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Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: January 9, 2008

Top Nano News of the Week

Headline: Boron nanotubes could outperform carbon
News source: NewScientist.com news service, written by Stephen Battersby

Carbon may be losing its monopoly over the nanoworld. According to the latest calculations, tubes built out of the element boron could have many of the same properties as carbon nanotubes, the ubiquitous components of nanoengineering. And for some electronic applications, they should even be better than carbon.

Physical Review B abstract

In this issue:

Toward Productive Nanosystems: Nanovideo captures motion of RNA molecules in 3-D
Health: Prospect of better treatment for brain disorders
Health: Treatment for most common cause of blindness becomes feasible
Health: Partnership to develop and commercialize nanotechnology invented at the CNSI
Clean energy: Nanotechnology aids large-area solar cell
Environment: 'Nanohybrid' plastic may expand use of biodegradable plastic
Advancing Beneficial Nanotechnology - Join Foresight
Conference – NanoManufacturing Conference & Exhibits
Research: Model is first to compare performance of 'biosensors'
News: Call for increased regulation of nanotechnology risks
Editor's Pick: Smaller is stronger—now scientists know why
Nanodot: Nanotechnology: Predictions through 2025
Nanodot: Jurvetson on nanotechnology startup ecosystem
Nanodot: Debate on radical life extension
Contact Foresight

Toward Productive Nanosystems

Foresight note: Engineering biomolecules like DNA, RNA, and proteins for predefined mechanical motions is a promising path toward productive nanosystems. Development along this path may be accelerated by this new method for visualizing atomic movements in complex biomolecules in 3D.

Headline: Nanovideo captures motion of RNA molecules in 3-D
News source: University of Michigan

Using an innovative variation on conventional solution state NMR spectroscopy, [Hashim Al-Hashimi] and his coworkers have produced a "nanovideo" that reveals in three dimensions how RNA molecules change shape…

Similar animations have been produced from theoretical calculations, but Al-Hashimi's is based on actual experimental data and covers a much longer timescale than the simulations.

…[the] new nanovideo offers a 3-D glimpse at how parts of the molecule—which has ladder-like arms connected by a flexible hub or linker—twist, bend and rotate relative to one another.

The data revealed that the two arms simultaneously twist and bend and that their motion is not random but highly coordinated, exposing a new level of organization in how molecules change shapes.

Nature abstract

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Nanotechnology that's Good For People

Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nanotechnology improves the prospect of better treatment for brain disorders
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, written by Michael Berger

…The challenge in treating most brain disorders is overcoming the difficulty of delivering therapeutic agents to specific regions of the brain by crossing the [blood-brain barrier (BBB)]. The problem is that the BBB does not differentiate what it keeps out. With very few exceptions, only non-ionic and low molecular weight molecules soluble in fat clear the BBB. For instance, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and antidepressants meet these criteria. However, large molecules needed to deliver drugs do not.

…Dr. Ernest Giralt from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain, together with Dr. Meritxell Teixidó from his group, summarized literature reports on the use of peptides and nanotechnology for the treatment and diagnosis of brain disorders, and comparing these approaches to other methods.

Journal of Peptide Science abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: Nanotechnology treatment for most common cause of blindness becomes feasible
News source: Nanowerk Spotlight, written by Michael Berger

…While cataract surgery is the most successful medical procedure, the inability to control penetration of the pharmacological agents into the lens and target specific intracellular biochemical pathways has impeded the success of pharmacological treatment of cataracts. Researchers are now studying the application of nanotechnology to eye lens diseases, in particular for new methods for visualizing and targeting specific intracellular mechanisms within the eye.

Nanotechnology abstract

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Foresight Challenge: Improving health and longevity

Headline: CNSI and NanoPacific Holdings announce a partnership to develop and commercialize nanotechnology invented at the CNSI
News source: Nanowerk News

On the day of its official inauguration, the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA and NanoPacific Holdings, Inc. (NPH) announce a partnership to commercialize a mechanized nanoparticle-based technology that could mean prolonged lives of enhanced quality for millions of cancer sufferers. Under the terms of the partnership, NPH will receive an exclusive license to key intellectual property owned by UCLA and developed within the Nano Machine Center (NMC) at the CNSI. The newly formed company will provide funding for further research to be performed in the NMC to broaden the scope of the technology in order to encompass a diverse range of applications…

The delivery mechanism consists of porous nanoparticles, capable of storing and selectively releasing small drug molecules via nanoscale gates that can be opened and closed at will on the surface of the nanoparticles.

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Nanotechnology that's Good For the Planet

Foresight Challenge: Providing renewable clean energy

Headline: Nanotechnology aids large-area solar cell
News source: EE Times, written by Amir Ben-Artzi

A scientist at Israel's Bar-Ilan University claims that he has managed to create a solar cell 100 times bigger than a typical solar cell, using nanotechnology methods. Professor Arie Zaban, head of Bar-Ilan University's Nanotechnology Institute, is an expert in photovoltaics. In a recently patented technique, Professor Zaban demonstrated how metallic wires mounted on conductive glass can form the basis of solar cells with efficiency similar to that of conventional, silicon-based cells, but that are much cheaper to produce.

