Stories tagged nanotechnology

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?


Scientists at University of California Berkeley have been able to use carbon nanotbues to create light activated "smart curtains" that respond automatically to light without batteries. The curtain material can bend or straighten in response to the flick of a light switch.

To create the smart curtain, carbon nanotubes are layered onto a plastic polycarbonate membrane. The carbon nanotubes absorb light, convert the light into heat, and then transfer the heat to the plastic membrane surface. The plastic responds to the heat by expanding, but the carbon nanotubes do not, causing the two-layered material to bend blocking the light.

To read more about this research visit:

Diagrams of Smart Curtains:

Link to Smart Curtains YouTube video:

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Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachines
Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachinesCourtesy Welome Images
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have found that nanomachines work more efficiently when water is added as a "lubricant". Nanomachines are structures just one molecule in size (a few dozen atoms or so) that do work. When researchers added a small amount of water to the solvent that surrounded the nanomachines, the machines moved much faster.

Discovering how to optimize these tiny machines is important for the development of things like molecular computers and surfaces that can change properties.

Researchers are developing nanobots that can destroy plaque build-up in arteries. These nanobots have a magnetic core, which allows physicians to track their position in the bloodstream in real-time. The physicians can then control the bots' movements and plaque destruction via a remote monitor, like an MRI.

This means that, in the future, plaque build-up could be removed without surgery, or other invasive medical procedures. Pretty cool!

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Using semiconductor nanowire transistors, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have created a flexible sensor that lights up when touched. The harder it's pressed the brighter the lights. It's paper-thin, flexible nature could allow it to be laminated to any surface, which is quite different from the rigid touchscreens we find on iPhones, computer screens, and ATMs, for example. This new technology could be used to give robots a finer sense of touch, create a wallpaper that doubles as a touchscreen, or laminate dashboards to allow drivers to change electronic controls by waving their hand.

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Smudgy Potential: Carbon nanotubes are great for making beautiful cave art......and space elevators.
Smudgy Potential: Carbon nanotubes are great for making beautiful cave art......and space elevators.Courtesy Prof saxx
An interesting look at the progression of nanotechnology - from our early ancestors using nanoparticles completely unwittingly, to scientists and researchers today being able to manipulate them to create a desired outcome. The tiny particles have always been here, we've just recently been able to start taking advantage of their unique properties.

Carbon Galaxy:
Carbon Galaxy: www.mrs.orgCourtesy Materials Research Society Science-as-Art Competition and Vilas Pol, Michael Tackeray, Dean Miller and Michele Nelson, Argonne National Laboratory
Every year, scientists attending the Materials Research Society conference can enter in the Science as Art competition. The images they submit are created by manipulating teeny-tiny particles. There's a great video about this competition as well.

I think the prize for the winners is 5 minutes away from the scanning electron micrograph.


Sniffing Out Cancer: Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.
Sniffing Out Cancer: Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.Courtesy Jeremie63
Chemists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a way to quickly and accurately detect and identify metastatic cancer cells in living tissue, in much the same way that your nose can detect and identify certain odors.

The smell of a rose, for example, is a unique pattern of molecules, which activates a certain set of receptors in your nose. When these specific receptors are triggered, your brain immediately recognizes it as a rose.

Similarly, each type of cancer has a unique pattern to the proteins that make up its cells. The Amherst chemists just needed a "nose" to recognize these patterns. What they came up with was an array of gold nanoparticle sensors, coupled with green fluorescent proteins (GFP). The researchers took healthy tissue and tumor samples from mice, and trained the nanoparticle-GFP sensors to recognize the bad cells, and for the GFP to fluoresce in the presence of metastatic tissues.

This method is really sensitive to subtle differences, it's quick (can detect cancer cells within minutes), it can differentiate between types of cancers, and is minimally invasive. The researchers haven't tested this method on human tissue samples yet, but it holds some exciting potential.


Nano at home!: Forget those super-sterile clean rooms.  The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!
Nano at home!: Forget those super-sterile clean rooms. The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!Courtesy NISE Network
When things get really really small (nanoscale small), they behave completely differently! For example, gold at the nanoscale can look purple, orange, or red; static electricity has a greater effect on nanoparticles than gravity; and aluminum (the stuff your benign soda cans are made of) is explosive at the nanoscale!

