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What's New in Nanotechnology?

August 19, 2015

A new 'designer carbon' invented by Stanford scientists significantly improved the power delivery rate of this supercapacitor. (Image Credit: Stanford University)

Stanford University scientists have created a new carbon material that significantly boosts the performance of energy-storage technologies. "We have developed a 'designer carbon' that is both versatile and controllable," said Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. "Our study shows that this material has exceptional energy-storage capacity, enabling unprecedented performance in lithium-sulfur batteries and supercapacitors." According to Bao, the new designer carbon represents a dramatic improvement over conventional activated carbon, an inexpensive material widely used in products ranging from water filters and air deodorizers to energy-storage devices.

"A lot of cheap activated carbon is made from coconut shells," Bao said. "To activate the carbon, manufacturers burn the coconut at high temperatures and then chemically treat it." The activation process creates nanosized holes, or pores, that increase the surface area of the carbon, allowing it to catalyze more chemical reactions and store more electrical charges. But activated carbon has serious drawbacks, Bao said. For example, there is little interconnectivity between the pores, which limits their ability to transport electricity. Instead of using coconut shells, Bao and her colleagues developed a new way to synthesize high-quality carbon using inexpensive – and uncontaminated – chemicals and polymers. The process begins with conducting hydrogel, a water-based polymer with a spongy texture similar to soft contact lenses. For the study, the Stanford team used a mild carbonization and activation process to convert the polymer organic frameworks into nanometer-thick sheets of carbon. "The carbon sheets form a 3-D network that has good pore connectivity and high electronic conductivity," said graduate student John To, a co-lead author of the study. "We also added potassium hydroxide to chemically activate the carbon sheets and increase their surface area." The result: designer carbon that can be fine-tuned for a variety of applications.

Categories : University News
August 06, 2015

Image Credit: University of Missouri

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are microscopic tubular structures that engineers “grow” through a process conducted in a high-temperature furnace. The forces that create the CNT structures known as “forests” often are unpredictable and are mostly left to chance. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has developed a way to predict how these complicated structures are formed. By understanding how CNT arrays are created, designers and engineers can better incorporate the highly adaptable material into devices and products such as baseball bats, aerospace wiring, combat body armor, computer logic components and micro sensors used in biomedical applications. CNTs are much smaller than the width of a human hair and naturally form “forests” when they are created in large numbers (see photo). These forests, held together by a nanoscale adhesive force known as the van der Waals force, are categorized based on their rigidity or how they are aligned. For example, if CNTs are dense and well aligned, the material tends to be more rigid and can be useful for electrical and mechanical applications. If CNTs are disorganized, they tend to be softer and have entirely different sets of properties.

Currently, most models that examine CNT forests analyze what happens when you compress them or test their thermal or conductivity properties after they’ve formed. However, these models do not take into account the process by which that particular forest was created and struggle to capture realistic CNT forest structure. Experiments conducted in University of Missouri’s lab will help scientists understand the process and ultimately help control it, allowing engineers to create nanotube forests with desired mechanical, thermal and electrical properties.

Categories : University News
July 15, 2015

Researchers at Rice University are working to determine the electronic properties of double-walled carbon nanotubes. In this example, the team analyzed a nanotube with two zigzag components. The individual nanotubes have band gaps and are semiconductors, but when combined, the band gaps overlap and make the double-walled a semimetal. (Illustration by Matías Soto/Rice University)

Rice University researchers have determined that two walls are better than one when turning carbon nanotubes into materials like strong, conductive fibers or transistors. Rice materials scientist Enrique Barrera and his colleagues used atomic-level models of double-walled nanotubes to see how they might be tuned for applications that require particular properties. They knew from others’ work that double-walled nanotubes are stronger and stiffer than their single-walled cousins. But they found it may someday be possible to tune double-walled tubes for specific electronic properties by controlling their configuration, chiral angles and the distance between the walls.

Carbon nanotubes, grown by various methods, come in two basic varieties: single-walled and multiwalled (those with two or more walls). But double-walled tubes hold a special place in the hierarchy because, the researchers wrote, they behave somewhat like single-walled tubes but are stronger and better able to survive extreme conditions. The Rice team found there’s even more to them when they started looking at how the inner and outer walls match up using tubes with zigzag chirality. Because the electrical properties of single-walled tubes depend on their chirality – the angles of their hexagonal arrangement of atoms – the researchers thought it would be interesting to learn more about those properties in double-walled tubes. It turned out that both the distance between the walls — as small as a fraction of a nanometer — and the individual chirality of the tubes impact the double-walls’ electrical properties. In addition, the researchers found the diameter of the tube — especially the inner one, with its more pronounced curvature — has a small but significant impact on the structure’s semiconducting properties.

