Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: March 21, 2007
Headline: Molecular machine work wins $25,000
A Yale researcher has won the $25,000 Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences for his discovery of natural molecular machine that guides some proteins to fold properly in the warm, crowded environment inside cells:
"They learned that a large double donut-shaped machine is responsible. They analyzed how that machine uses the energy of ATP and a lid structure to mediate folding inside a cavity within the ring. They found that an unfolded protein binds within an open ring of the machine and then the lid structure encapsulates it. The protein then folds in the sequestered space inside the cavity. The protein, through the action of ATP, pops out in its folded form in a sort of jack-in-the-box mechanism."
In the near term, this may be important for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, in which proteins misfold. Longer-term, knowing how proteins fold can help us design and build new nanoscale objects and molecular machines.
— Nanodot post by Christine Peterson
Health: Nanotube biological probes for intracellular studies
Foresight note: The ability to detect single molecules at and deliver drugs to specific locations within cells will facilitate basic biomedical research.
Headline: Nanotube biological probes for intracellular studies
A novel technique of multifunctional nanotubes with controllable amounts of nanoparticles embedded in their walls during the synthesis process [leaves] the CNT bore accessible and [keeps] the nanoparticles shielded from the environment by the CNT walls. This paves the way to using carbon nanotubes as nanoscale biological probes for sub-cellular investigation.
"We developed a simple method to give some additional properties to carbon nanotubes, such as making them magnetic or adding sensing properties, without altering them too much," Dr. Yury Gogotsi explains to Nanowerk. "We used different kinds of nanoparticles to add different functionalities to the resulting nanotubes by producing nanostructures within the walls or inside tube channels without altering the chemistry of the nanotube surfaces."
Headline: Cheap nano solar cells
Researchers at University of Notre Dame...added single-walled carbon nanotubes to a film made of titanium-dioxide nanoparticles, doubling the efficiency of converting ultraviolet light into electrons when compared with the performance of the nanoparticles alone. The solar cells could be used to make hydrogen for fuel cells directly from water or for producing electricity. Titanium oxide is a main ingredient in white paint.
The approach, developed by Notre Dame professor of chemistry and biochemistry Prashant Kamat and his colleagues, addresses one of the most significant limitations of solar cells based on nanoparticles...Such cells are appealing because nanoparticles have a great potential for absorbing light and generating electrons. But so far, the efficiency of actual devices made of such nanoparticles has been considerably lower than that of conventional silicon solar cells...The carbon nanotubes "collect" the electrons and provide a more direct route to the electrode, improving the efficiency of the solar cells.
Nano Letters abstract
Headline: Nanoparticles enhance photosynthesis
Metal nanoparticles can increase the efficiency of energy produced in photosynthetic systems, according to work by researchers in the US and Israel. The novel hybrid system, which consists of a photosynthetic reaction centre containing chlorophyll bound to gold and silver nanocrystals, produces ten times more excited electrons thanks to plasmon resonance and fast electron-hole separation. The enhancement mechanisms could be used to design artificial light-harvesting systems, say the scientists.
Nano Letters abstract
Do you believe that nanotechnology will give society the ability tackle the hard challenges facing humanity? What's your priority for nanotechnology: cancer treatments and longevity therapies, sustainable energy, clean water, a restored environment, space development, or "zero waste" manufacturing? Or perhaps there are potential nanotech scenarios you would like to prevent.
If you would like to help influence the direction of this powerful technology, please consider becoming a member of Foresight Nanotech Institute. With your support, Foresight will continue to educate the general public on beneficial nanotechnology and what it will mean to our society.
Headline: Nanotechnology oversight requires thinking outside the box
With hundreds of nanotechnology-enabled products already on the market and many more in the commercial pipeline, a new report by a former senior Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official urges policymakers to give greater attention to the challenges of crafting an oversight system that can effectively address health and safety issues particular to nanoscale materials and devices.
