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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: February 8, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Foresight note: This advance in building synthetic molecular machines, in this case using a rotaxane molecule, provides the molecular realization of "Maxwell's Demon" by using light energy to change the barriers to the natural motion of a molecule according to the position of the molecule. The "information ratchet" demonstrated here is an important step toward sorting molecules in future molecular machine systems. (While the original Maxwell's Demon thought experiment violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the work below, of course, does not.)

Headline: Nanomachine of the future captures great scientist's bold vision
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS

An idea conceived by one of the world's greatest scientists nearly 150 years ago has finally been realised with a tiny machine that could eventually lead to lasers moving objects remotely.

James Clerk Maxwell, who is ranked along Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein for his contributions to science, imagined an atom-sized device — known as Maxwell's Demon — that could trap molecules as they move in a specific direction.

Now scientists at the University of Edinburgh, inspired by Maxwell's thought experiment in 1867, have been able to create such a "nanomachine" for the first time with their own "demon" inside it to ensnare the molecules as they move.

The work, published in the 1 February issue of the journal Nature, could ultimately lead to scientists harnessing the energy of the molecules to displace solid objects from a distance.

Professor David Leigh, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Chemistry, said: "Our machine has a device — or 'demon' if you like — inside it that traps molecule-sized particles as they move in a certain direction.

For more information and comment, see Nanodot (February 5, 2007)
Nature abstract

In this issue:

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Increasing health and longevity

Foresight note: Nanofibrous scaffolds fabricated by a simple electrospinning technique provide an environment that allows bone-forming cells to grow and manifest the normal characteristics of bone cells. This is an important step toward eventually re-growing or replacing injured bone tissue. A similar approach might also contribute to engineering other types of tissue as well.

Headline: One day doctors will grow new bones with nanotechnology
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, by Michael Berger

Nanotechnology-enabled tissue engineering is receiving increasing attention. The ultimate goal of tissue engineering as a medical treatment concept is to replace or restore the anatomic structure and function of damaged, injured, or missing tissue. At the core of tissue engineering is the construction of three-dimensional scaffolds out of biomaterials to provide mechanical support and guide cell growth into new tissues or organs. .... Using nanotechnology, biomaterial scaffolds can be manipulated at atomic, molecular, and macromolecular levels. ... For bone tissue engineering, a special subset of osteoinductive, osteoconductive, integrative and mechanically compatible materials are required. Such materials need to provide cell anchorage sites, mechanical stability, structural guidance and an in vivo milieu. Moreover, they need to provide an interface able to respond to local physiological and biological changes and to remodel the extracellular matrix (ECM) in order to integrate with the surrounding native tissue. Scientists in Singapore have developed a new nanoscale biocomposite that brings researchers one step closer to mimicking the architecture of the ECM.

Nanotechnology abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Increasing health and longevity

Foresight note: A promising approach for using multifunctional nanoparticles to image and treat tumors uses a specific peptide to cause the nanoparticles to concentrate in the tumor, and then attract more nanoparticles to increase the effect.

Headline: Team develops nanoparticles to battle cancer — New particles mimic platelets
News source: MIT, by Elizabeth Dougherty

On a quest to modernize cancer treatment and diagnosis, an MIT professor and her colleagues have created new nanoparticles that mimic blood platelets. The team wants to use these new multifunctional particles to carry out different medical missions inside the body, from imaging to drug delivery.

After years of research, "we still treat cancer with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy," said Sangeeta Bhatia, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. "People are now starting to think more in terms of 'Fantastic Voyage,' that sci-fi movie where they miniaturized a surgical team and injected it into someone."

One solution already under way involves using nanoparticles for cancer imaging. By slipping through tiny gaps that exist in fast-growing tumor blood vessels and then sticking together, the particles create masses with enough of a magnetic signal to be detectable by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. "This might allow for noninvasive imaging of fast-growing cancer 'hot spots' in tumors," said Bhatia. The team will continue this research by testing the imaging capabilities in animal models.

Another solution, described in the Jan. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a novel "homing" nanoparticle that mimics blood platelets. Platelets flow freely in the blood and act only when needed, by keying in on injured blood vessels and accumulating there to form clots. Similarly, these new nanoparticles key in on a unique feature of tumor blood vessels.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Increasing health and longevity

Foresight note: This news article from the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer illustrates the wealth of opportunities offered by nanoparticle research. The article describes three very different types of nanoparticles, each offering a different contribution to basic cancer biology studies.

