakthroughs, and events citing current research and applications providing the stepping stones to solutions to these challenges.
Foresight note: This article discusses a microreactor that is a step toward the nanotech promise of decentralized and mobile power generation.
Headline: Engineer's fuel-making machine is a natural
Imagine gas without gas stations.
A new invention by an Oregon State University engineer offers an intriguing peek at what for some could be do-it-yourself fuel, thanks to a tiny chemical reactor that can turn vegetable oil and alcohol into biodiesel. The microreactor — a single unit is about the size of half a credit card and twice as thick — is the invention of OSU chemical engineering professor Goran Jovanovic.
"This could be as important an invention as the mouse for your PC," Jovanovic said. "If we're successful with this, nobody will ever make biodiesel any other way."
Homemade fuel would be a natural for farmers, who could even produce the vegetable oil from soybeans or oilseed crops. And even though the average car owner might never get a home biodiesel kit for Christmas, the new technology not only could help reduce dependence on foreign oil but also shift some fuel production from centralized refineries to clean, local producers.
Foresight note: This research will have some implications on how water behaves when it is squeezed into very small spaces, such as a carbon nanotube. This may lead to more effective nanofiltration.
Headline: Supercomputer Study of Water
Familiar as it is, there's a lot we don't know about water — such as the structure taken up by liquid water molecules. With a grant of time on one of the fastest computers in the U.S., researchers at UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Berkeley hope to plunge into the problem and come up with some answers.
"Water is unique. It shouldn't be a liquid at this temperature," said Giulia Galli, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and principal investigator on the project.
Studies on the structure of liquid water date back to 1893. Until recently, water molecules were thought to cluster in tetrahedral groups of four. But in 2004, researchers at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center claimed to have found structures of rings and chains instead. Another team at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory conducted similar experiments and reaffirmed the old tetrahedral model.
Foresight note: This research details how nanoparticles are being created and manipulated to become better imaging agents for the early detection of small tumors.
Headline: Bismuth Nanoparticles Yield Promising X-ray Imaging Agent
A major focus of research in cancer nanotechnology aims to develop nanoparticles that can improve the ability of various imaging techniques to spot tumors at a very early stage. While these efforts have focused almost exclusively on developing so-called "contrast agents" for use with magnetic resonance and ultrasound imaging, one group of investigators has now developed a polymer-coated bismuth nanoparticle that holds promise for improving the tumor-detecting capabilities of computed tomography X-ray imaging, or CT.
Reporting its work in the journal Nature Materials, a team of researchers led by Ralph Weissleder, M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, began their work by refining a method for growing bismuth sulphide nanocrystals to produce flat, rectangular particles of reproducible size and shape. They then coated the resulting nanocrystal with the biocompatible polymer poly(vinylpyrrolidone), or PVP, to create nanoparticles that would be inert in the body, absorb X-rays efficiently, and remain long enough to accumulate in the tumor, and thus, be more visible in a CT image. The researchers note that the PVP coating should also enable them to add tumor-targeting molecules to the particles to increase their ability to image small tumors.
Laboratory miniaturization: Reconfigurable cell adhesion substrates – A team led by Shuichi Takayama, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has replicated the nano-scale features and stickiness of cell-adhesion molecules in a laboratory device. Studying how the surface of a cell interacts with adhesion proteins is key to understanding signal transduction, growth, differentiation, motility and cell death. But in vitro models are hard to come by.
Foresight note: This conference features several sessions on key topics regarding nanotechnology applications in agriculture. One session focuses on U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative: Implications for the Food Industry.
Headline: Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture
Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture is scheduled for June 6-7, 2006 in Washington, DC. This is the first conference to focus specifically on potential applications of nanotechnology in food and agriculture. This event offers attendees an opportunity to capitalize on new developments being explored by leading manufacturers within the industry and the chance to avoid the potential pitfalls surrounding this innovative approach to technological development.
