Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: June 21, 2006
In this issue:
Nanotechnology That's Good For People
Foresight note: This sensor technology could assist in medical research and determine the progression of certain diseases.
Headline: Simultaneous carbon dioxide and oxygen sensing
Breathing. Birds, do it, bees do it, even educated trees do it. But, only plants can make sugars from the carbon dioxide byproduct and at the same time expel oxygen during photosynthesis. This amazing skill has intrigued scientists for decades but separating out the carbon dioxide inputs and outputs while keeping tabs on oxygen levels has always proved difficult.
Now, a new type of chemical sensor, described in the journal Advanced Materials, could change all that. The sensor developed by Otto Wolfbeis and colleagues at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, Chemo- and Biosensors at the University of Regensburg, Germany, will allow clearer insights into plant respiration and photosynthesis. It could also have application in the food and drink industry as well as in the biotech industry where fermentation and related plant processes are important.
Woflbeis explains that in order to unravel the intricacies of photosynthesis and respiration, two of the most important biochemical processes, scientists have to be able to measure carbon dioxide and oxygen at the same time. He and his team have now found a way to side-step the interference from which all previous sensors suffer. The team first creates nanoparticles carrying a fluorescent group that react to light and glow only when they are in contact with carbon dioxide molecules.
Foresight Challenge: Increasing the health and longevity of human life
Foresight note: Nanotechnology will assist in speeding up medical diagnosis while increasing its portability. This article discusses an application that may lead to a "lab-on-a-chip."
Lab-on-a-Chip is defined as "A semiconductor chip used to analyze the composition of a person's body fluids (blood, saliva, urine) for medical purposes. It combines microfluidics and semiconductor processing on the same chip."
Headline: Sticky surfaces turn slippery with the flip of a molecular light switch
Changing a surface from sticky to slippery could now be as easy as flipping a molecular light switch. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have created an "optically switchable" material that alters its surface characteristics when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. The new material, which is described in the June 19 issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, could have a wide variety of applications, from a protein filter for biological mixtures to a tiny valve on a "lab-on-a-chip."
Foresight Challenge: Increasing the health and longevity of human life
Foresight note: This research uses gold nanoparticles to kill cancer cells.
Headline: Nanoparticles and Lasers Create Cancer-Killing Microbubbles
One promising use of gold nanoparticles is to use them to convert laser energy into heat that can kill malignant cells. Now, in a promising twist on this approach to anticancer therapy, an international team of investigators has developed a method that uses clusters of gold nanoparticles to create vapor microbubbles that can kill targeted cells.
Reporting their work in the journal Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, Dmitri Lapotko, Ph.D., from the Luikov Heath and Mass Transfer Institute in Minsk, Belarus, and colleagues used antibody-targeted gold nanoclusters to selectively destroy leukemia cells present in human bone marrow samples. To achieve optimal targeting, the investigators used a two-stage labeling technique. In the first stage, they used diagnosis-specific monoclonal antibodies, that is, the antibodies used by clinical laboratories to diagnose specific subsets of acute B-lymphoblast leukemia (ALL) in human patients, to label the malignant cells. This type-specific antibody serves as the target for the second monoclonal antibody, which is attached to the gold nanoparticles.
Imaging studies showed that tumor cells took in only the dual-targeted nanoparticles and that normal cells did not take up the nanoparticles. As the nanoparticles accumulate within the targeted tumor cells, they form nanoclusters that generate microbubbles when activated by laser light. One advantage that comes from allowing nanoclusters to form is that nanoclusters can create microbubbles at lower laser power than can individual nanoparticles, thus reducing potential damage to healthy tissue. In fact, single laser pulses were able to generate microbubbles within the targeted cells, an event that does not occur with free nanoparticles in solution. Experimental results showed up to 85 percent of targeted tumor cells were killed after a single laser pulse. Multiple pulses killed more than 99 percent of the tumor cells.
Nanotechnology That's Good For the Planet
Foresight note: This research is focused on creating a more efficient and economical process for production of biodiesel.
Headline: Finding a better way to make biodiesel
They're only 250 billionths of a meter in diameter. But fill them with the right chemistry and Iowa State scientists say the tiny nanospheres they've developed could revolutionize how biodiesel is produced.
