Nanotechnology is the ability to create and manipulate atoms and molecules on the smallest of scales. Will this emerging science revolutionize the world we live in?
This Wednesday evening kicks off a super-exciting four-part NOVA series about nanotechnology called Making Stuff. Each episode focuses on one general concept: stronger, smaller, cleaner, smarter. We could just squeal.
Courtesy National Science Foundation
I was honored to get a sneak-preview of the first episode, Making Stuff: Stronger in San Francisco in October, and found myself in some crazy conversations afterward about bioengineering and media ethics. You see, scientists have, uh, installed spider silk-making genes into goats, thereby making the goat milk spinnable into spider silk. The Making Stuff episode covers this, then ends by showing the host happily drinking a glass of milk, and we’re left wondering if it's actually the spider-silk-milk that he’s downing without a care in the world.
Courtesy National Science Foundation
2020 Science, the blog of Andrew Maynard, scientist, science policy guru, and Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, kindly takes the conversation beyond “ew!” to “responsible?” Andrew was also in the room for the special preview, and raised far more eloquent concerns than I (I’m sorry – I’m still stuck on the spiders…ew), and then blogged about them. And then got substantive responses, including one from Making Stuff’s producer, Chris Schmidt. All a fascinating read.
Andrew, being the smart, informed fellow that he is, pointed out that this whole spidergoat concept is old news.
Courtesy National Science FoundationNo less icky and/or creepy I would add, but still old news. Can’t wait until the Making Stuff episode that delves into the topic on Wednesday? Take a peek at the short video put together by the National Science Foundation.
The link to NASA's article also sports a killer video about how they grow the carbon nanotubes and use them in their equipment. Awwwwww, baby carbon nanotubes!
Courtesy This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 09:48, 21 July 2008 (UTC) by Manoillon (talk). On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.Bioluminescence. Think fireflies. Or anglerfish. Or your friendly neighborhood boulevard tree. Wha? Yep. Recently the Royal Society of Chemistry published (and gave their royal thumbs-up to) Dr. Yen-Hsun Wu’s paper in which he describes eliminating the need for energy-sapping streetlights by injecting trees with gold nanoshells.
According to inhabitat (design will save the world):
By implanting the gold nanoparticles into the leaves of the Bacopa caroliniana plants, the scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll.
Popular Science is just as psyched:
This ingenious triple threat of an idea could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, cut electricity costs and reduce light pollution, without sacrificing the safety that streetlights bring.
Creepy? Cool? You decide.
Gold. Pretty, pretty, cancer-annihilating gold. Wait, what? Yep, you read that right. Gold nanoshells are proving themselves mighty effective at killing cancer .
So here’s the process in an overly-simplified nut(nano?)shell –
1. Gold nanoshells are injected into the body.
2. The shells travel the bloodstream and seep into the tumor via the leaky blood vessels that feed it (your other blood vessels are nice and tightly woven).
3. The shiny new gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor is heated with infrared light (the same light that powers your remote controls at home) for about twenty minutes.
4. The gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor gets cooked to a dead crisp, while your healthy cells remain intact and healthy.
Great news if you’re a lab rat and you’re looking to stick around for more experiments since, so far, their studies with lab rats have been 100% effective in killing the cancer.
Also great news (mostly) if you’re a human and you’re looking for a possible cure for cancer that doesn’t involve getting horrendously sick from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Why “mostly?” Well, because there are
Courtesy United States Geological Surveyfew questions that ought to be asked:
1. What happens to the rest of the gold nanoshells that don’t make it to the tumor? Are they absorbed by the body? Are they processed by the liver and then passed?
2. If they’re passed through the body via the liver, what happens to them once they’re in our waste-water treatment facilities?
3. What affect do they have on the environment?
4. If the treated water makes it back to our drinking water – will we be consuming gold nanoshells without our knowledge? What then?
It’s very easy to get all rah-rah-sis-boom-bah! about exciting new cancer treatments because we all want it so badly. But it’s also important to ask the difficult questions upfront, so that we’re not facing any nasty surprises down the road (asbestos, anyone?). Meanwhile, I’ll be quietly flying my gold nanoshell flag. Go, fight, win!
Courtesy Leigha HortonEver been on a beach (and I’m talking a real beach that rests alongside an ocean, not some piddly lakeshore)…AHEM, as I was saying - ever been on a beach when someone nearby sighs aloud, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink?”
I have, and have always found the thought astounding. How is it that our world can have so much water and somehow not figure out how to make it drinkable via efficient means, and at the same time saddle up a populace with something as advanced as the iPhone?
