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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: May 9, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Headline: Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems to be Unveiled October 9-10 in Arlington, VA
Gives pathways to atomically-precise nanotechnology
News source: Foresight Nanotech Institute

PALO ALTO, Calif., – Foresight Nanotech Institute, in partnership with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and with the support of Battelle, announced that it will team up to unveil the groundbreaking Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems at a new nanotechnology event, the Productive Nanosystems Conference, which will take place October 9-10, 2007 at the DoubleTree Crystal City in Arlington, VA.

In 2005, Foresight Nanotech Institute, a leading nanotechnology think tank and public interest organization, and Battelle, a leading global research and development organization, launched development of the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems through an initial grant from The Waitt Family Foundation. The group assembled a world-class Steering Committee to guide this groundbreaking project, and garnered the support of several important industry organizations as roadmap partners, including SME. The Productive Nanosystems Conference will launch the first version of this new nanotechnology Roadmap.

In this issue:

Health: Garments treated with metallic nanoparticles prevent colds and flu
Clean energy: Platinum nanocrystals boost catalytic activity
Clean energy: Quantum dot recipe may lead to cheaper solar panels
Clean energy: Cell splits water via sunlight to produce hydrogen
Information technology: Self assembling chips
Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology - Join Foresight
Conference –10th Annual NSTI Nanotech Conference and Trade Show
Research: Fluorescent nanoparticle flashlights in living cells
Events: SPIE NanoScience & Engineering
Toward Productive Nanosystems: Functionalized mesoporous silica wakes up inactive enzymes
Editor's Pick: Real-time single-molecule imaging of an entire chemical reaction
Nanodot: Iron seeding of ocean seems premature at best
Contact Foresight

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Foresight note: Since the nanoparticles described below have antibacterial properties, one would want to test for possible environmental effects before commercializing these garments—many bacteria are helpful, not harmful.

Headline: Garments treated with metallic nanoparticles prevent colds and flu
News source:

Fashion designers and fiber scientists at Cornell have taken "functional clothing" to a whole new level. They have designed a garment that can prevent colds and flu and never needs washing, and another that destroys harmful gases and protects the wearer from smog and air pollution.

The two-toned gold dress and metallic denim jacket, featured at the April 21 Cornell Design League fashion show, contain cotton fabrics coated with nanoparticles that give them functional qualities never before seen in the fashion world.

"We think this is one of the first times that nanotechnology has entered the fashion world," [fiber science assistant professor Juan] Hinestroza said. He noted one drawback may be the garments' price: one square yard of nano-treated cotton would cost about $10,000.

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Foresight note: Not only does this work enhance our understanding of how nanoparticle shape affects catalytic activity, but it opens the way to more efficient use of an expensive catalyst important for several energy applications.

Headline: Platinum nanocrystals boost catalytic activity for fuel oxidation, hydrogen production
New structures
News source: Georgia Institute of Technology, via AAAS EurekAlert

A research team composed of electrochemists and materials scientists from two continents has produced a new form of the industrially-important metal platinum: 24-facet nanocrystals whose catalytic activity per unit area can be as much as four times higher than existing commercial platinum catalysts.

The new platinum nanocrystals, whose "tetrahexahedral" structure had not previously been reported in the metal, could improve the efficiency of chemical processes such as those used to catalyze fuel oxidation and produce hydrogen for fuel cells.

"If we are going to have a hydrogen economy, we will need better catalysts," said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "This new shape for platinum catalyst nanoparticles greatly improves their activity. This work also demonstrates a new method for producing metallic nanocrystals with high-energy surfaces."

Science abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Headline: Quantum dot recipe may lead to cheaper solar panels
Rice scientists clear hurdle on path to nanotech-based photovoltaics
News source: Rice University, via AAAS EurekAlert

Rice University scientists today revealed a breakthrough method for producing molecular specks of semiconductors called quantum dots, a discovery that could clear the way for better, cheaper solar energy panels.

The research, by scientists at Rice's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN), appears this week in the journal Small. It describes a new chemical method for making four-legged cadmium selenide quantum dots, which previous research has shown to be particularly effective at converting sunlight into electrical energy.

"Our work knocks down a big barrier in developing quantum-dot-based photovoltaics as an alternative to the conventional, more expensive silicon-based solar cells," said paper co-author and principal investigator Michael Wong, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

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Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Headline: Cell splits water via sunlight to produce hydrogen
Cheap source of energy
News source: Washington University in St. Louis, written by Tony Fitzpatrick

Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a unique photocatalytic cell that splits water to produce hydrogen and oxygen in water using sunlight and the power of a nanostructured catalyst.

The group is developing novel methodologies for synthesis of nanostructured films with superior opto-electronic properties. One of the methods, which sandwiches three semiconductor films into a compact structure on the nanoscale range, is smaller, more efficient and more stable than present photocatalytic methods, which require multiple steps and can take from several hours to a day to complete.

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Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Headline: Self assembling chips
News source:

In nature a phenomenon called "self assembly" is a delicate process that forms seashells, creates the enamel on teeth and transforms water into complex snowflakes. IBM Research has, for the first time ever, applied "self assembly" to create computer chips that are faster and smaller than ever before. IBM has figured out how to control and perfect the self assembly process to create trillions of tiny, nano-sized holes across a chip, which speed electrons that flow across wires inside the chip and reducing the power consumed by 15 percent. These chips will go into our everyday electronics such as cell phones, computers and gaming consoles, an advance that is set to drive the equivalent of two generations of Moore's Law.

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Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology

Do you believe that nanotechnology will give society the ability to 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 Teri Odom, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, Northwestern University. Says Odom: "We should care about nanotechnology because it can excite even the most jaded student of science. We have creative license to think about how new discoveries in science and engineering can be combined in ways to address hard problems." Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!

