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What's New in Nanotechnology?

May 25, 2011

The Nanotechnology Center includes class 100 (ISO 5) to class 10'000 (ISO 7) cleanroom facilities.(Image Credit: IBM)

IBM and ETH Zurich, a European science and engineering university, recently opened the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Centerlocated on the campus of IBM Research – Zurich. The facility is the centerpiece of a 10-year strategic partnership in nanoscience between IBM and ETH Zurich where scientists will research novel nanoscale structures and devices to advance energy and information technologies. The new Center is named for Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, the two IBM scientists and Nobel Laureates who invented the scanning tunneling microscope at the Zurich Research Lab in 1981, thus enabling resear �chers to see atoms on a surface for the first time. Scientists and engineers from IBM and ETH Zurich will pursue joint and independent projects, ranging from exploratory research to applied and near-term projects including new nanoscale devices and device concepts as well as generating insights about their scientific foundations at the atomic level. Three ETH professors and their teams have moved into the new building and will conduct part of their research in nanoscience on a permanent base. Even more ETH researchers will benefit from the partnership and be able to use the excellent infrastructure for various projects. One focus of IBM's research in the Center is put on exploring the "next switch"-- the future building blocks for better, faster and more energy efficient chips and computer systems. For example, IBM scientists are currently exploring semiconducting nanowires--tiny hairlike structures-- to potentially increase the energy efficiency of computing devices by 10 times. In addition, through novel device concepts, such nanowires-transistors could virtually consume zero energy while in passive or standby mode. Additional research areas include micro- and nanoelectromechanical systems, spintronics, organic electronics, carbon-based devices, functional materials, cooling, three-dimensional integration of computer chips, opto-electronics and optical data communication in computers as well as silicon nanophotonics.

May 11, 2011

Rather than breaking down, a nanocomposite material stiffens under strain, a finding that in the future may be useful in the development of artificial cartilage.(Image Credit: Ajayan lab, Rice University)

A synthetic material gets stronger from repeated strain much like the body strengthens bone and muscle after repeated workouts. The trick to stiffening polymer-based nanocomposites with carbon nanotube fillers lies in the complex, dynamic interface between nanostructures and polymers in carefully engineered nanocomposite materials. Researchers at Rice University discovered the interesting property while testing the high-cycle fatigue properties of a composite made by infiltrating vertically aligned, multi-walled nanotubes with polydimethylsiloxane, an inert rubber polymer. Instead of damaging the material, repeatedly loading it seemed to make it stiffer. Using dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) to test the material, the researchers found that after 3.5 million compressions (five per second) over about a week’s time, the stiffness of the composite had increased by 12 percent and showed the potential for even further improvement. “It took a bit of tweaking to get the instrument to do this,” says Brent Carey, a graduate student at Rice University working in the lab of Pulickel Ajayan, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of chemistry at Rice University. “DMA generally assumes that your material isn’t changing in any permanent way. In the early tests, the software kept telling me, ‘I’ve damaged the sample!’ as the stiffness increased. I also had to trick it with an unsolvable program loop to achieve the high number of cycles.” Materials scientists know that metals can strain-harden during repeated deformation, a result of the creation and jamming of defects—known as dislocations—in their crystalline lattice. Polymers, which are made of long, repeating chains of atoms, don’t behave the same way. Researchers are not sure precisely why their synthetic material behaves as it does.

Categories : University News
May 01, 2011

Collage of NIST "nano-eggs" — simulated magnetic patterns in NIST’s egg-shaped nanoscale magnets.Image Credit: Talbott/NIST

Magnetics researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) colored lots of eggs recently. Bunnies and children might find the eggs a bit small — in fact, too small to see without a microscope. But these "eggcentric" nanomagnets have another practical use, suggesting strategies for making future low-power computer memories. For a study described in a new paper, NIST researchers used electron-beam lithography to make thousands of nickel-iron magnets, each about 200 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in diameter. Each magnet is ordinarily shaped like an ellipse, a slightly flattened circle. Researchers also made some magnets in three different egglike shapes with an increasingly pointy end. It's all part of NIST research on nanoscale magnetic materials, devices and measurement methods to support development of future magnetic data storage systems. It turns out that even small distortions in magnet shape can lead to significant changes in magnetic properties. Researchers discovered this by probing the magnets with a laser and analyzing what happens to the "spins" of the electrons, a quantum property that's responsible for magnetic orientation. Changes in the spin orientation can propagate through the magnet like waves at different frequencies. The more egg-like the magnet, the more complex the wave patterns and their related frequencies.The shifts are most pronounced at the ends of the magnets. Find out more...

