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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: November 14, 2007

Top Nano News of the Week

Foresight note: The "giant step" announced here is not a specific discovery or invention, but rather the formation of an international alliance to pursue Feynman's vision of atomically precise machinery. However, although focused on complex nanosystem architectures, the initial emphasis is on marrying nanosensor and MEMS technologies, rather than on atomically precise manufacturing.

Headline: A giant step toward infinitesimal machinery
News source: PhysOrg.com

What are the ultimate limits to miniaturization? How small can machinery—with internal workings that move, turn, and vibrate—be produced? What is the smallest scale on which computers can be built?

With uncanny and characteristic insight, these are questions that the legendary Caltech physicist Richard Feynman asked himself in the period leading up to a famous 1959 lecture, the first on a topic now called nanotechnology. In a newly announced global Alliance for Nanosystems VLSI (very-large-scale integration), researchers at Caltech's Kavli Nanoscience Institute (KNI) in Pasadena, California, and at the Laboratoire d'Electronique et de Technologie de l'Information-Micro- and Nano-Technologies (CEA/LETI-MINATEC) in Grenoble, France, are working together to take the pursuit of this vision to an entirely new level.

... These components [produced by current nanotechnology] hold great promise as the fundamental building blocks of complex future nanosystems, that is, as the ultraminiature machines and computers of Feynman's dreams. But, so far, very little work has actually been carried out to assemble these individual elements into complex architectures.

In this issue:

Health: Nanoparticle images and treats cancer, reports on drug delivery
Health: Mining tiny diamonds for drug delivery
Clean energy: Could nanotechnology revolutionize natural gas industry?
Information technology: Researchers rotate electron spin with electric field
Toward Productive Nanosystems: Speed plays crucial role in breaking protein's H-bonds
Toward Productive Nanosystems: Animation of molecular machines and nanoreactors
Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology - Join Foresight
Research: Functional protein building blocks for dynamic materials
News: US government delays nanotechnology safety measures
News: Expert calls for coordination in nanotechnology research
Editor's Pick: STM runs faster
Nanodot: Nanotechnology in China: Functional supramolecular systems
Nanodot: Nanotechnology to enable video of entire human life
Nanodot: MIT alums to geek out on nanotechnology in 15 cities
Nanodot: Foresight Vision Weekend Unconference: thanks to all
Nanodot: Nanotechnology: the new IT
Contact Foresight

Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nanoparticle images and treats cancer, reports on drug delivery
News source: National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

Using a quantum dot plus an aptamer that doubles as a tether for the anticancer drug doxorubicin, a team of investigators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-Harvard Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence has developed a multifunctional nanoparticle that not only treats cancer but also images those tumors that have received drug therapy.

Nano Letters abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Mining tiny diamonds for drug delivery
News source: National Cancer Institute's Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer

Northwestern University researchers have shown that nanodiamonds are effective at delivering chemotherapy drugs to cells without the negative effects associated with current drug delivery agents. Their study … is the first to demonstrate the use of nanodiamonds, a new class of nanomaterials, in biomedicine. In addition to delivering cancer drugs, the model could be used for other applications, such as fighting tuberculosis or viral infections, say the researchers.

Nanodiamonds promise to play a significant role in improving cancer treatment by limiting uncontrolled exposure of toxic drugs to the body. The research team, headed by Dean Ho, Ph.D., reports that aggregated clusters of nanodiamonds were shown to be ideal for carrying a chemotherapy drug and shielding it from normal cells so as not to kill them, releasing the drug slowly only after it reached its cellular target.

Nano Letters abstract

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Headline: Could nanotechnology revolutionize natural gas industry?
News source: Science Daily

Nanotechnology could revolutionize the natural gas industry across the whole lifecycle from extraction to pollution reduction or be an enormous missed opportunity, claim two industry experts writing in Inderscience's International Journal of Nanotechnology. They suggest that nanotechnology could help us extract more fuel and feedstock hydrocarbons from dwindling resources. However, industry inertia and a lack of awareness of the benefits could mean a missed opportunity.

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Foresight Challenge: Making information technology available to all

Headline: Delft University of Technology rotates electron spin with electric field
News source: Delft University of Technology, via AAAS EurekAlert

Researchers at the Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) have succeeded in controlling the spin of a single electron merely by using electric fields. This clears the way for a much simpler realization of the building blocks of a (future) super-fast quantum computer.

… The advantage of controlling spin with electric fields rather than magnetic fields is that the former are easy to generate. It will also be easier to control various spins independently from one another — a requirement for building a quantum computer — using electric fields. The team, led by Dr. Lieven Vandersypen, is now going to apply this technique to a number of electrons.

Science abstract

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Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: This computational study reveals the relationship between protein structure and the mechanical properties of proteins—important for using engineered proteins for developing productive nanosystems.

Headline: Speed plays crucial role in breaking protein's H-bonds
News source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via AAAS EurekAlert, written by Denise Brehm

Researchers at MIT studying the architecture of proteins have finally explained why computer models of proteins' behavior under mechanical duress differ dramatically from experimental observations. This work could have vast implications in bioengineering and medical research by advancing our understanding of the relationship between structure and function in these basic building blocks of life. …

"We have for the first time simulated the behavior of protein structures under conditions that correspond to those in living biological systems," said Markus Buehler, the … lead researcher on the team. "All the different types of proteins we studied exhibit two distinct fracture modes that are dependent on the speed at which force is applied."