If you want to experience some of these nanoscale phenomena first-hand, check out, or download the DIY Nano app. The website and the app were both created by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net for short), and have videos and activity guides, complete with instructions and material lists, so you can do some nano experiments at home! The app was a Parents' Choice award winner for 2012, and was featured in Wired Magazine's review of apps. Definitely worth a look!

Have fun exploring nanoscale properties!


Sensing Strain: This new system will allow you to detect strain anywhere, in any direction, and at any time.
Sensing Strain: This new system will allow you to detect strain anywhere, in any direction, and at any time.Courtesy Bruce Weisman
Scientists at Rice University developed a new type of paint, infused with carbon nanotubes, that can detect strain in bridges, buildings, and airplanes before the signs of deformation become visible to the naked eye.

This is how it works: The paint is applied to the desired structure and allowed to dry. A laser beam is then focused on the structure, which excites the carbon nanotubes, and in turn, causes them to fluoresce in a way that indicates strain. Finally, a handheld infrared spectrometer is used to measure this fluorescence.

The advantage of strain paint over conventional strain gauges is that the gauge (the paint, in this case) and the read-out device don't have to be physically connected. Also, strain paint allows you to measure strain anywhere on the structure, and along any direction. This product is not yet on the market, but it will benefit all of us, as I'm sure we all find the structural integrity of our planes, bridges, and buildings to be pretty important.


This article describes the results of a study conducted by the Australian Government, which says some Australians “may be raising their risk of skin cancer by avoiding sunscreen due to unfounded fears over nanoparticles.” The article went on to say that one third of the people surveyed had heard or read about the possible risks of nanoparticles, and that 13% of these people would be less likely to use sunscreen. At first, this seemed like a very interesting finding – people would rank nanoparticles higher than skin cancer on their personal risk meters! But as I examined the article a little more, I realized I have a few issues with the way it presented the results. A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.
A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.Courtesy Friends of the Earth Australia

First, the article makes it sound as if survey-takers were faced with the question, “would you rather risk getting skin cancer or use a sunscreen with nanoparticles in it?” In actuality, they were simply asked if they would be less likely to use a nanoparticle-based sunscreen, given the risks they’d heard about. I realize it is implied that if you don’t use sunscreen your chances of getting skin cancer increase, but when taking a survey, you’re probably just answering the question at hand: Would you be less likely to use a product that you’ve heard could by risky. These answers are also coming from a survey that repeatedly mentions the “possible risks of using sunscreen with nanoparticles” in various questions. It seems to me that hula hooping could start to sound risky by the end of a survey like that. “Have you heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping? If you have heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping, do the stories make you any less likely to hula hoop in general? Agree or Disagree: 1.) Hula hooping is risky to my health. 2.) Hula hooping is more risky to my health than not hula hooping 3.) I am scared to hula-hoop.” Ok, I exaggerate a little, but the way a survey is presented has an effect on the answers people provide.

I get that they’re trying to highlight the fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous, and that’s an interesting finding- not because they would stop using sunscreen, but because the current weight of evidence suggests that the nanoparticles in sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin - they’re harmless to humans. Which brings me to my point that perhaps a more telling result of the study is the high number of people who said they didn’t know if nanoparticle-based sunscreens are risky, and needed more information before deciding whether to use them. The fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous when the current scientific evidence suggests otherwise, supports the idea that people just don’t know enough about nanoparticle-based products.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all nanoparticle-based products are safe, across the board. I’m also not trying to downplay people’s concerns about this relatively new technology. In fact, I think a healthy dose of caution is a good thing when it comes to new technologies. I just think that fear comes from not knowing, and people’s concerns could be alleviated if they had more information. What is concerning is that the information isn’t exactly available. There are no regulations on nano products (though the FDA appears to be working on it), companies are not required to label their products as containing nanoparticles, and there are no standards in defining what a nano product is. What I am suggesting is that maybe we should be demanding that information from the likes of industries, governments, policy makers, etc, instead of focusing on the few that perceive nanoparticles as risky.

The point of the study was to figure out the public’s perception of sunscreens that contain nanoparticles, and I think it did. It showed that the public doesn’t know enough about it to make any real/informed decisions.

What’s your take? How do you feel about nanoparticles being used in products you rely on every day? What do you think about regulating this technology? Creating standards for it? Do you think these regulations and standards would stifle scientific progress, or protect our health? What do you think about hula hooping?