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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: January 31, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Foresight note: A major advance in molecular nanotechnology provides a practical approach to molecular electronics-based computers more powerful than those likely to be developed using current technology.

Headline: UCLA, Caltech chemists report important step toward building molecular computers
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS

A team of UCLA and California Institute of Technology chemists reports in the Jan. 25 issue of the journal Nature the successful demonstration of a large-scale, "ultra-dense" memory device that stores information using reconfigurable molecular switches. This research represents an important step toward the creation of molecular computers that are much smaller and could be more powerful than today's silicon-based computers.

The 160-kilobit memory device uses interlocked molecules manufactured in the UCLA laboratory of J. Fraser Stoddart, director of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), who holds UCLA's Fred Kavli Chair in Nanosystems Sciences and who was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II less than a month ago.

"Our goal here was not to demonstrate a robust technology; the memory circuit we have reported on is hardly that," said James R. Heath, Caltech's Elizabeth W. Gilloon Professor of Chemistry and a co-author of the Nature paper. "Instead, our goal was to demonstrate that large-scale, working electronic circuits could be constructed at a density that is well-beyond — 10 to 15 years — where many of the most optimistic projections say is possible."

"One of the most exciting features of this research is that it moves beyond the testing of molecular electronic components in individual, non-scalable device formats and demonstrates a large, integrated array of working molecular devices," said William R. Dichtel, a researcher who is a member of both Stoddart's and Heath's research teams. "In targeting a large memory array, many fundamental issues of how information is stored and retrieved had to be addressed."

"In 1959, physicist Richard Feynman said it should be possible some day to store all of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the tip of a needle," Stoddart noted. "We're not there yet, but we're not far off."

For more information and comment, see Nanodot (January 25, 2007)


In this issue:

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Increasing health and longevity

Foresight note: This report uses a number of techniques including atomic force microscopy to measure a single RNA molecule that results from the transcription of a single gene in a single cell — a level of sensitivity that opens new possibilities for studying disease processes.

Headline: New nanotechnology able to examine single molecules, aiding in determining gene expression
News source: New York University

A new nanotechnology that can examine single molecules in order to determine gene expression, paving the way for scientists to more accurately examine single cancer cells, has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UCLA's California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and Veeco Instruments, a nanotechnology company. Their work appears in the January issue of the journal Nanotechnology.

Previously, researchers have been able to determine gene expression using microarray technology or DNA sequencing. However, such processes could not effectively measure single gene transcripts — the building blocks of gene expression. With their new approach, the researchers of the work reported in Nanotechnology were able to isolate and identify individual transcript molecules — a sensitivity not achieved with earlier methods.

Bud Mishra, a co-author and professor of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Cell Biology from NYU's Courant Institute and School of Medicine said "The most exciting aspect of this approach is that as we understand how to intelligently combine various components of genomics, robotics, informatics, and nanotechnology — the so-called GRIN technology — the resulting systems will become simple, inexpensive, and commonplace."


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Foresight Challenge: Increasing health and longevity

Foresight note: These researchers have developed very bright fluorescent labels — important for biomedical applications — by using branched DNA templates to hold multiple fluorescent dye molecules properly oriented for efficient function.

Headline: DNA gets new twist: Carnegie Mellon scientists develop unique 'DNA nanotags'
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS

Carnegie Mellon University scientists have married bright fluorescent dye molecules with DNA nanostructure templates to make nanosized fluorescent labels that hold considerable promise for studying fundamental chemical and biochemical reactions in single molecules or cells. The work, published online Jan. 26 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, improves the sensitivity for fluorescence-based imaging and medical diagnostics.

"Our DNA nanotags offer unprecedented densities of fluorescent dyes and, thus, the potential for extremely bright fluorescent labels," said graduate student Andrea Benvin, who developed the nanotags in the laboratory of Bruce Armitage, associate professor of chemistry in the Mellon College of Science (MCS) at Carnegie Mellon. "We've put it all into a very small package, which will allow us to detect molecules with great sensitivity without interfering with the biological processes we are trying to understand."

The high brightness of the nanotags should be of great help in detecting rare cancer cells within tissue biopsies, for example, which is important in determining whether treatments have been successful or if recurrence is likely, according to Armitage. In addition, DNA nanotags offer the opportunity to perform multicolor experiments. This feature is extremely useful for imaging applications, Armitage says, because the multiple colors can be seen simultaneously, requiring only one experiment using one laser and one fluorescence-imaging machine.