Categories : Government Research
April 12, 2011

Nano-oscillatorsImage Credit: University of California, Riverside

Even the smallest devices, assembled at the molecular level, need motors and oscillators. UC Riverside Mechanical Engineering Professor Qing Jiang thinks bundling groups of carbon nanotubes together could make an ultra-efficient and accurate nano-oscillator. In the rapidly developing field of nanotechnology -- doing things at a scale 100,000 times narrower than a human hair -- nanodevices are becoming an increasingly key component in everything from drug delivery to improving or even replacing the microprocessors in computers or optical switches in telecommunications networks. “We’re looking at the very fundamentals of machinery in the nanoscopic world and what it takes to move the components of these machines, ultra-fast, super-efficient and with extreme precision” Jiang said. “A nano-motor generating rotational motion, a nano-oscillator (like a piston) generating linear motion forward and backward. We’re looking at how best to generate these motions in a nano-environment.”  Jiang’s earlier work, done mostly with multi-walled carbon nanotube oscillators, in which a narrow nanotube is encased in a larger nanotube, encountered two limitations -- frequency and friction. With increased frequency, beyond the benchmark one gigahertz (a billion cycles per second), increased energy dissipation creates a lot of heat, which reduces the efficiency of the tiny pistons. His current work, with bundles of single-walled carbon nanotubes encased in an additional layer of single-walled carbon nanotubes outperformed their multi-walled counterparts and generated less heat and friction problems.

Categories : University News
April 05, 2011

Image Credit: IBM

IBM scientists have recently described the application of nanotechnology expertise to healthcare, specifically the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infectious diseases like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA. There are two main issues with conventional antibiotics today – one is that they indiscriminately affect all cells – they have no way to tell which ones are infected and which ones are not. Many times it takes multiple cycles of prescribed antibiotics to kill the bacteria. The second problem is that they do not penetrate cells – so the antibiotics surround infected cells while damaging nearby healthy cells, ultimately allowing bacteria to get stronger and become immune to the antibiotics. Further, the remaining antibiotics typically stay in the body and accumulate in the organs, causing damaging side effects. Researchers at IBM have designed special nanostructures that have been proven to tackle these two problems. Once in contact with water, the polymers in these agents self-assemble into new structures that are basically magnetically attracted to bacteria membranes based on their electrostatic interaction. Once they ‘find’ the bacterial-infected cells, they break the membrane walls and destroy the bacteria from within the cell. Since there is no physical attraction to the healthy cells, those remain untouched; they can still transport oxygen throughout the body and combat bacteria on their own. Finally, the nanostructures are biodegradable – once they’ve done their job, they leave the body.  Find out more...

Categories : Corporate News
March 29, 2011

NanoDays is a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science and engineering and its potential impact on the future. NanoDays events are organized by participants and take place at over 200 science museums, research centers, and universities across the country from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. NanoDays engages people of all ages in learning about this emerging field of science, which holds the promise of developing revolutionary materials and technologies.   Find out more... 

Categories : Uncategorized
March 07, 2011

A special coating on the nanotunnels of a silk moth's antenna is the inspiration for a similar oily layer on synthetic nanopores, tiny measurement devices. University of Michigan researchers led the development of this improved technology, and they're using it to gain new insights into Alzheimer's and other similar neurodegenerative diseases.(Image Credit: Chris Burke, University of Michigan)

By mimicking the structure of the silk moth's antenna, University of Michigan researchers led the development of a better nanopore --a tiny tunnel-shaped tool that could advance understanding of a class of neurodegenerative diseases that includes Alzheimer's. The project is headed by Michael Mayer, an associate professor in the U-M departments of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering. Nanopores -- essentially holes drilled in a silicon chip -- are miniscule measurement devices that enable the study of single molecules or proteins. Even today's best nanopores clog easily, so the technology hasn't been widely adopted in the lab. Improved versions are expected to be major boons for faster, cheaper DNA sequencing and protein analysis. The team engineered an oily coating that traps and smoothly transports molecules of interest through nanopores. The coating also allows researchers to adjust the size of the pore with close-to-atomic precision. Mayer's "fluid lipid bilayer" resembles a coating on the male silk moth's antenna that helps it smell nearby female moths. The coating catches pheromone molecules in the air and carries them through nanotunnels in the exoskeleton to nerve cells that send a message to the bug's brain. "These pheromones are lipophilic. They like to bind to lipids, or fat-like materials. So they get trapped and concentrated on the surface of this lipid layer in the silk moth. The layer greases the movement of the pheromones to the place where they need to be. Our new coating serves the same purpose," Mayer said. One of Mayer's main research tracks is to study proteins called amyloid-beta peptides that are thought to coagulate into fibers that affect the brain in Alzheimer's. He is interested in studying the size and shape of these fibers and how they form. TryEngineering.org offers a lesson plan about biomimicry.