Categories : University News
July 03, 2015

Nanoblocks and spheres are coated with complementary DNA tethers so the two dissimilar shapes attract and bind to one another. (Image Credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

Taking child's play with building blocks to a whole new level—the nanometer scale—scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have constructed 3D "superlattice" multicomponent nanoparticle arrays where the arrangement of particles is driven by the shape of the tiny building blocks. The method uses linker molecules made of complementary strands of DNA to overcome the blocks' tendency to pack together in a way that would separate differently shaped components. The results are an important step on the path toward designing predictable composite materials for applications in catalysis, other energy technologies, and medicine. "If we want to take advantage of the promising properties of nanoparticles, we need to be able to reliably incorporate them into larger-scale composite materials for real-world applications," explained Brookhaven physicist Oleg Gang, who led the research at Brookhaven's Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

The research builds on the team's experience linking nanoparticles together using strands of synthetic DNA. Like the molecule that carries the genetic code of living things, these synthetic strands have complementary bases known by the genetic code letters G, C, T, and A, which bind to one another in only one way (G to C; T to A). Gang has previously used complementary DNA tethers attached to nanoparticles to guide the assembly of a range of arrays and structures. The new work explores particle shape as a means of controlling the directionality of these interactions to achieve long-range order in large-scale assemblies and clusters.

Categories : Uncategorized
June 23, 2015

The particles are delivered into the sebaceous gland by the ultrasound, and are heated by the laser. The heat deactivates the gland.(Photo Credit: UC Santa Barbara, Peter Allen Illustration)

Acne, a scourge of adolescence, may be about to meet its ultra high-tech match. By using a combination of ultrasound, gold-covered particles and lasers, researchers from UC Santa Barbara and the private medical device company Sebacia have developed a targeted therapy that could potentially lessen the frequency and intensity of breakouts, relieving acne sufferers the discomfort and stress of dealing with severe and recurring pimples. “Through this unique collaboration, we have essentially established the foundation of a novel therapy,” said Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering at UCSB.

The new technology builds on Mitragotri’s specialties in targeted therapy and transdermal drug delivery. Using low-frequency ultrasound, the therapy pushes gold-coated silica particles through the follicle into the sebaceous glands. Postdoctoral research associate Byeong Hee Hwang, now an assistant professor at Incheon National University, conducted research at UCSB. According to the research, this protocol would have several benefits over conventional treatments. Called selective photothermolysis, the method does not irritate or dry the skin’s surface. In addition, it poses no risk of resistance or long-term side effects that can occur with antibiotics or other systemic treatments.

Categories : Uncategorized
June 11, 2015

Farnesol is released from the nanoparticle carriers into the cavity-causing dental plaque. (Graphic by Michael Osadciw/University of Rochester)

Therapeutic agents intended to reduce dental plaque and prevent tooth decay are often removed by saliva and the act of swallowing before they can take effect. But a team of researchers has developed a way to keep the drugs from being washed away. Dental plaque is made up of bacteria enmeshed in a sticky matrix of polymers—a polymeric matrix—that is firmly attached to teeth. The researchers, led by Danielle Benoit at the University of Rochester and Hyun Koo at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine, found a new way to deliver an antibacterial agent within the plaque, despite the presence of saliva. To deliver the agent—known as farnesol—to the targeted sites, the researchers created a spherical mass of particles, referred to as a nanoparticle carrier. They constructed the outer layer out of cationic—or positively charged—segments of the polymers. For inside the carrier, they secured the drug with hydrophobic and pH-responsive polymers.

The positively-charged outer layer of the carrier is able to stay in place at the surface of the teeth because the enamel is made up, in part, of HA (hydroxyapatite), which is negatively charged. Just as oppositely charged magnets are attracted to each other, the same is true of the nanoparticles and HA. Because teeth are coated with saliva, the researchers weren’t certain the nanoparticles would adhere. But not only did the particles stay in place, they were also able to bind with the polymeric matrix and stick to dental plaque. Since the nanoparticles could bind both to saliva-coated teeth and within plaque, Benoit and colleagues used them to carry an anti-bacterial agent to the targeted sites.

Categories : University News
May 30, 2015

This transmission electron microscope image shows cellulose nanocrystals, tiny structures derived from renewable sources that might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with many potential applications. The structures have been shown to increase the strength of concrete. (Purdue Life Sciences Microscopy Center)

Cellulose nanocrystals derived from industrial byproducts have been shown to increase the strength of concrete, representing a potential renewable additive to improve the ubiquitous construction material. The cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) could be refined from byproducts generated in the paper, bioenergy, agriculture and pulp industries. They are extracted from structures called cellulose microfibrils, which help to give plants and trees their high strength, lightweight and resilience. Now, researchers at Purdue University have demonstrated that the cellulose nanocrystals can increase the tensile strength of concrete by 30 percent.