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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Foresight note: By replacing some iron atoms with cobalt atoms in a common dye, these researchers were able to make a magnetic switch in which light or heat changes the arrangements of a few atoms. If practical devices can eventually be developed from such switches, a bit could be stored in a few atoms.

Headline: Prussian Blue for information storage
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS

In the family of Prussian blue, there is a compound that can act as a switch: it is not magnetic at the outset, but it can become magnetized by the effect of light and return to its initial state by heating. Researchers of the Institute of Molecular Chemistry and Materials of Orsay (CNRS/University of Paris XI) and the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry and Molecular Materials (CNRS/University of Paris VI) showed that this change of state is due to the collective modification of the position of the atoms, induced by light. Such compounds, which can memorize binary information, could be used as storage bits for future computers. This work was presented in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

To further miniaturize [storage] devices and to give users greater freedom, many chemists are making new switchable materials, i.e. ones that can switch from one state (OFF = 0) to another (ON = 1) by the effect of an outside impulse (variation of temperature, pressure, light, magnetic or electrical impulse), keeping the memory of the state in which they were found. The chemists of the two teams hope in this way to succeed in storing information on the scale of a few atoms.

They are working on Prussian blue. By replacing some of the atoms or iron with cobalt, they transform this pigment known since ancient times into a compound that can act as a switch: illuminated by a red light at low temperature (-150°C), this compound shifts from a non-magnetic state (OFF) to a magnetic state (ON) in a way that is stable over time. If it is heated, it returns to the OFF state. This change of state is due to the transfer of an electron from the cobalt to the iron (and vice-versa), by absorption of light or thermal energy.


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Foresight Challenge: Healing and preserving the environment

Foresight note: This early stage work revealed that the strength of concrete comes from how the nanoparticles composing it are packed — not from the specific mineral used. If further work nano-engineers a different mineral that requires lower heat to produce, then CO2 emissions could be cut.

Headline: Nanoengineered concrete could cut CO2 emission
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS

One group of engineers at MIT decided to focus its work on the nanostructure of concrete, the world's most widely used material. The production of cement, the primary component of concrete, accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions; the process is an important contributor to global warming.

In the January issue of the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, the team reports that the source of concrete's strength and durability lies in the organization of its nanoparticles. The discovery could one day lead to a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing.

If the researchers can find — or nanoengineer — a different mineral to use in cement paste, one that has the same packing density but does not require the high temperatures during production, they could conceivably cut world carbon dioxide emissions by up to 10 percent.

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Foresight Challenge: Healing and preserving the environment

Foresight note: The inexpensive nanoparticle tags reported here should make practical widespread monitoring for various pollutants, contaminants, and biohazards, and also might have medical applications.

Headline: Magnetic, Luminescent Nanoparticles Set New Standard
News source: UC Davis News Service

Researchers at UC Davis have created a new type of nanoparticles that could be used in tests for environmental pollution or contamination of food products, and for medical diagnostics.

The particles, about 100 to 200 nanometers in size, are luminescent, magnetic and inexpensive to make, and can be tagged with antibodies. They are made up of a magnetic core of iron oxide or iron/neodymium/cobalt oxide coated in a shell of europium and gadolinium oxide. When stimulated with a laser, europium emits red light at a very specific wavelength.

The particles can also be coated with short pieces of DNA and used for genetic analysis. The team is exploring uses including testing for bioterrorism agents such as ricin or botulinum toxin in food and for genetic tests in cancer medicine.


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Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology

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?

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.

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Nanotech Research

Headline: Electron flashlight for nanotechnology

News source: Nanowerk News

Researchers at the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy (MBI) in Berlin, Germany, have developed a novel source of extremely short electron pulses.

The electron source is based on an ultra-sharp metallic needle illuminated with short light pulses from a laser. "With these electron pulses, it is possible to directly observe fast processes in the nanoworld", Claus Ropers explains, who performed the work in collaboration with Daniel Solli, Claus-Peter Schulz, Christoph Lienau and Thomas Elsaesser. The researchers report their findings in the present issue of Physical Review Letters.

