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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: June 27, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Foresight note: Nanotechnology improves upon even the most striking inventions of biology.

Headline: Nanotube adhesive sticks better than a gecko's foot
News source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Mimicking the agile gecko, with its uncanny ability to run up walls and across ceilings, has long been a goal of materials scientists. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Akron have taken one sticky step in the right direction, creating synthetic "gecko tape" with four times the sticking power of the real thing.

…the researchers describe a process for making polymer surfaces covered with carbon nanotube hairs. The nanotubes imitate the thousands of microscopic hairs on a gecko's footpad, which form weak bonds with whatever surface the creature touches, allowing it to "unstick" itself simply by shifting its foot.

The material could have a number of applications, including feet for wall-climbing robots; a dry, reversible adhesive in electronic devices; and outer space, where most adhesives don't work because of the vacuum.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences abstract

In this issue:

Health: Nano technique allows precise injection of living cells
Health: Researchers develop buckyballs to fight allergy
Information technology: Nano-method to compress computer memory
Space: Bendy hydrogen sensors take shape
Foresight Events: Productive Nanosystems Conference
Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology - Join Foresight
Conference – SPIE NanoScience & Engineering
News: Scientists call for global push in synthetic biology
News: Consumers must be convinced benefits outweigh risks
Toward Productive Nanosystems: Tracking the influence of a cancer inhibitor on a single DNA molecule
Editor's Pick: A new technique for building nanodevices in the lab
Nanodot: Challenges of US/China nanotechnology
Contact Foresight

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nano technique allows precise injection of living cells
News source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, via AAAS EurekAlert

Specialized pulsed lasers have been used to inject individual cells with a variety of materials, but little is known about how this type of injection might affect living cells. For the first time, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have analyzed this nanoscale injection process on living cells and discovered that minor changes in the intensity of the laser could mark the difference between a healthy cell and a dead one.

The new findings could serve as a set of guidelines for future research that requires precise microinjection of live single cells. Such research ranges from testing drugs for toxicity to targeting tumor cells with chemotherapy.

"The technique will allow researchers to use unprecedented precision to microinject cells or even perform nanosurgery on cells," [lead researcher Ingrid] Wilke said.

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Researchers develop buckyballs to fight allergy
News source: Virginia Commonwealth University

A research team has identified a new biological function for a soccer ball-shaped nanoparticle called a buckyball—the ability to block allergic response, setting the stage for the development of new therapies for allergy.

Allergic disease is the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, and while various treatments have been developed to control allergy, no cure has been found. These findings advance the emerging field of medicine known as nanoimmunology.

Journal of Immunology abstract

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Headline: New nano-method may help compress computer memory
News source: Brown University

A team of chemists at Brown University has devised a simple way to synthesize iron-platinum nanorods and nanowires while controlling both size and composition. Nanorods with uniform shape and magnetic alignment are one key to the next generation of high-density information storage, but have been difficult to make in bulk.

The technique … produces nanorods and nanowires from 20 nm to 200 nm long, simply by varying the ratio of solvent and surfactant used in synthesis. Shouheng Sun, a professor of chemistry at Brown University, postdoctoral researcher Yanglong Hou, and colleagues have also demonstrated that the same technique works to control the shape of cobalt-platinum nanorods, suggesting that it may work for many other combinations as well.

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Foresight Challenge: Enabling space development

Headline: Bendy hydrogen sensors take shape [Site requires free registration.]
News source: Nanotechweb.org, written by Belle Dumé

Materials scientists in the US have made the first flexible hydrogen sensors from single-walled carbon nanotubes topped with individual palladium (Pd) nanoparticles. The new sensors, which have excellent sensing and mechanical properties, will be useful in places where the devices need to be wrapped around a surface. Potential applications include use in portable electronic devices and vehicles driven by hydrogen fuel cells, and on spacecraft to detect hydrogen leaks.

"For example, individual rigid sensors could not easily detect hydrogen leaking out of tiny pinholes in the pipe of a space shuttle because we do not know where the holes are located in the first place," explained [Yugang Sun, Argonne National Laboratory]. "In contrast, the leakage could be detected by a dense of array of flexible sensors laminated onto the entire surface of the pipe."

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Foresight Events

Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap
Conference sponsored by Foresight Nanotech Institute and Society of Manufacturing Engineers with support from Battelle
October 9-10, 2007
DoubleTree Crystal City in Arlington, VA

Now, for the first time, the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will describe the R&D pathways and products resulting from this ultimate technological revolution. Join us as we explore the power of advanced "bottom-up" nanotechnology in this 14th Foresight Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology.

Feynman Prize luncheon on October 9, 2007

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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 review of the book Nanotechnology Applications and Markets by Lawrence Gasman, in which Gasman says: "I am going to take the position that the vast majority of what is today being characterized as nanotech really falls into three areas: nanoelectronics, nanobiotechnology, and nanoenergy." Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!