Headline: Bright nanoparticles aid basic cancer biology studies
News source: National Cancer Institute

Though there is little doubt that nanoscale devices are going to play a critical role in improving cancer detection and treatment over the next five to ten years, nanoparticles are already having a major impact on the way that cancer biologists study the processes that go awry within malignant and metastatic cells. By taking advantage of the unique optical and other physical properties of nanoscale materials, researchers have created a veritable toolbox of nanoparticle probes that can track the fate of cells and even individual molecules in complex environments, opening the door to a wide range of new experiments designed to better understand the cancer process.

Three recent papers highlight the types of new nanoscale materials that chemists and engineers are developing to aid their cancer biologist compatriots …

Xiaogang Peng, Ph.D., and his colleagues, reporting their work in the journal Nano Letters, have developed bright, water-soluble, cadmium-free quantum dots that remain brightly fluorescent even after 25 days of irradiation with a laser …

In another paper published in Nano Letters, A. Paul Alivisatos, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, describe their development of quantum rods that are even brighter than spherical quantum dots. ...

Taking a different approach to biomolecule tracking using nanoparticles, Brahim Lounis, Ph.D., and his colleagues at the University of Bordeaux in France have used gold nanoparticles as long-lived probes of biomolecules in cell membranes. The results of this study appear in Biophysical Journal.

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Foresight note: This discovery of room temperature ferromagnetism in ion-implanted silicon nanowires could eventually lead to use of nanoscale spintronics in future computers.

Headline: Silicon nanowires go spintronic (requires free registration)
News source: nanotechweb.org, by Belle Dumé

Material scientists in Taiwan have discovered room temperature ferromagnetism in ion-implanted silicon nanowires for the first time. The wires, made by Lih Chen and colleagues at the National Tsing Hua University, could find applications in nanoscale spintronics applications — where the spin of the electron is exploited as well as its charge.

So-called dilute magnetic semiconductors, such as manganese-implanted silicon, combine the electronic transport properties of semiconductors with the memory characteristics of magnetic materials. They are important for developing spin-controlled electronic devices and magnetic device applications. … group-IV-based dilute magnetic semiconductors … have high Curie temperatures (the temperature at which ferromagnetism disappears) [that would make them] technically compatible with present-day integrated circuits.

Prof. Lih Chen

Applied Physics Letters abstract

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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.

To join:

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Nanotech Research

Headline: Microprinting technique is for patterning single molecules

News source: Penn State University

A new process for creating patterns of individual molecules on a surface combines control of self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) and a soft-lithography technique known as microcontact printing. Scientists use the process, known as "microcontact insertion printing," to build surfaces that have molecules with specific functions inserted at known intervals on a surface. The new technique, with potential applications ranging from analysis of biochemical mixtures to molecular-scale electronic components, is described as the cover story of the Feb. 5 issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters by a team led by Penn State researchers Paul S. Weiss, distinguished professor of chemistry and physics; Mark Horn, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics; and Anne M. Andrews, assistant professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences.

Microcontact insertion is based on the technique of microcontact printing, in which a patterned rubber-like stamp is "inked" with a solution of molecules and then applied to a surface. However, the insertion technique does not apply molecules to the entire surface contacted, but instead fills only defects — molecule-sized gaps — in a layer of molecules that previously has been placed on and attached to the surface. "Lithography cannot place molecules with nanometer precision," said Weiss, "but by building the defects into the surface and then filling them selectively with this process, we can place the isolated molecules in a predesigned nano-scale or micro-scale pattern."

Paul S. Weiss research group

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Headline: Nanodots for functional protein arrays (requires free registration)

News source: nanotechweb.org, by Belle Dumé

Researchers in the UK and Japan may have found a new way to make high-density arrays made from proteins using self-assembly techniques. The breakthrough, made by a team at the University of Oxford together with co-workers at the NTT Corporation in Atsugi, overcomes the problems associated with conventional "top-down" lithographic techniques, which often stop the proteins in the arrays from functioning. The approach could open the way for low-cost, high-density nanoarrays for use in proteomics and drug discovery.