"This is an abundant, renewable material that can be harvested from low-quality cellulose feedstocks already being produced in various industrial processes," said Pablo Zavattieri, an associate professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. The cellulose nanocrystals might be used to create a new class of biomaterials with wide-ranging applications, such as strengthening construction materials and automotive components. One factor limiting the strength and durability of today's concrete is that not all of the cement particles are hydrated after being mixed, leaving pores and defects that hamper strength and durability. "So, in essence, we are not using 100 percent of the cement," Zavattieri said. However, the researchers have discovered that the cellulose nanocrystals increase the hydration of the concrete mixture, allowing more of it to cure and potentially altering the structure of concrete and strengthening it.  As a result, less concrete needs to be used.

Categories : University News
May 19, 2015

Stanford engineering graduate student Ashwin Atre uses an electron microscope to investigate the optical properties of nanoscale materials in three dimensions. (Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)

To design the next generation of optical devices, ranging from efficient solar panels to LEDs to optical transistors, engineers will need a 3-dimensional image depicting how light interacts with these objects on the nanoscale. Unfortunately, the physics of light has thrown up a roadblock in traditional imaging techniques: the smaller the object, the lower the image's resolution in 3-D. Now, engineers at Stanford and the FOM Institute AMOLF, a research laboratory in the Netherlands, have developed a technique that makes it possible to visualize the optical properties of objects that are several thousandths the size of a grain of sand, in 3-D and with nanometer-scale resolution. The technique involves a unique combination of two technologies, cathodoluminescence and tomography, enabling the generation of 3-D maps of the optical landscape of objects, said study lead author Ashwin Atre, a graduate student in the lab group of Jennifer Dionne, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

For decades, techniques to image light-matter interactions with sub-diffraction-limited resolution have been limited to 2D. The technique can be used to probe many systems in which light is emitted upon electron excitation. "It has applications for testing various types of engineered and natural materials," Atre said. "For instance, it could be used in manufacturing LEDs to optimize the way light is emitted, or in solar panels to improve the absorption of light by the active materials." The technique could even be modified for imaging biological systems without the need for fluorescent labels.

Categories : University News
May 09, 2015

On the left, a scanning electron micrograph of a carbon nanotube forest. The figure on the right is a numerically simulated CNT forest. Credit: University of Missouri, Matt Maschmann

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are microscopic tubular structures that engineers “grow” through a process conducted in a high-temperature furnace. The forces that create the CNT structures known as “forests” often are unpredictable and are mostly left to chance. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has developed a way to predict how these complicated structures are formed. By understanding how CNT arrays are created, designers and engineers can better incorporate the highly adaptable material into devices and products such as baseball bats, aerospace wiring, combat body armor, computer logic components and micro sensors used in biomedical applications.

CNTs are much smaller than the width of a human hair and naturally form “forests” when they are created in large numbers. These forests, held together by a nanoscale adhesive force known as the van der Waals force, are categorized based on their rigidity or how they are aligned. Currently, most models that examine CNT forests analyze what happens when you compress them or test their thermal or conductivity properties after they’ve formed. However, these models do not take into account the process by which that particular forest was created and struggle to capture realistic CNT forest structure. Experiments conducted in Maschmann’s lab will help scientists understand the process and ultimately help control it, allowing engineers to create nanotube forests with desired mechanical, thermal and electrical properties.

Categories : University News
April 30, 2015

 

Researchers at Rice University are working to determine the electronic properties of double-walled carbon nanotubes. In this example, the team analyzed a nanotube with two zigzag components. The individual nanotubes have band gaps and are semiconductors, but when combined, the band gaps overlap and make the double-walled a semimetal. (Illustration by Matías Soto/Rice University)

Rice University researchers have determined that two walls are better than one when turning carbon nanotubes into materials like strong, conductive fibers or transistors. Rice materials scientist Enrique Barrera and his colleagues used atomic-level models of double-walled nanotubes to see how they might be tuned for applications that require particular properties. They knew from others’ work that double-walled nanotubes are stronger and stiffer than their single-walled cousins. But they found it may someday be possible to tune double-walled tubes for specific electronic properties by controlling their configuration, chiral angles and the distance between the walls.

The Rice team found there’s even more to carbon nanotubes when they started looking at how the inner and outer walls match up using tubes with zigzag chirality. Because the electrical properties of single-walled tubes depend on their chirality – the angles of their hexagonal arrangement of atoms – the researchers thought it would be interesting to learn more about those properties in double-walled tubes. It turned out that both the distance between the walls — as small as a fraction of a nanometer — and the individual chirality of the tubes impact the double-walls’ electrical properties. In addition, the researchers found the diameter of the tube — especially the inner one, with its more pronounced curvature — has a small but significant impact on the structure’s semiconducting properties.

Categories : University News

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