Odom interview starts on page 11 of Update 57 (2.1 MB PDF)

To join:

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Foresight Partners

10th Annual NSTI Nanotech Conference and Trade Show
Nano Science and Technology Institute (NSTI)
May 20-25, 2007
Santa Clara Convention Center
Santa Clara, California

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.

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Nanotech Research

Foresight note: These researchers have expanded the capabilities of nanoparticles to reveal the distribution of important molecules within individual cells. In this way nanotechnology will help illuminate the molecular basis of various disease processes, such as cancer.

Headline: Fluorescent nanoparticles serve as flashlights in living cells
News source: Nanowerk News

Scientists from the University of Twente, The Netherlands, have successfully exploited the optical properties of fluorescent nanoparticles to broaden the scope of single-cell microscopy. By using nanoparticles, they succeeded in combining two different optical microscopy techniques on the same cell. This opens exciting new possibilities for cellular imaging. Henk-Jan van Manen and Cees Otto from the Biophysical Engineering Group of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology describe their results in Nano Letters

Van Manen and Otto expect that the fluorescence Raman microscopy combination will provide exciting new possibilities: the nanoparticles might be coated on their surface with antibodies against, for example, marker proteins for cancer cells. In this way the quantum dots will serve as a torch for specific cells, which can subsequently be subjected to a detailed chemical analysis by using Raman microscopy.

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Nanotech Events

SPIE NanoScience & Engineering
Research & Development on the Nanoscale
August 26-30, 2007
San Diego, California

Where leaders gather to advance the interdisciplinary field of nanotechnology.

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: Stabilizing fragile biological molecular machines outside the cell will facilitate adapting enzymes for use in artificial molecular machine systems.

Headline: Functionalized mesoporous silica wakes up inactive enzymes
News source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

A Research Focus article commenting on recently published nanobiotechnology work at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory appears in the May 2007 issue of the journal Trends in Biotechnology. In their abstract, authors Keith Dunker and Ariel Fernandez state that:

"[PNNL scientist Eric] Ackerman and colleagues showed that an entrapping environment consisting of functionalized mesoporous silica [FMS] actually enhances enzyme activity beyond the test-tube levels of free enzymes in solution. These findings provide an approach for dissecting the effect of various contributors to enzyme activity and thereby provide a means for fine-tuning the entrapping matrices to optimize enzyme performance in a rational way."

The barrier to harnessing enzymes and molecular machines outside cells is that they are fragile and lose their activities once removed from cells. The results from the work by the PNNL team mean that it may be possible to mimic the crowded and stabilizing environment of cells by using FMS. This could in turn lead to environmentally friendly, efficient, chemical reactors based on cellular molecular machines.

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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.

To design molecular machinery that makes and breaks chemical bonds according to programmed instructions, it would be very helpful to understand exactly how the atoms move in such reactions. The scanning tunneling microscope has now been shown capable of providing such information for some reactions.

— Jim

Headline: Real-time single-molecule imaging of an entire chemical reaction
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, written by Michael Berger

In its more than 25 years of existence, Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM) has predominantly brought us extremely detailed images of matter at the molecular and atomic level… The STM allows scientists to visualize regions of high electron density and hence infer the position of individual atoms and molecules on the surface of a lattice. Researchers have now taken a further step by using STM to perform real-time single-molecule imaging of an entire chemical reaction. Many chemical reactions are catalyzed by metal complexes, and insight into their mechanisms is essential for the design of future catalysts. These new findings have demonstrated that the STM approach to studying chemical reactions in a dynamic environment can provide valuable information about reaction mechanisms and rates, as well as catalyst activity and stability.

Nature Nanotechnology abstract

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Nanodot: A sample from Foresight's blog

Foresight note: An update on the post below—it is not meant to imply that the technology being discussed is definitely not helpful, but instead that we would want to see a broader consensus on its use prior to deployment.

Headline: Nanotechnology or not: Iron seeding of ocean seems premature at best

Regular readers of Nanodot know that we often disagree with ETC Group—but not always. They have issued a press release condemning a plan by a private firm to seed the ocean with iron particles in an effort to fight global warming. An excerpt:

"As worrying, Planktos boasts on their website that the iron they dump will be in nanoparticle form because nanoparticles float longer than normal particles.(8) (although Planktos have given contrary information in person). If this is true, then the Planktos experiment may be the largest intentional release of engineered nanoparticles ever undertaken."

So it's not clear whether the iron particles are nanoscale or not. In any case, ETC Group opposes such geoengineering efforts and wants the UN to make climate decisions. Now, while Foresight normally favors "bottom-up" problem-solving, this Planktos project appears to be taking the idea rather far. It's not clear that freelance efforts by one company to change ocean chemistry are a good idea at this point. This seeding project seems premature at the very best.

On the other hand, if global warming becomes as serious a problem as many expect, then some kind of geoengineering project may eventually be needed, and in that case the UN may not be the right entity to make those decisions. They may be too slow and politicized—we might all be cooked well-done before they took action. But having one company making the decisions doesn't seem to make sense either. We would need something in between, probably.

The Planktos announcement also mentions planting trees as another of their efforts to reduce the climate problem, but those of you who read the news may have noticed a surprising new development recently: the claim that while tropical trees help reduce global warming, trees in northern areas make it worse. And that's where Planktos is planting. I'm no expert on global warming, but maybe Planktos isn't either.

— Nanodot post by Christine Peterson

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Contact Foresight

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:

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Dr. James Lewis, Research Analyst 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 him with comments about the News Digest, please send an email to

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