The researchers are after a new, high-tech catalyst that takes some of the energy, labor and toxic chemicals out of biodiesel production. They've come up with a technology that works in the laboratory. And now they're working with the West Central Cooperative in Ralston to test their discoveries on a larger scale. They're also working to establish a company that would move the new technology into biorefineries.
The Iowa State research team is led by Victor Lin, an associate professor of chemistry. The team also includes George Kraus and John Verkade, both University Professors of chemistry at Iowa State. The researchers are part of Iowa State's Center for Catalysis.
Foresight Challenge: Meeting global energy needs with clean solutions
Foresight note: Here is further evidence that alternative energy applications employing nanotechnology are gaining attention and funding.
Headline: Nanosolar to build world's largest solar cell factory
Nanosolar, a Silicon Valley start-up founded in 2001 to commercialize low-cost solar cells, has won $100 m in funding to build a manufacturing facility in the San Francisco Bay area that will produce 200 million solar cells per year. The plant will have a maximum output of 430 MW per year, almost triple the existing solar production capacity in the US, and is due to start production in 2007. Nanosolar will also establish an assembly plant, most likely near Berlin, Germany, that will produce more than one million solar panels per year.
Foresight note: This nanotechnology research is tackling nanocrystals' "self-purification" mechanism for applications in the semiconductor industry.
Headline: Nanocrystals' 'self-purification' mechanisms explained by energetics
Doping semiconductor nanocrystals will likely provide a basis for a wide variety of nano applications. But since the tiny nanocrystals tend to repel impurities, scientists must first find a way to overcome nanocrystals' "self-purification" mechanisms and exploit them for doping.
On the macroscale, doping led to the transistor. On the nanoscale, scientists believe that doping could lead to an assortment of technologies, including solar cells, electroluminescent devices and electronic devices. Doping, which means adding impurities containing electrons, can enable electric conductance in a controlled way. But the miniscule size of semiconductor nanocrystals — also described as one-dimensional "quantum dots" — means that scientists must explore new methods for doping.
Because nanocrystals have very little interior volume and are virtually all surface, scientists in the past believed that inner impurities can easily migrate the short distance to the surface and be ejected.
"People used to believe that nanocrystals had fewer defects due to their limited size," explains Gustavo Dalpian, coauthor with James Chelikowsky of a recent publication in Physical Review Letters on the energetics of doping. "People believed that defects could be annealed away from the nanocrystal in an easy way due to its limited size. After a few jumps, the impurity will be out of the nanocrystal."
In 2005, scientists (Erwin et al.) proposed that the difficulties in doping nanocrystals could be explained by the crystals' surface topology and how easily impurities could bind to the surface. For these reasons, these scientists determined that the smaller the size of a nanocrystal, the less binding energy, and the more difficult doping becomes.
Foresight Challenge: Making powerful information technology available everywhere
Foresight note: This article discusses discoveries being made to understand semiconductor nanostructures.
Headline: Researchers Reveal New Insights into the Surface of Silicon Semiconductors
"Smaller. Faster. Wildly complex." This could easily be the motto for semiconductors — the materials that, among lots of other advances in electronics, allow cell phones to continuously shrink in size while increasing the number of their mind-boggling functions. While exceptionally tiny, semiconductors possess the ability to enable a multitude of complex functions, making them an invaluable ingredient in electronics technology. But, while the computer age is in full bloom, knowledge of semiconductor nanostructures is still relatively young; and research seeking to answer essential and sometimes-basic materials questions is occurring at breakneck speed.
IRGC NANOTECHNOLOGY RISK GOVERNANCE CONFERENCE
Christine Peterson, Founder and Vice President of Public Policy for Foresight Nanotech Institute, will chair a workshop assessing NGO perspectives on nanotech risk.
Foresight Corporate Member News
Nanorex Releases Powerful New Molecular Modeling Software
Nanorex Inc., the world's first developer of tools for the design, simulation and analysis of atomically precise molecular machine systems, will launch its educational outreach program by placing an early pre-release version of its powerful molecular modeling software at the fingertips of some of California's brightest high school students.
Students who report for the Nanotechnology and Robotics class at the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) on July 9 at UC Santa Cruz will begin testing NanoEngineer-1, the first computer aided design (CAD) program for the nanotech age.