In order to determine the dimensions and other structural characteristics of nanostructures, researchers often employ powerful electron microscopes. Such instruments only deliver static images of the time averaged state of the sample investigated. The function of nanosystems is, however, often closely related to dynamical processes occuring on time scales of less than one picosecond (1 ps, one millionth of a millionth of a second).

[This new technique results] in an extremely short duration of the electron pulses of less than 0.02 ps which determines the temporal resolution of this new "electron camera".


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Nanotech Events

World Nano-Economic Congress South Africa

Presented by the Department of Science and Technology of the Republic of South Africa and Cientifica
April 23-24, 2007
CSIR International Convention Center, Pretoria, South Africa

Where Nanotechnology Meets Business

The WNEC South Africa represents the eighth international event of this events series since its inception Washington D.C. in 2003. As with previous WNEC events, the WNEC South Africa aims at informing both international and local audiences of the impact of nanotechnologies on industries with an emphasis on the local industries where it is being held.

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: This advance in using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to manipulate atoms adds to the tools available to develop productive nanosystems.

Headline: Scientists manipulate atoms on a rough 3-D surface
News Source: Ohio University

Ohio University nanoscientists have used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to manipulate individual atoms on a rough terrain. It is the first atom manipulation of its kind done on a three-dimensional surface.

Only a select group of scientists have manipulated individual atoms because the procedure requires atomic scale precision and control. Even greater precision and accuracy is required for atom manipulation on rough surfaces.

"This technique is very useful to produce single atoms for atomic constructions. It also helps us understand one of the most fundamental subjects, interaction between the matters," said Saw-Wai Hla, the lead researcher and an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Ohio University. The research was published in a recent issue of Physical Review Letters.

A movie of the atom extraction can be viewed online.

Saw-Wai Hla home page


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Editor's Pick

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.

I would have thought that something as complicated as an exoskeleton based on nanotechnology would require rather advanced nanotechnology; however, the Nanodot post below shows that current technology using nanotube yarn for protection and for mechanical muscles is promising enough to grab the attention of the US Army.

— Jim

Headline: Nanotube yarn targeted for nanotechnology exoskeleton

News source: Nanodot, posted by Christine Peterson on January 26, 2007

Speigel Online reports that nanotechnology work at the University of Texas is leading toward a nanotech "exoskeleton" for military use:

"Now the superpower's military is hoping to profit from the findings of nanotechnologist Ray Baughman from the University of Texas. He has managed to develop chemically grown nanotubes, which are like tiny muscles. The microscopically tiny particles contract when an electrical voltage is applied and get their energy from a mini fuel cell, that runs on hydrogen and oxygen. The mini muscles are a hundred times stronger than human muscle tissue — and can be woven into a fabric that would contract when heated and go back to its original shape when cooled.

"Newsweek reports that Baughman now has a grant from the Pentagon to develop an exoskeleton for the US army. It is hoped that a suit made out of this type of material could allow GIs to jump over high barriers and transport heavy objects quickly and over long distances. The soldiers would be protected by another nano product — a bullet-proof carbon fabric that would be a lot lighter and much stronger than the current bullet-proof vests."

Should be interesting for use in extreme sports as well. — Christine

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Headline: Nanotechnology hazard symbol misleading

News source: Nanodot
Posted by Christine Peterson on January 24, 2007

We should assume that those participating the ETC Group's nanotechnology hazard symbol contest are all trying to be helpful, and such a symbol may someday be of some use. However, of the three top symbols named as winners, the first one — by far the most vivid — has a real problem.

First, see the three symbols here.

As you can see, the first one has the atomic symbol, a skull, and the word NANOHAZARD. So, what's the problem?

The atomic symbol is routinely interpreted to refer not just to atoms, but to nuclear reactions, as we can see by the keywords listed for the atomic symbol, which include fission, neutron, nuclear, nucleus, proton, and reactor. This is most unfortunate, since nanotechnology involves chemistry but not nuclear reactions, which are much higher energy.

So the natural layperson's interpretation of this symbol is that they are being told of a nearby nuclear reaction which — since a skull is also shown — will kill them, and that — since the prefix NANO is shown — this nuclear reaction is a form of nanotechnology.

Christine Peterson

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Dr. James Lewis, Research Analyst at Foresight Nanotech Institute, is the new editor of the Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest. If you would like to submit a news item or contact him with comments about the News Digest, please send an email to editor@foresight.org

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