…"Given the state of the technology, I believe that the new solar cells will be available commercially within the next five years," [Professor Zaban] said.

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Foresight Challenge: Healing and preserving the environment

Headline: 'Nanohybrid' plastic may expand use of biodegradable plastic
News source: ScienceDaily

Scientists in New York are reporting development of a new biodegradable "nanohybrid" plastic that can be engineered to decompose much faster than existing plastics used in everything from soft drink bottles to medical implants.

The plastic is a modified form of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a promising biodegradable plastic produced from bacteria that has been widely hailed as a "green" alternative to petroleum-based plastic for use in packaging, agricultural and biomedical applications. Although commercially available since the 1980s, PHB has seen only limited use because of its brittleness and unpredictable biodegradation rates.

In the new study, Emmanuel P. Giannelis and colleagues compared the strength and biodegradation rates of raw PHB to a modified form of PHB that contains nanoparticles of clay or "nanoclays."

Biomacromolecules abstract

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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 article "Manipulating atoms using atom chips". Update interviews Dr. Ron Folman of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on the use of the quantum properties of atoms to place atoms where you want them. Join Foresight and help steer nanotech in the directions you personally support most!

"Manipulating atoms using atom chips" in Update 58

To join:

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Foresight Partners

NanoManufacturing Conference & Exhibits
Sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)
April 22 - 23, 2008
Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Looking to understand what nanotechnology means for you? Need to understand how and why nanotechnology can improve your products, process, and may even cut costs? Interested in learning about the latest applications and trends in top-down fabrication and bottom-up assembly techniques? Then this event is for you!

This conference will highlight the current, near-term, and future applications of nanotechnology and how they are transforming the way we manufacture products. Peer networking, information sharing, and technology exchange among the world's nanomanufacturing leaders will be a key feature of the event.

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Nanotech Research

Headline: Model is first to compare performance of 'biosensors'
News source: Purdue University, written by Emil Venere

Researchers have developed a new modeling technique to study and design miniature "biosensors," a tool that could help industry perfect lab-on-a-chip technology for uses ranging from medical diagnostics to environmental monitoring.

…researchers at Purdue University are the first to create "a new conceptual framework" and corresponding computational model to relate the shape of a sensor to its performance and explain why certain designs perform better than others…

Findings also refute long-held assumptions about how to improve sensor performance.

Physical Review Letters abstract

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Nanotech News

Headline: Goldston Nature editorial calls for increased regulation of nanotechnology risks
News source: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

David Goldston, a Scholar in Residence at the Woodrow Wilson School's Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, has authored the editorial "Small Advances," in the December 19 edition of Nature.

In the article Goldston examines why, despite concern in the policy and scientific communities that the environmental and health effects of nanoparticles and related exposure need a lot more study, little progress has been made in studying nanoparticles despite a concerted call and Congressional support for a well-funded research program…

Goldston writes, "The problem in this case is not ideological conflict, or indeed opposition of any kind." Rather, the author notes, "with no divisive fight over regulation (partly because agencies don't know enough yet to figure out how to regulate), nobody has been screaming for research either to settle a policy debate or to forestall action, as has been the case with climate change, for example."

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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.

These researchers have demonstrated what seems so intuitively reasonable—that at the nanoscale you can make something stronger by literally pushing out the kinks and defects.


Headline: Smaller is stronger—now scientists know why
News source: PhysOrg.com

As structures made of metal get smaller—as their dimensions approach the micrometer scale (millionths of a meter) or less—they get stronger. Scientists discovered this phenomenon 50 years ago … but only recently has it become possible to see and record what's actually happening in tiny structures under stress.

…The videotaped images from the electron microscope helped the researchers understand why nanoscale nickel pillars are so strong by allowing them to observe changes in the microstructure of the pillars during deformation—including a never-before-seen process the researchers dubbed "mechanical annealing."

[Andrew Minor, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory] says, "The first thing we observed was that, before the test, the nanoscale pillars of nickel were full of dislocations. But as we compressed the pillar, all the dislocations were driven out of the material—literally reducing the dislocation density by 15 orders of magnitude and producing a perfect crystal. We called this effect mechanical annealing."

Nature Materials abstract

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Nanodot: A sample from Foresight's blog

Headline: Nanotechnology: Predictions through 2025

As we close out Nanodot for 2007, we note some predictions for the future of nanotechnology through 2025 from Peter von Stackelberg…

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Headline: Jurvetson on nanotechnology startup ecosystem

Our favorite nanotechnology VC is Steve Jurvetson, who is interviewed over at LiveMint.com from India, which is affiliated with The Wall Street Journal. An excerpt…

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Headline: Debate on radical life extension

One of the Foresight Challenges is "Improving Health and Longevity", which we take to be a positive goal for nanotechnology and biotech. Not everyone sees it that way, as we find in a recent online debate over at Cato's online forum called Cato Unbound…

—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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