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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: May 24, 2006

In this issue:

Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges

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.

1. Meeting global energy needs with clean solutions

Foresight note: Nanotechnology is introducing new ways to approach old concepts. This research is an example of nanotechnology is changing how scientists look at current processes.

Headline: Team revamps energy system for fuel-efficiency
News source: Physorg.com

MIT researchers are trying to unleash the promise of an old idea by converting light into electricity more efficiently than ever before.

The research is applying new materials, new technologies and new ideas to radically improve an old concept — thermophotovoltaic (TPV) conversion of light into electricity. Rather than using the engine to turn a generator or alternator in a car, for example, the new TPV system would burn a little fuel to create super-bright light. Efficient photo diodes (which are similar to solar cells) would then harvest the energy and send the electricity off to run the various lighting, electrical and electronic systems in the car.

Such a light-based system would not replace the car's engine. Instead it would supply enough electricity to run subsystems, consuming far less fuel than is needed to keep a heavy, multi-cylinder engine running, even at low speed. Also, the TPV system would have no moving parts; no cams, no bearings, no spinning shafts, so no energy would be spent just to keep an engine turning over, even at idle.

"What's new here is the opportunity for a much more effective energy system to be created using new semiconductor materials and the science of photonics," said Professor John Kassakian, director of the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES), where the work was conducted. The idea is to create intense light, let it shine on new types of photo diodes to make electricity, and bounce any excess light back to the light source to help keep it glowing-hot. In theory, Kassakian said, efficiency could be as high as 40 percent or 50 percent.

At the heart of their energy system would be a cylindrical element, such as tungsten, etched with tiny pits — nano-holes — so it emits intense light at selected wavelengths when heated to a high temperature, perhaps 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 Kelvin). Special light-sensing cells, made of a new material such as gallium-antimonide, would surround the glowing element, picking up the radiated light. A highly specialized filter, set between the two, would let the most useful light wavelengths pass through to hit the photo diodes, while reflecting light of less useful wavelengths back to the heating element, pumping up the temperature.
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

2. Providing abundant clean water globally

Foresight note: This conference focuses on water disinfection and the applications of emerging technologies including nanotechnology.

Headline: Disinfection 2007 – Call for abstracts June 15, 2006
News source: Disinfection 2007 website

The Disinfection Committees of the Water Environment Federation, American Water Works Association and the International Water Association are sponsoring DISINFECTION 2007, specialty conference, to be held February 4-7, 2007, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This conference provides a forum for water industry professionals concerned with disinfection needs and technologies.

The conference will focus on all aspects of the disinfection of water, wastewater, reuse water, and biosolids. Current key disinfection issues include the following: bioterrorism; pathogen detection and treatment; microbial risk assessment; research and application of UV, ozone, and halogens (chlorine, chlorine dioxide, chloramines, etc.); membranes for microbial removal; microbial indicators in distribution systems and the environment; regulatory perspectives (microbial, DBP's); CSO/SSO; biosolids; disinfection system validation and modeling; research and application of emerging technologies; future trends; infrastructure security and sustainability; and integrated and sustainable disinfection approaches. The synergy of disinfectants/disinfection techniques and approaches continues to change as our understanding of indicator organisms, pathogens, and disease transmission increases.
Conference web site

3. Increasing the health and longevity of human life

Foresight note: Research, led by Chad Mirkin the recipient of the 2002 Foresight Feynman Prize for Experimental, shows promise in using nanotechnology in targeted cancer treatment.

Headline: Nanoparticles improve antisense delivery and expression
News source: National Cancer Institute/NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

In the fight against cancer, antisense drugs that could block cancer genes from producing malicious proteins have the potential to become a powerful new weapon that would complement drugs that work in a completely different manner. And though laboratory studies have been promising, the pace of development of these new drugs has been slow because of the difficulty in getting antisense drugs, which are made of short pieces of DNA or RNA, into cancer cells.

Now, however, a team of investigators at Northwestern University's Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence has successfully used gold nanoparticles to not only deliver antisense DNA molecules safely into cancer cells, but also improve the ability of the antisense DNA to bind to its target. This work appears in the journal Science.

"When mutations in the body's genetic material cause too many copies of certain proteins, cancer and other diseases can result," said Chad Mirkin, Ph.D., director of Northwestern's Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, who led the study. "Whereas typical drugs target the proteins, it is possible through antisense therapy or gene therapy to target the genetic material itself before it is ever made into copies of harmful proteins. One way to target the genetic material is to block the messenger RNA by using antisense DNA, which prevents the message from ever becoming a protein."
Chad Mirkin

4. Maximizing the productivity of agriculture

Foresight note: This article discusses a regulatory review of nanotechnology in the food industry. The review is concerned with the time lag between nanotechnology being used in food products and the study of their impact.