Scheduled for release this fall, NanoEngineer-1's 3-D, interactive environment and molecular physics engine will enable the students to invent and test new kinds of molecular machines and devices, designed atom by atom exactly to their specifications.
Become a Member
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Nanotechnology for Non-Techies at NANOTX' 06
September 27-28, 2006 – nanoTX '06 – Conference & Expo
Nanotech 101 — An Overview of Nanotechnology for Non-techies taught by Austin Community College will be free for business and other professionals at the Dallas Convention Center September 26, the day before nanoTX'06 conference and trade expo opens.
Concurrent classes will be held at 12:30p to 2:30p, and 3:00p to 5:00p
This seminar is designed to give conference participants who have little or no knowledge of nanotechnology a broad overview of the field. Attending this seminar is expected to enhance the participant's conference experience by explaining, in a non-technical way, what nanotechnology is and how it will affect business and industry, even all of us in the near and long-term.
The 2006 Foresight Institute Feynman Prizes will also be presented at nanoTX' 06 on September 27, 2006 at their Exhibitors Reception.
Headline: 'We're down to the atom size': Cornell researchers discover how to focus on tiniest of the very small
If you need a good picture of a molecule, your first job is getting its atoms to pose for you, says John Silcox, Cornell's David E. Burr Professor of Engineering and an expert in the realm of the very tiny.
But atoms are not willing subjects. They jiggle furiously, defying any microscopist who tries to catch them at a standstill. Nor are they polite: The larger atoms in a molecule typically overshadow the smaller ones, making it impossible to view the little ones.
Now, though, researchers at Cornell have developed a technique to get a closer-than-ever look at individual atoms within crystal molecules — allowing them, for the first time, to see the polarity, or physical alignment, of those constituent atoms and to get a view of the smaller atoms.
The research — by Cornell postdoctoral associate K. Andre Mkhoyan, Silcox and colleagues at Cornell, and Philip Batson of IBM — is described in the June 2 issue of Science.
With the new technique, researchers can better predict the physical properties of a crystal at every point — an advance that offers potential improvements in lasers and other devices, particularly at the nanoscale, where the structure of an individual molecule can determine a device's behavior.
Headline: As nanotech business grows, so does debate
The nanotechnology industry used to be almost as tiny as its products.
But now that it's on the verge of hitting the big time, some environmental groups want to slow down or even shut down the industry altogether.
The health and environmental side effects of nanotechnology are still largely unknown, they say, and not enough government regulations are in place to tell companies and consumers what's safe.
But local nanotech firms and industry backers, who want to see Texas in general and the Dallas-Fort Worth area in particular become a center for nanocompanies, say too much regulation could backfire.
They argue that although further research into the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology makes sense, squeezing the industry too tightly could send it skittering to less restrictive countries.
"We are certainly paying attention to the debates and hopeful that we don't go overboard with such restrictions that it shuts down the business before it even gets off the ground," said Jim Von Ehr, founder, chairman and chief executive officer at Richardson-based nanotech firm Zyvex Corp.
Christine Peterson, Founder and Vice President of Public Policy, is also quoted in this article.
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, event or idea that I think is especially cool.
Computers have allowed us to see the world in a different light. This article discusses the changes that computer simulation and modeling have brought to nanotechnology research. And, yes, this article mentions how far we have come since Cray super computers were the standard.
Headline: Computer Sims: A Better Nanoscience Tool
Taking issue with the perception that computer models lack realism, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher told his audience that simulations of the nanoscale provide researchers more detailed results — not less — than experiments alone.
The invited talk by Eliot Fang was delivered to members of the Materials Research Society at its recent semiannual general meeting. Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.
Fang derided the pejorative "garbage in, garbage out" description of computer modeling — the belief that inputs for computer simulations are so generic that outcomes fail to generate the unexpected details found only by actual experiment.
Fang not only denied this truism but reversed it. "There's another, prettier world beyond what the SEM [scanning electron microscope] shows, and it's called simulation," he told his audience. "When you look through a microscope, you don't see some things that modeling and simulation show."
Join the discussion – visit our blog Nanodot led by Christine Peterson.
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