Book review begins on page 13 of Update 57 (2.1 MB PDF)

To join:

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Foresight Partners

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

Plan to attend NanoScience + Engineering, one of the largest and most important technical conferences covering developing technologies at the nanoscale, current and future applications, and the environmental, health, and safety issues that must be addressed.

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Nanotech News

Foresight note: Although the focus of synthetic biology differs somewhat from the mechanical engineering focus of advanced nanotechnology, there is much overlap in research goals and intended applications. The signers of this statement include a number of prominent nanotechnology researchers. In addition, the statement's consideration of "Societal Impacts and Applications" includes these two items that strongly resemble long time Foresight goals (emphasis added):
"5. Support the establishment of a professional organization that will engage with the broader society to maximize the benefits, minimize the risks, and oversee the ethics of synthetic life.
6. Develop a flexible and sensible approach to ownership, sharing of knowledge, and regulation, that takes into account the needs of all stakeholders."

Headline: Scientists call for global push to advance research in synthetic biology
Forecasting a revolution in science, the 'ilulissat statement' concludes an international meeting of renowned researchers at the inaugural Kavli Futures Symposium
News source: The Kavli Foundation

With research backgrounds ranging from materials engineering to molecular biophysics, seventeen leading scientists issued a statement today announcing that, much as the discovery of DNA and creation of the transistor revolutionized science, there is a new scientific field on the brink of revolutionizing our approach to problems ranging from eco-safe energy to outbreaks of malaria.

That research area is synthetic biology—the construction or redesign of biological systems components that do not naturally exist, by combining the engineering applications and practices of nanoscience with molecular biology.

The complete text of the Ilulissat Statement can be found here.

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Headline: Nanotechnology: Consumers must be convinced benefits outweigh risks
Uncertainty will make nanotech a "hard sell"
News source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

"There is no doubt that nanotechnology has the potential to make the world a better place," said Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Chief Scientist Andrew Maynard. "But if consumers and other stakeholders are not convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks, many applications will not see the light of day. Likewise, if the benefits are unclear and the risks uncertain, the products of nanotechnology will be a hard sell."

Dr. Maynard's remark is in his presentation today [June 25] before a public meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). He spoke as part of a panel devoted to addressing and managing the potential health, environmental and safety risks of nanotechnology.

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: Even more interesting than the potential use in developing better cancer drugs is the fact that these researchers have developed a powerful method to manipulate individual molecules of DNA and protein. Both DNA and protein molecules have received much attention as possible paths to productive nanosystems, and this method might open new ways to exploit them for molecular machine systems.

Headline: TU Delft tracks the influence of a cancer inhibitor on a single DNA molecule
News source: Delft University of Technology, via AAAS EurekAlert

Researchers in Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience in The Netherlands have cast new light on the workings of the important cancer inhibitor topotecan. Little had been known about the underlying molecular mechanism, but the Delft scientists can now view the effects of the medicine live at the level of a single DNA molecule.

…they fixed a single DNA molecule between a glass plate and a magnetic sphere. With the help of two magnets they could both pull and twist the DNA molecule.

Nature 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.

This improvement in a classical nanofabrication method may or may not prove useful in the march toward molecular manufacturing, but the ability to sculpt metal devices less than 10 nm is nonetheless impressive.

— Jim

Headline: A new technique for building nanodevices in the lab
Electron beam 'carves' the world's smallest devices
News source: University of Pennsylvania, via AAAS EurekAlert

Physicists at the University of Pennsylvania are using a new technique to craft some of the tiniest metal nanostructures ever created, none larger than 10 nanometers, or 10,000 times smaller than the width of a single human hair.

The technique employs transmission electron beam ablation lithography, or TEBAL, to "carve" nanostructures from thin sheets of gold, silver, aluminum and other metals. TEBAL provides a more dependable method for producing quality versions of these microscopic devices, which are studied for their novel mechanical properties and their potential use in next-generation sensors and electronics. The method also permits simultaneous, real-time atomic imaging of the devices as they are made.

Nano Letters abstract

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Nanodot: A sample from Foresight's blog

Headline: Challenges of US/China nanotechnology

Just received from Steffen Foss Hansen is a paper by his colleague Evan Michelson at the Wilson Center on the tough issue of "Nanotechnology Policy: An Analysis of Transnational Governance Issues Facing the United States and China." An excerpt:

"Due to the rapid pace of R&D, discoveries in nanotechnology could come in great, discontinuous leaps and, in turn, revolutionize society's knowledge and understanding of the physical world in rather short amounts of time. In turn, these technological leaps could come to strain the ability of public institutions and public infrastructure—especially in China, which will likely face an additional host of resource, population, and energy challenges in the coming decades—to respond in an effective and timely manner."

So true. And even more true than the paper conveys, since it appears to focus on environmental issues without addressing military and surveillance concerns, which should be even harder to deal with. But perhaps governance structures for the former could be of some use for the latter as well.

—Nanodot post by Christine Peterson

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Contact Foresight

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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 editor@foresight.org

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