"It is time for government, industry, the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and other interested parties to begin a more systematic discussion about the core elements of an oversight framework for nanoscale materials" writes Mark Greenwood in 'Thinking Big About Things Small: Creating an Effective Oversight System for Nanotechnology'. Greenwood worked for EPA for over 16 years and was director of EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics from 1990 to 1994.
Headline: Nanotechnology: from the science to the social
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK has released a new report entitled "Nanotechnology: From the Science to the Social" (pdf download, 2MB), by Professor Stephen Wood, Professor Richard Jones and Alison Geldart.
The report's authors argue that the social side of the debate should be broadened to include a wider set of issues, more economics, and more consideration of the social processes through which nanotechnology as an area develops and nanotechnology products emerge. Foresight will be analyzing this report further on Nanodot; meanwhile, we are glad to see that military and control issues are at least mentioned, though not emphasized to the extent we would recommend for subsequent studies.
Technological Enhancement of Humans?
As new science, technology, engineering, and mathematics opportunities emerge, they bring with them an opportunity to shape their planning, practice, and outcomes in novel ways. This opportunity now exists with the potential for human performance enhancement through research in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science.
SPIE NanoScience & Engineering
Where leaders gather to advance the interdisciplinary field of nanotechnology.
Foresight note: This overview describes the potential of chemically modified or genetically engineered viruses as building blocks for use in nanotechnology. Building simple materials and devices might lead to building more complex systems.
Headline: Viruses as nanotechnology building blocks for materials and devices
From the viewpoint of a materials scientist, viruses can be regarded as organic nanoparticles. Their surface carries specific tools designed to cross the barriers of their host cells. The size and shape of viruses, and the number and nature of the functional groups on their surface, is precisely defined. As such, viruses are commonly used in materials science as scaffolds for covalently linked surface modifications. The powerful techniques developed by life sciences are becoming the basis of engineering approaches towards nanomaterials, opening a wide range of applications far beyond biology and medicine.
We continue our tradition of citing a special story that strikes the Editor as especially cool, but which doesn't fit within the usual editorial categories of the News Digest.
It will be intriguing to see if this new device for measuring fast nanoscale motions does in fact lead to much faster scanning tunneling microscopes. If so, we would gain a valuable new tool for characterizing and perfecting nanodevices.
Headline: New JILA apparatus measures fast nanoscale motions
A new nanoscale apparatus developed at JILA — a tiny gold beam whose 40 million vibrations per second are measured by hopping electrons — offers the potential for a 500-fold increase in the speed of scanning tunneling microscopes (STM), perhaps paving the way for scientists to watch atoms vibrate in high definition in real time.
The new device measures the wiggling of the beam, or, more precisely, the space between it and an electrically conducting point just a single atom wide, based on the speed of electrons "tunneling" across the gap. The work is the first use of an "atomic point contact," the business end of an STM, to sense a nanomechanical device oscillating at its "resonant" frequency, where it naturally vibrates like a tuning fork. JILA is a joint venture of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Richard Jones and commenters bring our attention to a number of enticing research papers on the use of catalysis and molecular motors to produce movement. One paper mentioned sounds particularly useful: an overview of progress on "Synthetic Molecular Motors and Mechanical Machines." From the abstract:
"The widespread use of controlled molecular-level motion in key natural processes suggests that great rewards could come from bridging the gap between the present generation of synthetic molecular systems, which by and large rely upon electronic and chemical effects to carry out their functions, and the machines of the macroscopic world, which utilize the synchronized movements of smaller parts to perform specific tasks.
"This is a scientific area of great contemporary interest and extraordinary recent growth, yet the notion of molecular-level machines dates back to a time when the ideas surrounding the statistical nature of matter and the laws of thermodynamics were first being formulated.
"Here we outline the exciting successes in taming molecular-level movement thus far, the underlying principles that all experimental designs must follow, and the early progress made towards utilizing synthetic molecular structures to perform tasks using mechanical motion. [Emphasis added]
"We also highlight some of the issues and challenges that still need to be overcome."
— See Nanodot for the full post by Christine Peterson
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