And just so you know, over 70% of the Earth is water, and of that 70%, over 96% of it is salt water from our oceans. Salt water that is totally unsuitable for drinking. (Who’s thirsty? MEEEEE!)
Now don’t get me wrong, desalination methods exist in the world – they’re just not very efficient yet, using boatloads of energy for very little final, useable product.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, High-Tech Cures for Water Shortages, NanoH20, Inc. is harnessing the power of reverse osmosis using nanoparticles. Turns out these nanoparticles “attract water and reject salts and other particles that can clog other membranes, reducing the energy needed to push water through the membrane.” That’s pretty awesome. California, with its entire west coast on the Pacific Ocean, could stop fighting with Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada over rights to the Colorado River water.
And since NanoH20 is based in southern California, which presently gets most of its drinking water piped in from the dwindling Colorado River, I trust them in taking this whole useable-water-thing seriously.
Courtesy By English Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated-with-disclaimers or GFDL-en], from Wikimedia CommonsWhat would happen if you stretched a piece of graphene (a chicken-wire looking sheet of carbon one atom wide) across a teacup, then rested the weight of a truck on top of a pencil on top of the whole thing? NOTHING. Cool.
In recent work published in ACS Nano,* Nikoobakht and Herzing increased the thickness of the gold catalyst nanoparticle from less than 8 nanometers to approximately 20 nanometers. The change resulted in nanowires that grew a secondary structure, a shark-like “dorsal fin” (referred to as a “nanowall”) where the zinc oxide portion is electron-rich and the gallium nitride portion is electron-poor. The interface between these two materials—known as a p-n heterojunction—allows electrons to flow across it when the nanowire-nanowall combination was charged with electricity. In turn, the movement of electrons produced light and led the researchers to dub it a “nano LED.”
Materials scientists figure out ways to make things stronger, cheaper, or better. A favorite technique is nano-self-assembly. Just mix together the right ingredients and "presto", you get a wonder material. Another great development would be for the material to be self-repairing.
MIT scientist, Michael Strano, and his team have created a material made up of seven different compounds including carbon nanotubes, phospholipids, and proteins. Under the right conditions they spontaneously assemble themselves into a light-harvesting structure that produces an electric current. The assembly breaks apart when a surfactant (think soapy solution) is added but reassemble when it is removed. These new self-healing solar cells are already about double the efficiency of today’s best solar cells but could potentially be many times more efficient.
Courtesy Yutaka Tsutano
I have been waiting for the new iPod Touch. I want a display screen so sharp, it looks like a photograph. The "retina display" creates an image out of pixels that are only 78 nanometers. How small is that? Well, more than 300 of these pixels are packed in each inch. Supposedly this is the limit for human perception, or as some fanboys might say, "It doesn't get any better than this!"
University of Michigan researchers can do better, though, Their paper in Nature Communications titled, Plasmonic nanoresonators for high-resolution colour filtering and spectral imaging explains how pixels of only 10 microns can be produced.
Such pixel densities could make the technology useful in projection displays, as well as wearable, bendable or extremely compact displays, according to the researchers.
The resonators are kind of like a light filter. Two nano thin layers of metal selectively allow light to pass through small sets of slits. The slit spacing determines which wavelength of light makes it through the slits.
Red light emanates from slits set around 360 nanometers apart; green from those about 270 nanometers apart, and blue from those approximately 225 nanometers apart. The differently spaced gratings essentially catch different wavelengths of light and resonantly transmit through the stacks. LinuxForDevices.com
These displays are simpler, use fewer parts, are more efficient, and should be cheaper to make. I am not going to wait, though.
Cleaning up oil spills costs big money. BP says the Gulf cleanup cost is $8 Billion. Hoping that next time we can do it better, faster, and cheaper, Wendy Schmidt has offered $1.4 Million in prizes to inspire a new generation of innovative solutions.
A $1 Million Prize will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and the highest Recovery Efficiency (RE).
If you are interested click here for the competition rules.
MIT may have a jump on the competition with their Seaswarm project. Last week they showed off what looked like a solar powered treadmill that lapped up spilled oil. Using GPS and wireless communication, a swarm of these devices autonomously coordinate their movements.
"We envisioned something that would move as a rolling carpet along the water and seamlessly absorb a surface spill," said MIT researcher Assaf Biderman. "This led to the design of a novel marine vehicle -- a simple and lightweight conveyor belt that rolls on the surface of the ocean, adjusting to the waves." Computerworld
They estimate that 5000 of their robotic sea-swarm vehicles could clean up a Gulf sized spill in a month.