Categories : Uncategorized
February 22, 2011

Northwestern researchers have developed an innovative method for printing nanostructures using hard, sharp “pen” tips that float on soft polymer springs. The technique quickly and inexpensively produces patterns of high quality and with high resolution and density.Image Credit: Northwestern University

Northwestern University researchers have developed a new technique for rapidly prototyping nanoscale devices and structures that is so inexpensive the “print head” can be thrown away when done. Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography (HSL) rolls into one method the best of scanning-probe lithography -- high resolution -- and the best of polymer pen lithography -- low cost and easy implementation. HSL could be used in the areas of electronics (electronic circuits), medical diagnostics (gene chips and arrays of biomolecules) and pharmaceuticals (arrays for screening drug candidates), among others. To demonstrate the method’s capabilities, the researchers duplicated the pyramid on the U.S. one-dollar bill and the surrounding words approximately 19,000 times at 855 million dots per square inch. Each image consists of 6,982 dots. (They reproduced a bitmap representation of the pyramid, including the “Eye of Providence.”) This exercise highlights the sub-50-nanometer resolution and the scalability of the method. “Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography is to scanning-probe lithography what the disposable razor is to the razor industry,” said Chad A. Mirkin, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of medicine, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering and director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology. “This is a major step forward in the realization of desktop fabrication that will allow researchers in academia and industry to create and study nanostructure prototypes on the fly.”

Categories : Uncategorized
February 16, 2011

  Ordinary table sugar could be a key ingredient to developing much lighter, faster, cheaper, denser and more robust computer electronics for use on U.S. military aircraft. Though admittedly far in the future, recent results from a program led by chemist and Rice University professor, Dr. James Tour demonstrate yet another example of the cutting-edge basic research funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Office of Scientific Research. Tour and his colleagues at Rice have developed a relatively easy and controllable method for making pristine sheets of graphene --- the one-atom-thick form of carbon --- from regular table sugar and other solid carbon sources. In their method, a small amount of sugar is placed on a tiny sheet of copper foil. The sugar is then subjected to flowing hydrogen and argon gas under heat and low pressure. After 10 minutes, the sugar is reduced to a pure carbon film, or a single layer of graphene. Adjusting the gas flow allowed the researchers to control the thickness of the film. The use of solid carbon sources like sugar has allowed Tour to stay away from the more cumbersome chemical vapor deposition method and the high temperatures associated with it. His one-step, low-temperature process makes graphene considerably easier to manufacture. While the Air Force is focusing primarily on potential electronics applications, many other commercial and medical uses could be possible, including transparent touch screen devices, special biocompatible films for surgery of traumatic brain injuries, faster transistors in personal computers or thin materials for solar energy harvesting. TryNano.org offers a lesson plan about nanotechnology using sugar.

Categories : Uncategorized
February 03, 2011

At Vanderbilt University, Assistant Professor Dickerson can tweak the process for creating films of graphene oxide so they are formed by "rug" process, above, that is extreme smooth and "water loving" or by a "brick" process, below, that is rough and "water hating."Image courtesy of James Dickerson and Vanderbilt University.

Windshields that shed water so effectively that they don’t need wipers. Ship hulls so slippery that they glide through the water more efficiently than ordinary hulls. These are some of the potential applications for graphene, one of the hottest new materials in the field of nanotechnology, raised by the research of James Dickerson, assistant professor of physics at Vanderbilt University. Dickerson and his colleagues have figured out how to create a freestanding film of graphene oxide and alter its surface roughness so that it either causes water to bead up and run off or causes it to spread out in a thin layer. Graphene is made up of sheets of carbon atoms arranged in rings – something like molecular chicken wire. Not only is this one of the thinnest materials possible, but it is 10 times stronger than steel and conducts electricity better at room temperature than any other known material. Many scientists studying graphene make it using a dry method, called “mechanical cleavage,” that involves rubbing or scraping graphite against a hard surface. The technique produces sheets that are both extremely thin and extremely fragile. Dickerson’s method can potentially produce sheets equally as thin but considerable stronger than those made by other techniques. It is already used commercially to produce a variety of different coatings and ceramics. Known as electrophoretic deposition, this “wet” technique combines an electric field within a liquid medium to create nanoparticle films that can be transferred to another surface.  (Find out more about waterproofing with nanotechnology by exploring the lesson plan, "Nano Waterproofing.")

Categories : Uncategorized