The potential applications of nanotechnology is forecast to be a trillion dollar market by 2011 and could revolutionize the food industry, increasing the efficiency of agricultural production, improving the efficacy of functional foods and creating intelligent packaging with in-built food safety mechanisms. At the same time, opponents of nanotechnology are voicing concerns, which are reminiscent of the global biotechnology debate.
Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture will look at the calls already being made for regulation, and give you the chance to hear the views of government agencies that have direct influence in this area. If food and agribusiness companies act now to address these concerns, they can reduce the chances of punitive legislation, which may restrict future growth.
Foresight note: These nano skins according to researchers can be bent, rolled and flexed while they maintain their conductivity.
Headline: 'Nano skins' show promise as flexible electronic devices
A team of researchers has developed a new process to make flexible, conducting 'nano skins' for a variety of applications, from electronic paper to sensors for detecting chemical and biological agents. The materials, which are described in the March issue of the journal Nano Letters, combine the strength and conductivity of carbon nanotubes with the flexibility of traditional polymers.
"Researchers have long been interested in making composites of nanotubes and polymers, but it can be difficult to engineer the interfaces between the two materials," says Pulickel Ajayan, the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "We have found a way to get arrays of nanotubes into a soft polymer matrix without disturbing the shape, size, or alignment of the nanotubes."
Foresight note: Although the experiments discussed in this article are happening at the micron level, the promise of self healing materials is one of the many nanotech promises in context with space exploration.
Headline: Spacecraft skin 'heals' itself
A material that could enable spacecraft to automatically "heal" punctures and leaks is being tested in simulated space conditions on Earth. The self-healing spacecraft skin is being developed by Ian Bond and Richard Trask from the University of Bristol, UK, as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) project. The researchers have taken inspiration from human skin, which heals a cut by exposing blood to air, which congeals to forms a protective scab.
Productive Nanosystems – News & Events
In this section of the Weekly News Digest we will cover news, presentations or research that lead to Productive Nanosystems.
Productive Nanosystems will be molecular-scale systems that make other useful materials and devices that are nanostructured. Foresight and Battelle have launched the development of the International Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, with seed funding provided by the Waitt Family Foundation. Our next Working Group meeting will be held at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in March. You can become a participant in this exciting project by having your company become a Sponsor. If you are interested in becoming a Roadmap Sponsor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Presentation: Engineering from the Bottom Up — Productive Nanosystems and the Future of Technology
K. Eric Drexler, PhD
Progress in molecular and nanoscale technologies has provided components and techniques that enable the engineering of artificial molecular machine systems, including early-generation productive nanosystems. These early-generation systems will have a wide range of applications, and can be used to build more advanced systems. Exploratory design and analysis shows this can lead to large-scale productive nanosystems that can make macro products with atomic precision and can greatly exceed the productivity of conventional manufacturing. The recently launched Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will describe the next steps and longer-term opportunities at this frontier of engineering.
If you attend or use any of our partners' events or services, please tell them you heard about it from Foresight Nanotech Institute.
March 13, 2006 – An Evening With Donald Kennedy, Editor, Science Magazine & Former President of Stanford University
Prof. Donald Kennedy, formerly President of Stanford University and currently editor-in-chief of Science magazine, will speak at this evening event at Stanford. Prof. Kennedy served as the President of Stanford University from 1980 to 1992 and served as the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1977 to 1979 during the Carter administration.
A world-renowned scientist, public administrator and academic, he will address issues regarding the importance of science and regulations and their impacts on new technologies and entrepreneurship. His presentation will be followed by a presentation by Ed Allera, former FDA attorney, who is intimately familiar with the FDA process for approval of new therapeutics and devices.
April 25-26, 2006 – Carbon Nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes are poised to take the world by storm! This tiny technology has the potential to revolutionize strength and light weighing across a multitude of different materials, making it suitable applications as widespread as aeronautics and packaging. Attend this groundbreaking event to find out where this burgeoning technology is heading and what opportunities it could offer your business.
