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NanoDays is organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), and takes place nationally from March 29 - April 6, 2014. This community-based event is the largest public outreach effort in nanoscale informal science education and involves science museums, research centers, and universities from Puerto Rico to Alaska. NanoDays celebrations bring university researchers together with science educators to create new and unique learning experiences for both children and adults to explore the miniscule world of atoms, molecules, and nanoscale forces. Most NanoDays events combine fun hands-on activities with presentations on current research. A range of exciting NanoDays programs demonstrate the special and unexpected properties found at the nanoscale, examine tools used by nanoscientists, showcase nano materials with spectacular promise, and invite discussion of technology and society.  

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Scanning electron microscope images show typical carbon nanotube fibers created at Rice University and broken into two by high-current-induced Joule heating. Rice researchers broke the fibers in different conditions – air, argon, nitrogen and a vacuum – to see how well they handled high current. The fibers proved overall to be better at carrying electrical current than copper cables of the same mass. (Image Credit: Kono Lab/Rice University)

On a pound-per-pound basis, carbon nanotube-based fibers invented at Rice University have greater capacity to carry electrical current than copper cables of the same mass, according to new research. While individual nanotubes are capable of transmitting nearly 1,000 times more current than copper, the same tubes coalesced into a fiber using other technologies fail long before reaching that capacity. A series of tests at Rice showed the wet-spun carbon nanotube fiber still handily beat copper, carrying up to four times as much current as a copper wire of the same mass. That, said the researchers, makes nanotube-based cables an ideal platform for lightweight power transmission in systems where weight is a significant factor, like aerospace applications. Present-day transmission cables made of copper or aluminum are heavy because their low tensile strength requires steel-core reinforcement. Scientists working with nanoscale materials have long thought there’s a better way to move electricity from here to there. Certain types of carbon nanotubes can carry far more electricity than copper. The ideal cable would be made of long metallic “armchair” nanotubes that would transmit current over great distances with negligible loss, but such a cable is not feasible because it’s not yet possible to manufacture pure armchairs in bulk, Rice professor Matteo Pasquali said. In the meantime, the Pasquali lab has created a method to spin fiber from a mix of nanotube types that still outperforms copper. The cable developed is strong and flexible even though at 20 microns wide, it’s thinner than a human hair.

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Todd Rider prepares DRACO antiviral therapeutics at Draper Laboratory.Image Credit: Draper Laboratory

Newly emerging flu viruses could soon be countered by a treatment that Draper Laboratory is developing that “traps” viruses before they can infect host cells. Further into the future, patients suffering from any type of virus could be cured with DRACO, a drug also under development at Draper that is designed to rapidly recognize and eliminate cells infected by virtually any virus. Both methods could help safeguard against bioterrorist attacks and naturally occurring pandemics in a manner that is unlikely to lead to treatment-resistant strains. Initial testing on the treatments, which each use tiny, non-toxic particles that can be injected, inhaled, or eaten, has shown them to be effective and safe against a multitude of strains of disease Nanotraps, which could be taken at the first sign of infection or exposure, is likely the first of the products ready for use, and is expected to begin clinical trials in two to five years, according to Jim Comolli, who leads the research on the effort at Draper. Nanotraps, developed by a team of researchers from Draper, MIT, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Santa Barbara, are nanoparticles that act as viral “traps” using specific molecules found naturally within the human body. The nanotraps look like the surface of a cell, with numerous carbohydrate molecules attached that closely resemble those targeted by flu viruses in the human respiratory system. These molecules, initially characterized in the Sasisekharan Lab at MIT, act as bait for the flu virus, which bind to the nanotrap instead of a host cell and are cleared away with mucus, preventing infection, Comolli said.

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This image shows a collection of vaccinating nanoparticles, which at their largest are about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair. The inset graphic is a representation of how the engineered proteins decorate a nanoparticle’s surface.Image Credit: University of Washington

Vaccines combat diseases and protect populations from outbreaks, but the life-saving technology leaves room for improvement. Vaccines usually are made en masse in centralized locations far removed from where they will be used. They are expensive to ship and keep refrigerated and they tend to have short shelf lives. University of Washington engineers hope a new type of vaccine they have shown to work in mice will one day make it cheaper and easy to manufacture on-demand vaccines for humans. Immunizations could be administered within minutes where and when a disease is breaking out. “We’re really excited about this technology because it makes it possible to produce a vaccine on the spot. For instance, a field doctor could see the beginnings of an epidemic, make vaccine doses right away, and blanket vaccinate the entire population in the affected area to prevent the spread of an epidemic,” said François Baneyx, a UW professor of chemical engineering.  The UW team injected mice with nanoparticles synthesized using an engineered protein that both mimics the effect of an infection and binds to calcium phosphate, the inorganic compound found in teeth and bones. After eight months, mice that contracted the disease made threefold the number of protective “killer” T-cells – a sign of a long-lasting immune response – compared with mice that had received the protein but no calcium phosphate nanoparticles. The nanoparticles appear to work by ferrying the protein to the lymph nodes where they have a higher chance of meeting dendritic cells, a type of immune cell that is scarce in the skin and muscles, but plays a key role in activating strong immune responses.