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Nanotech News

Headline: Study points way to communicating nanotech

News source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

With consumer applications in everything from clothing, personal-care products and sporting goods to air purification systems, computers and home appliances, nanotechnology rapidly is becoming an integral part of everyday life. Yet survey results show that public audiences largely lack awareness and understanding of nanotechnology concepts, says Olivia Castellini, a former postdoctoral researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) Interdisciplinary Education Group …

As a result of the study, [Wendy Crone, a UW-Madison associate professor of engineering physics] has made her frequent nanotechnology talks more interactive and now includes nano "fun facts" and real-life examples and analogies that pique audience curiosity and encourage dialogue. One particularly successful example is the statement, "In the time it takes you to read this sentence, your fingernails will have grown one nanometer."

In the case of nanotechnology, the researchers learned that public audiences have a fairly neutral opinion of nanotechnology. "This is actually good news," says Castellini. "As public awareness and knowledge of nanotechnology grows, researchers may be able to avoid overcoming negative opinions or preconceived notions about the technology," she says.

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Nanotech Events

10th Annual NSTI Nanotech Conference and Trade Show

Date: May 20-24, 2007
Place: Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, California

Nanotech 2007 is one of the largest global gatherings of the scientific, business, and investment community working on the development and commercialization of nano and small-scale technology.

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: These researchers have constructed a complex perfectly folded structure made of beta-amino acids, which have backbones one carbon atom longer than the alpha-amino acids that compose natural proteins. Although their stated objectives involve applications in medicine and biotechnology, such non-biological folding polymers could also contribute to developing productive nanosystems by offering unique structural elements — the novel structure reported here is composed of helices with three faces.

Headline: Man-made proteins could be more useful than real ones
News Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Researchers have constructed a protein out of amino acids not found in natural proteins, discovering that they can form a complex, stable structure that closely resembles a natural protein. Their findings could help scientists design drugs that look and act like real proteins but won't be degraded by enzymes or targeted by the immune system, as natural proteins are.

Journal of the American Chemical Society abstract

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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.

The integration of molecular sensors with silicon chip technology not only has specific applications in diagnostics and bio-defense, but could be useful in developing productive nanosystems by enabling researchers to easily and quickly monitor the performance of complex molecules and molecular devices.

— Jim

Headline: Breakthrough in nanodevice synthesis revolutionizes biological sensors

News source: Yale University

A novel approach to synthesizing nanowires (NWs) allows their direct integration with microelectronic systems for the first time, as well as their ability to act as highly sensitive biomolecule detectors that could revolutionize biological diagnostic applications, according to a report in Nature.

"We electronically plugged into the biochemical system of cells," said senior author Mark Reed, Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science. "These developments have profound implications both for application of nanoscience technologies and for the speed and sensitivity they bring to the future of diagnostics."

The authors say that although this study focuses on device and sensor performance, the strength of the approach lies in seamless integration with CMOS technology, and the approach "appears to have potential for extension to a fully integrated system, with wide use as sensors in molecular and cellular arrays."

Nature abstract

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Headline: French citizen panel: Nanotechnology is too technical

News source: Nanodot
Posted by Christine Peterson on January 31, 2007

EurActiv.com reports on a citizens' panel on nanotechnology held by the Ile de France region:

"Citizens find nanotechs 'elitist'

"A citizens' conference on nanotechnologies in France found public information on nanosciences difficult to access for non-specialists."

The report itself (PDF) is in French, but an Altavista automatic translation gives English speakers some limited access:

"Efforts are necessary to be able to take part in the debate."

Yes! Efforts are indeed necessary to take part in a useful way in the nanotechnology debate, and such efforts include those directed at actually learning something about nanotechnologies — which are ... technical.

To be fair to the French, it should be mentioned that the report includes some good parts as well:

"We are nevertheless aware well that the excess of evaluation and a too broad application of the principle of precaution could lead to a deceleration of research, a weakening of our position, in particular economic, in the international competition ...

Our group is declared mainly favorable to the nanotechnologies, and this for a plurality of reasons. The nanotechnologies unquestionably represent a progress and even a hope for the world of today and tomorrow that it is in the fields of health, the everyday life, our environment and our framework of life."

— Nanodot post by Christine Peterson

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