Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: April 11, 2007
Foresight note: One of the questions most frequently asked about nanorobots, at least in the early days, was how would they be powered. Several solutions have been proposed, but here is a novel possibility.
Headline: Nanogenerator provides continuous power by harvesting energy from the environment
Researchers have demonstrated a prototype nanometer-scale generator that produces continuous direct-current electricity by harvesting mechanical energy from such environmental sources as ultrasonic waves, mechanical vibration or blood flow…
"This is a major step toward a portable, adaptable and cost-effective technology for powering nanoscale devices," said Zhong Lin Wang, Regents' Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "There has been a lot of interest in making nanodevices, but we have tended not to think about how to power them. Our nanogenerator allows us to harvest or recycle energy from many sources to power these devices."…
Wang and his group members Xudong Wang, Jinhui Song and Jin Liu expect that with optimization, their nanogenerator could produce as much as 4 watts per cubic centimeter … That would be enough to power a broad range of nanometer-scale defense, environmental and biomedical applications, including biosensors implanted in the body, environmental monitors — and even nanoscale robots.
For more, see the Nanodot post: Power system invented for nanotechnology
Health: Cells respond better to nanotextured implant materials
Headline: Nanotextured implant materials: blending in, not fighting back
Texture turns out to be nearly as important as chemistry when designing materials for use in the human body. In two related experiments Brown University engineers Thomas Webster and Karen Haberstroh found that cells responded differently to materials with identical chemistry but different surface textures. On both titanium and polymer materials, nanoscale surface textures yielded a more natural, accepting response, while microscale patterns typical of engineered materials spurred a rejection response.
Webster and Haberstroh's next step will be to test such nanostructured implants in live animals. If the same behavior holds true for materials placed in the body, the rapid growth of endothelial cells would help the implants to integrate quickly into existing blood vessels, provoking less immune response and a longer-lasting repair.
Headline: Purdue researchers use 'nanopore channels' to precisely detect DNA
Researchers at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center have shown how "nanopore channels" can be used to rapidly and precisely detect specific sequences of DNA as a potential tool for genomic applications in medicine, environmental monitoring and homeland security.
The tiny channels, which are 10 to 20 nanometers in diameter and a few hundred nanometers long, were created in silicon and then a single strand of DNA was attached inside each channel.
Other researchers have created such channels in the past, but the Purdue group is the first to attach specific strands of DNA inside these silicon-based channels and then use the channels to detect specific DNA molecules contained in a liquid bath, said Rashid Bashir, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
Headline: Little lifesavers: Nanoparticles improve delivery of medicines and diagnostics
Tiny, biodegradable particles filled with medicine may also contain answers to some of the biggest human health problems, including cancer and tuberculosis. The secret is the size of the package.
Using an innovative technique they invented, a Princeton University-led research team has created particles that can deliver medicine deep into the lungs or infiltrate cancer cells while leaving normal ones alone. Only 100 to 300 nanometers wide — more than 100 times thinner than a human hair — the particles can be loaded with medicines or imaging agents, like gold and magnetite, that will enhance the detection capabilities of CT scans and MRIs.
"The intersection of materials science and chemistry is allowing advances that were never before possible," said Robert Prud'homme, a Princeton chemical engineering professor and the director of a National Science Foundation-funded team of researchers at Princeton, the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University. "No one had a good route to incorporate drugs and imaging agents in nanoparticles."
Headline: Taking nature's cue for cheaper solar power
Solar cell technology developed by the University's Nanomaterials Research Centre will enable New Zealanders to generate electricity from sunlight at a 10th of the cost of current silicon-based photo-electric solar cells.
Dr Wayne Campbell and researchers in the centre have developed a range of coloured dyes for use in dye-sensitised solar cells.
Dr Campbell says that unlike the silicon-based solar cells currently on the market, the 10x10cm green demonstration cells generate enough electricity to run a small fan in low-light conditions — making them ideal for cloudy climates. The dyes can also be incorporated into tinted windows that trap to generate electricity.
Headline: Novel nanocomposite material to combat white pollution
Polystyrene (PS), also known under its trademark name styrofoam … comes in many shapes and forms … [Municipal] solid waste in the U.S. in 2005 contained almost 2.6 million tons of PS — a material that takes hundreds of years to break down and which is not recovered in recycling. PS is also a principle component of marine debris. Motivated by this problem of 'white pollution', a group of researchers in China developed a nanocomposite material that not only has superabsorbent capabilities but also utilizes waste PS foam. If commercially successful, this and similar methods of recycling waste PS into new products could go along way in reducing the worldwide harmful effects of white pollution.
Superabsorbent materials have the ability to absorb many times their weight in aqueous solutions. They are used to improve the performance of a wide range of personal care products but also for industrial products such as plant-friendly water storage to improve soil quality, to regulate moisture in upholstered furniture and as a water-blocking component in cable sheaths.