Headline: UK food regulator finds 'gaps' in regulating nanotechnology
News source: Food Production Daily.com

Gaps in regulating future uses of nanotechnology include those relating to particle size, to the use of nano versions of already approved ingredients, and to packaging, according to a UK legislative review of the food sector.

The UK food safety regulator is worried that harmonized EU-wide legislation to fill in the gaps could take years to come into force, and calls for a speeded up process to ensure food safety. A potential solution would be to amend legislation to require that all nanocomponents be subject to their own risk assessment, the review document suggests as a way forward.

Nanotechnology has been touted as the next revolution in many industries, including food manufacturing. It is a sector for which the topic is likely to become a hot consumer issue due to fears over the unknown consequences of digesting particles designed to behave in specific way in the body.

"The future success of nanotechnology will depend on rational and informed work to understand and minimize these potential adverse effects on health and the environment," the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said yesterday in its regulatory review of the topic.
Food Standards Agency

5. Making powerful information technology available everywhere

Foresight note: IBM discusses the corporation's work on probe-based storage, formerly known as the "Millipede Project"

Headline: IBM researchers probe nanometer-scale memories
News source: EE Times by John Walko

IBM has taken the wraps off a groundbreaking project to develop terabit memories based on MEMS technology and referred to as "probe-based storage." The next step is deciding whether to move development to the next phase.

Probe-based storage, formerly known at IBM as the "Millipede Project," remains a high priority at the IBM research facility here. It "is part of our efforts into nanotechnology, but at this stage we only have prototypes," Paul Seidler, manager of the Science and Technology group at IBM Zurich Research Laboratory told EE Times.

Seidler also spoke at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the IBM research facility in Ruesslikon, near Zurich. The laboratory was IBM's first research facility outside the U.S. Four IBM Zurich researchers have won the Nobel Prize, including the 1986 Prize for physics for the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope won by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer. Georg Bednorz and Alex Mueller won the physics prize the following year for their work on high-temperature superconductivity.

6. Enabling the development of space

Foresight note: Defects in carbon nanotubes may slow down or even disprove the feasibility of space elevators.

Headline: The space elevator: going down?
Study shows that proposed carbon nanotube cables won't hold up.

News source: Nature.com by Jason Palmer

Is it possible to make a cable for a space elevator out of carbon nanotubes? Not anytime soon, if ever, says Nicola Pugno of the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy. Pugno's calculations show that inevitable defects in the nanotubes mean that such a cable simply wouldn't be strong enough.

The idea of a space elevator was popularized in science fiction, where writers envisioned a 100,000-kilometre-long cable stretching straight up from the Earth's surface and fixed in a geosynchronous orbit. Payloads, or tourists, would simply ascend the cable into low-Earth orbit, eliminating the need for rocket launches.

When carbon nanotubes were discovered to have an incredibly high strength- to-weight ratio, researchers hoped they would take the idea out of fiction and bring it into reality.

But Pugno argues that atomic-scale defects in the nanotubes would reduce the strength of such a giant cable by at least 70%

Foresight Lectures

Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights
May 26-28, 2006
Stanford, California

Christine Peterson, Founder and Vice President of Public Policy for Foresight Nanotech Institute, will speak at "Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights" on May 28, 2006 at Stanford, California. Her focus will be the prospects, ethics & limits of using technology for body enhancement.
Event web site

Foresight Partners

If you attend or use any of our partners' events or services, please tell them you heard about it from Foresight Nanotech Institute.

September 27-28, 2006 – nanoTX '06 – Conference & Expo
The Promises of Tomorrow, The Business of Nanotechnology
Dallas Convention Center, Texas

nanoTX'06 will draw the top minds in four vital and interrelated nanotech areas of commerce:

There will also be an intense study of Trends/Finance/Investing by leading experts of industry. The speaker line-up is being updated continually.

The 2006 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes will also be presented at nanoTX' 06 on September 27, 2006 at their Exhibitors Reception.

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Nanotech News & Events

Headline: Gateway to greatness
News source: Small Times by Candace Stuart

Best is a relative word, particularly when it comes to higher education. For an undergraduate, best may be defined as a prestigious institution whose name opens the doors to competitive graduate programs or corporate careers. Post docs and researchers may look at labs, equipment and the school's success at attracting funding and students. Inventors may give more weight to patenting and tech transfer, while industry may see access to facilities or the quality of an educated workforce as key.

Small Times has compiled a guide to the top universities in micro and nanotechnology, based on responses to a survey sent to more than 100 research institutions in the United States. Fifty universities responded to the survey, which included questions about facilities, funding, courses, degrees, research programs, publishing, patenting, company formation, industrial partnerships and more. Their responses were analyzed to determine their strength in five key categories: research, education, facilities, industrial outreach and commercialization. Respondents also were asked to rank their peers for research and commercialization. The listings that follow are meant to be a guide to help readers identify university resources that best meet their needs.