…"This new understanding could lead to the development of stronger, more robust materials that consume less energy in their manufacturing and transport. Such advances are only possible by including the molecular scale into the engineering design approach," said Buehler.

Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences abstract

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Headline: Animation of molecular machines and nanoreactors
News source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Eric Ackerman

Six months ago News Digest featured work from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientist Eric Ackerman and colleagues that used synthetic nanostructures to stabilize fragile biological molecular machines outside of the cell. Dr. Ackerman wrote last week to inform us of a new, very informative, animation of molecular machines and nanoreactors. "Today we added an animation describing the vision for our work. (Click on 'video' below the picture to see the ~5 minute movie.)"

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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 Jürgen Altmann's book Military Nanotechnology: Potential applications and preventive arms control, which assesses the implications of both near-term nanotechnology and advanced nanotechnology for military systems and for arms control. Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!

Military Nanotechnology review in Update 58

To join:

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Nanotech Research

Headline: Functional protein building blocks could be used to fabricate tunable, dynamic materials
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, written by Michael Berger

… Scientists believe that [the] variety of natural protein functions — actuation, catalysis, structural transport and molecular sequestering — could serve as valuable and versatile building blocks for synthesis of functional materials. Researchers now have found that nanometer-scale changes in protein conformation can be translated into macroscopic changes in material properties. The result is a new class of dynamic, protein-based materials.

"Previous studies have generated protein-based materials, and some of these materials can undergo changes in their properties based on differences in protein-ligand binding, for example," Dr. William L. Murphy tells Nanowerk. "However, previous studies have not specifically used protein conformational changes as a mechanism to build dynamic materials."

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Nanotech News

Headline: US government delays nanotechnology safety measures
Expert warns Congress that safety questions put nanotech enterprise at risk
News source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, via AAAS EurekAlert

Want to buy a bag of carbon nanotubes—in quantities from a few grams to hundreds of kilograms (100 kilograms = approximately 220 pounds)? With a credit card and Internet access, you can. But is the U.S. government doing enough to ensure the safety of these materials and the hundreds of other nanotechnology commercial and consumer products currently on the market?

The answer is a resounding "no," says Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies chief scientist Andrew Maynard. "The materials safety data sheet for carbon nanotubes—which provides workers and safety personnel with information on proper handling procedures—treats these substances as graphite, the material used in pencils. But carbon nanotubes are as similar to pencil lead as the soot on my barbeque grill at home is to diamonds."

According to Maynard, "This is just one example of the yawning knowledge gap between the nanomaterials entering commerce now and their safety. And this uncertainty over how to develop nanotechnologies safely, hamstrings regulators, hinders nanobusiness, and confuses consumers."

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Headline: Rice University expert calls for coordination in nanotechnology research
In House testimony, Vicki Colvin says nano community needs 'research harmonization'
News source: Rice University, via AAAS EurekAlert

Nanotechnology holds great promise for the future of cancer therapy and water treatment, but concerns about the safety of nanoproducts may limit these important technological developments, Vicki Colvin said today in comments to the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

Colvin, director of Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) and executive director of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON), was an expert witness at the hearing "Research on Environmental and Safety Impacts of Nanotechnology."

… "There is an urgency to nano-EHS research that affects the entire NNI investment," she said. "Innovation in nanotechnology is being threatened by the uncertainty about its risks. We need this innovation more than ever right now."

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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 atomic-scale images provided by STMs have been crucial to the development of nanotechnology over the past 25 years. This major improvement in speed should make STMs even more useful.

— Jim

Headline: STM runs faster
News source: nanotechweb.org, written by Belle Dumé (requires free registration)

Ordinary scanning tunnelling microscopes (STMs) could soon be collecting images 100-times faster than ever before thanks to a simple but clever modification by physicists in the US. The team added a specially-designed radio-frequency circuit to an existing STM, which allows it to operate at 10 MHz. Such RF-STMs could help researchers gain a better understanding of how atoms and electrons move in solids.

Nature abstract

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Nanodot: A sample from Foresight's blog

Headline: Nanotechnology in China: Functional supramolecular systems

Various kinds of nanotechnology are being worked on in China, but one of the most important on the pathway to a general ability to build with atomic precision is what is called functional supramolecular systems. We at Foresight wish we could all have been in Beijing on Oct. 21-24 for the Xiangshan Science Conference on Functional Supramolecular Systems: Self-assembly and Nanotechnology…

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Headline: Nanotechnology to enable video of entire human life

Today's nanotechnology is just the beginning of what will be possible from atomically-precise devices and systems, but already we're seeing some impressive claims for early nanotech…

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Headline: MIT alums to geek out on nanotechnology in 15 cities

Most nanotechnology emails I receive are because the sender knows I have some connection to the field professionally. This one came due only to my being an MIT alum. The nanotech event described is only for such alumni, but I bet it's possible to get in some other way if you try hard enough…

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Headline: Foresight Vision Weekend Unconference: thanks to all

The 2007 Foresight Vision Weekend Unconference ended yesterday, and so far the comments are excellent. Many people helped to make it happen…

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Headline: Nanotechnology: the new IT

For decades, information technology has been the biggest change agent in technology. Now we see a prediction on CNet News.com that atoms will again step up to a significant role, compared to bits…

—Nanodot posts 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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