Headline: Nanobeams get in rhythm
The oscillations of two nanomechanical resonators can become synchronized, according to work by physicists in the US and South Korea. The effect … could be used to develop smaller devices for wireless communications and for making neural network computers.
… Pritiraj Mohanty and Matthias Imboden of Boston University and Seung-Bo Shim at Seoul National University have … shown that two mechanically coupled nanobeams resonate over a range of frequencies.
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.
Members receive the Foresight Nanotech Update newsletter. For a sample from the archives, see the interview of Anita Goel, named one of MIT Technology Review's top 35 innovators and an early winner of the Foresight Distinguished Student Award. Says Goel: "I am betting on portable diagnostics. I have already placed my money on and time into it. I believe in it. I want to see this technology delivered to the world." Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!
Goel interview on page 2 of Update 57 (2.1 MB PDF)
10th Annual NSTI Nanotech Conference and Trade Show
The Nanotech Conference and Trade Show is co-located with 2007 TechConnect Summit and Cleantech 2007.
See the poster presentation at 2-4 PM Wednesday afternoon by Foresight's Director of Education Miguel Aznar: "How do we, as a society, guide the development of nanotechnology?"
Please come by the Foresight booth, staffed by Alicia Isaac and Miguel Aznar, at the Nanotech Showcase on Wednesday evening.
Members are encouraged to stop by and say hello at both the poster and booth.
Foresight members now engaged in nanomanufacturing, or working at companies which plan to enter that field, are invited to participate in an online nanomanufacturing survey sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. With a focus on your technical information interests and needs and current use of nanotechnologies, the results will be shared with Foresight and used to develop publications and ongoing programs. Please take a moment to let SME know what you need at:
Christine Peterson will be the Science Guest of Honor at this open source conference, speaking on numerous technology topics, including open source security for nanotechnology. (see Nanodot post)
Foresight note: The review cited in this Nanodot post outlines "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." Among the issues highlighted in the review are the merits of different approaches to designing molecular machine systems.
Headline: Massive nanotechnology review resolves hard/soft dispute
Here on Nanodot we mentioned earlier a nanotechnology survey article titled Synthetic Molecular Motors and Mechanical Machines by Euan Kay, David Leigh, and Francesco Zerbetto …
I was glad to see the conclusion address and, in my view, resolve the ongoing fuss of whether molecular machine systems should be built using the "hard matter" approach inspired by physics and engineering or the "soft matter" approach inspired by biology. This was always an unnecessary dispute, as the paper makes clear:
"As outlined in this Review, both sets of design philosophies have already had many notable successes and they are not mutually exclusive. No doubt their combination will become increasingly important in the future."
— See Nanodot for the full post by Christine Peterson
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.
Six barriers to commercializing nanotechnology were identified at a high-level roundtable discussion led by Under Secretary for Technology at the US Department of Commerce, Robert Cresanti.
Headline: Cresanti leads nano commercialization roundtable
Many players have a vested interest in understanding the impact of barriers to commercializing nanotechnology. The US government, having invested several billion dollars in research and development since the start of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, is no exception.
On April 3, 2007, Small Times was invited to observe the first in a series of roundtable discussions initiated by a Department of Commerce project and held at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. The Department of Commerce is working with the University of Illinois-Springfield to develop a report intended to help policymakers ensure that the full potential of nanotechnologies can be realized.
For more on one of the barriers identified — intellectual property protection, specifically the sustainability of the current patent review model — see the Nanodot post: Nanotechnology patent problems blamed on unionization
Gazette.net reports that nanotechnology is bringing dramatic advances:
"Imagine not having to go to the doctor when you are sick. No medicine, no popping pills. Instead, tiny cell-like machines in your body would already be at work manufacturing medicine and delivering it exactly where it is needed.
"University of Maryland researchers say these 'nanofactories' may not be that far away.
"Nanofactories are pseudo-cells that are swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and travel to a specific location in the body. What's unique about the tiny biochemical factories is that they could potentially use materials already in the body to manufacture medicine at the first sign of infection or disease."
While these sound great, they are not what most of us think of when we hear the term "nanofactory". Wikipedia explains:
"A nanofactory is a proposed system in which nanomachines (resembling molecular assemblers, or industrial robot arms) would combine reactive molecules via mechanosynthesis to build larger atomically precise parts. These, in turn, would be assembled by positioning mechanisms of assorted sizes to build macroscopic (visible) but still atomically-precise products."
Thus we see again what we saw with the term nanotechnology itself: a long-term definition migrating to a near-term usage. Evidently this happens frequently with attractive-sounding terms. We've grown to accept it, but this tendency makes it hard to discuss long-term technological proposals.
— See Nanodot for the full post by Christine Peterson
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