Headline: Nanotechnology: A mini revolution, from cars that change color to windows that clean themselves, the small world of nanotechnology is certain to dramatically alter our everyday lives
News source: The Independent by Danny Bradbury

The best things are supposed to come in small packages. In the future, this could be more true than ever. Thanks to nanotechnology — the manipulation of tiny elements — we could enjoy a host of new developments, including furniture that can think, cars that change color, even mobile phones with Breathalyzers — no more will we drink and dial.

The official British Standards Institution (BSI) definition of nanotechnology is the design and control of things at a nanoscale (100 nanometers and below). To put this into some sort of perspective, 100nm is one thousandth of the width of a human hair, and roughly 500 times the size of an atom. By this definition, we've been dealing with nano-sized particles for a long time. Intel's latest microchips have components measuring just 65nm across. Skin cream has used nanoparticles for years, and many polymers (large organic molecules formed by stringing lots of smaller elements together) are also made up of nano-sized units.

What makes today's nanotechnology different is our ability to manipulate these tiny components more directly than ever before, along with the ability to drastically change their properties, explains Philip Kuekes, a nanotechnology scientist at the Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in California. Because of their size, nanoparticles can take advantage of quantum physics, where the traditional laws of physics break down.

"Those laws give you a lot more knobs to turn," says Kuekes, adding that while 100nm is the official threshold, many materials only begin to experience quantum-physics effects at smaller sizes. "Some things change at 100nm, while other things only change at 3nm or 4nm," he explains.

Call for Clean Tech Business Plans – Deadline May 31, 2006
California Clean Tech Open
Sponsored by Acterra: Action for a Sustainable Earth

2006 Nanochallenge International Business Plan Competition – Deadline June 16, 2006
Sponsored by Veneto Nanotech

Xerox Award for Development & Application of Nanotechnology in Canadian Industry
Deadline June 1, 2006
Sponsored by Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance)

Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes – Deadline June 30, 2006

The Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes, named in honor of pioneer physicist Richard Feynman, are given in two categories, one for experiment and the other for theory in nanotechnology. Established in 1993, these prizes are given to researchers whose recent work has most advanced the achievement of Feynman's goal for nanotechnology: the construction of atomically-precise products through the use of molecular machine systems.

Foresight Institute Prize in Communication – Deadline June 30, 2006

The Foresight Institute Prize in Communication recognizes outstanding journalistic or other communication endeavors that lead to a better understanding of molecular nanotechnology and its high social and environmental impact. This prize was created to encourage responsible coverage of molecular nanotechnology as a means for engaging the public in dialogue leading to improved public policy on this important issue. This prize was established in 2000 and is generously underwritten by the law firm Millstein & Taylor, PC.

Foresight Distinguished Student Award – Deadline June 30, 2006

The Foresight Distinguished Student Award was established in 1997 and is given to a college undergraduate or graduate student whose work is notable in the field of nanotechnology. This award highlights the winning student's research and underwrites the student's travel to the award conference. This prize is generously supported by Dr. James Ellenbogen, Ravi Pandya, and James Von Ehr, II.

September 18-20, 2006
Commercialization of NanoMaterials 2006 – Conference
Sponsored by TMS (The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society)
Event web site

Editor’s Pick

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.

Here is a use for nanotechnology that will preserve wooden structures, reduce waste and use less toxic materials in pressure treated wood.
— Judy

Headline: Using nanotechnology to preserve wood
News source: Physorg.com

Untreated wood rots. Ask anyone who has put their foot through a deck. Pressure-treated wood eliminates that problem, but the metallic salts used to keep good wood from going bad can pose a health and environmental hazard.

Other, safer materials, such as the organic insecticides and fungicides used in home gardens also have the potential to preserve wood. However, because they don't dissolve well in water, it has been very difficult to get them to permeate the lumber.

Now, Michigan Technological University scientists are using nanotechnology to solve the problem.

Pat Heiden, a chemistry professor, and Peter Laks, a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, have discovered a way to embed these organic compounds in plastic beads only about 100 nanometers across. "Six hundred of them in a row would be about the width of a human hair," Laks says.

Join the discussion – visit our blog Nanodot led by Christine Peterson.

About The Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest

The Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest is emailed every week to 15,000 individuals in more than 125 countries. Foresight Nanotech Institute is a member-supported organization. We offer membership levels appropriate to meet the needs and interests of individuals and companies. To find out more about membership follow this link:

Judy Conner, Director of Communications at Foresight Nanotech Institute, is the editor of the Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest. If you would like to submit a news item or contact her with comments about the news digest, please send an email to: editor@foresight.org.

Special thanks to Foresight Nanotechnology Challenges Research Volunteer Michelle Hubbard, MSc Candidate, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan

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