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In this reconstruction by Matthew Landry, nanoparticles (blue spheres) travel through a nanochannel (red) similar in dimensions to what will be used in the space-bound experiments. (Image credit: Methodist Hospital Research Institute)

A microgravity experiment designed at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute will be funded by The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to fly aboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory. The proposal to study the diffusion of drug-like particles will receive about $200,000 from CASIS, which is directed by Congress to manage, promote, and broker research for the orbiting U.S. National Laboratory. If all goes well on Earth, the experiment will go to the International Space Station as early as 2014. Principal investigator Alessandro Grattoni, Ph.D., and a team of scientists from Methodist, BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, will study the movement of drug-like particles through tiny channels. The scientists' ultimate goal is improving implantable devices that release pharmaceutical drugs at a steady rate. Nearly all drugs taken orally spike in concentration, decay quickly, and are only at their peak effectiveness for a short period of time. Grattoni and co-PI Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., have been working on a solution -- nanocapsules implanted beneath the skin that release pharmaceutical drugs through a nanochannel membrane and into the body at a sustained, steady rate. To design better nanochannels for a given drug, Grattoni says he and others need to improve their understanding of the underlying physics. Grattoni's group will look at two things they believe play a major role in how particles move through channels -- the relative size of particle to channel, as well as charge (plus/minus) interactions between the particle and channel. The fluorescent silicon particles will diffuse into an empty chamber through a long series of narrow channels. Photographs taken periodically with a fluorescent microscope will show the scientists how -- and how quickly -- the particles move, how charge gradients affect the particles, and the effects of size constraints. The experiment will be performed over three months.

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Jim Smith, of civil and environmental engineering, and Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of the Center for Global Health, co-direct PureMadi. (Photo Credit: University of Virginia, Dan Addison)

PureMadi, a nonprofit University of Virginia organization, has announced a new invention – a simple ceramic water purification tablet .  Called MadiDrop, the tablet – developed and extensively tested at U.Va. – is a small ceramic disk impregnated with silver or copper nanoparticles. It can repeatedly disinfect water for up to six months simply by resting in a vessel where water is poured. It is being developed for use in communities in South Africa that have little or no access to clean water.  During the past year, PureMadi has established a water filter factory in Limpopo province, South Africa, employing local workers. The factory produced several hundred flowerpot-like water filters, according to James Smith, a U.Va. civil and environmental engineer who co-leads the project with Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, director of U.Va.’s Center for Global Health. “Eventually that factory will be capable of producing about 500 to 1,000 filters per month, and our 10-year plan is to build 10 to 12 factories in South Africa and other countries,” Smith said. “Each filter can serve a family of five or six for two to five years, so we plan to eventually serve at least 500,000 people per year with new filters.” The idea is to create sustainable businesses that serve their communities and employ local workers. A small percentage of the profits go back to PureMadi and will be used to help establish more factories. The filters produced at the factory are made of a ceramic design refined and extensively tested at U.Va. The filters are made of local clay, sawdust and water. Those materials are mixed and pressed into a mold. The result is a flowerpot-shaped filter, which is then fired in a kiln. The firing burns off the sawdust, leaving a ceramic with very fine pores. The filter is then painted with a thin solution of silver or copper nanoparticles that serve as a highly effective disinfectant for waterborne pathogens, the type of which can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.

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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.

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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...

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IBM's new CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics chip technology integrates electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon, enabling computer chips to communicate using pulses of light (instead of electrical signals).(Image Credit: IBM )

IBM scientists have unveiled a new chip technology that integrates electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon, enabling computer chips to communicate using pulses of light (instead of electrical signals), resulting in smaller, faster and more power-efficient chips than is possible with conventional technologies. The new technology, calledCMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics, is the result of a decade of development at IBM's global Research laboratories. The patented technology will change and improve the way computer chips communicate -- by integrating optical devices and functions directly onto a silicon chip, enabling over 10X improvement in integration density than is feasible with current manufacturing techniques. IBM anticipates that Silicon Nanophotonics will dramatically increase the speed and performance between chips, and further the company's ambitious Exascale computing program, which is aimed at developing a supercomputer that can perform one million trillion calculations -- or an Exaflop -- in a single second. An Exascale supercomputer will be approximately one thousand times faster than the fastest machine today.

“The development of the Silicon Nanophotonics technology brings the vision of on-chip optical interconnections much closer to reality,” said Dr. T.C. Chen, vice president, Science and Technology, IBM Research. “With optical communications embedded into the processor chips, the prospect of building power-efficient computer systems with performance at the Exaflop level is one step closer to reality.” In addition to combining electrical and optical devices on a single chip, the new IBM technology can be produced on the front-end of a standard CMOS manufacturing line and requires no new or special tooling. With this approach, silicon transistors can share the same silicon layer with silicon nanophotonics devices. To make this approach possible, IBM researchers have developed a suite of integrated ultra-compact active and passive silicon nanophotonics devices that are all scaled down to the diffraction limit – the smallest size that dielectric optics can afford.

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Imaging the "anatomy" of a pentacene molecule - 3D rendered view: By using a sharp metal tip terminated with a carbon monoxide molecule, scientists measured in the short-range regime of forces to obtain an image of the inner structure of the molecule. The colored surface represents experimental data.Image courtesy of IBM Research – Zurich

IBM scientists have been able to image the "anatomy" -- or chemical structure -- inside a molecule with unprecedented resolution, using a complex technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy. The results push the exploration of using molecules and atoms at the smallest scale and could greatly impact the field of nanotechnology, which seeks to understand and control some of the smallest objects known to mankind. "Though not an exact comparison, if you think about how a doctor uses an x-ray to image bones and organs inside the human body, we are using the atomic force microscope to image the atomic structures that are the backbones of individual molecules," said IBM Researcher Gerhard Meyer. "Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for prototyping complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale."
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