May 7-11, 2006 – Nanotech 2006
Are you ready for the US's largest nanotechnology conference? It's coming up, May 7-11, 2006, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. It's the Nano Science and Technology (NSTI) Nanotech 2006 conference, featuring more than eight hundred technology presentations, government program reviews, early stage company showcase and expanded vertical industry symposia. Attendance is expected to exceed 3,000 with 200+ exhibitors.
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Headline: Nano World: Making safer carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes can get modified to help them pass apparently safely through bloodstreams, potentially easing past concerns about nanotube toxicity, experts told UPI's Nano World.
"Our studies indicate that provided those structures are properly modified to be made biocompatible, toxicity levels should be tolerable. This automatically opens up the door for the development of carbon nanostructure-based pharmaceuticals," said researcher Kostas Kostarelos, a pharmaceutical nanotechnology expert at the University of London's School of Pharmacy.
While carbon nanotubes have attracted much attention for their potential applications in electronics and advanced high-strength composite materials, scientists are also developing carbon nanotubes for use in medical therapies. For instance, Kostarelos and his colleagues in France and Italy discovered carbon nanotubes could transfer DNA into cells. They also have modified nanotubes "with anticancer drugs like methotrexate," Kostarelos said.
However, prior experiments raised fears that carbon nanotubes could be toxic. For example, when inhaled nanotubes can accumulate in the lungs, causing inflammation. Kostarelos and his colleagues noted all these studies involved pristine nanotubes, which "are not water soluble, therefore not compatible with any type of biological fluid or tissue," he said. Instead, the researchers developed carbon nanotubes with chemically modified surfaces that make them soluble in water.
Headline: Programs Focus on Work Focus for Nanotech Industry, National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network educates teachers, students and the general public
Who will operate the nanotechnology factories of the future? Will the public be able to make informed decisions about new nanometer-scale products and services? Will tomorrow's nanotechnology industry face the same kind of backlash as today's genetically modified food industry?
These are some of the questions that concern Nancy Healy. As education coordinator for the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), she's helping develop educational outreach programs designed to ensure that tomorrow's workers have the right skills for nanotechnology industries — and that the public will be able to separate nanotechnology fact from fiction.
Dear readers — When reviewing news for this digest, I often read about something that I think is cool, but it doesn't fit within the usual editorial categories of the News Digest. This section highlights a nanotech advance or idea that I think is especially cool.
I realize that I am biased about this nanotech innovation. I was attending a play last Saturday and an individual's cell phone rang. The ring obliterated the punch line between two actors at a critical moment, so right now I think this coat of silence is cool.
Headline: Slapping on a coat of silence
The intrusion of cellular phone rings into theaters, schools and nearly every other nook and cranny of modern life may soon hit a wall.
Playing to the backlash against ubiquitous communication, a company called NaturalNano is developing a special high-tech paint that relies on the wizardry of nanotechnology to create a system that locks out unwanted cell phone signals on demand. The paint represents a dream to those who seek a distraction-free movie or concert experience, and a nightmare to those who compulsively monitor their BlackBerry phones.
"You could use this in a concert hall, allowing cell phones to work before the concert and during breaks, but shutting them down during the performance," said Michael Riedlinger, president of NaturalNano of Rochester, N.Y.
His firm has found a way to use nanotechnology to blend particles of copper into paint that can be brushed onto walls and effectively deflect radio signals.
The copper is inserted into nanotubes, which are ultra-tiny tubes that occur naturally in halloysite clay mined in Utah. The nanotubes are about 20,000 times thinner than a piece of paper, too small to be seen with even a conventional microscope. At this size, which is near the molecular scale, materials have different physical properties than they normally do.
By filling these tubes with nano-particles of copper, the company can create a medium to suspend the signal-blocking metal throughout a can of paint without significantly changing the way the paint adheres to a surface.
NaturalNano will combine this signal-blocking paint scheme with a radio- filtering device that collects phone signals from outside a shielded space, allowing certain transmissions to proceed while blocking others.
NaturalNano is a corporate member of Foresight Nanotech Institute.
Join the discussion – visit our blog Nanodot led by Christine Peterson.
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Special thanks to Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges Research Volunteer Michelle Hubbard, MSc Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan
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