Nanotechnology — the manipulation of matter on a molecular level — to shape the future of a wide variety of industries. Consumer electronics, silicon, and health care are a few major areas where nanotechnology could provide major advances in the future, but those aren't the only places where it can make an impact — researchers at UCLA recently used nanotechnology to create a "booze pill" that lowers the intoxication level of lab rats. While it may take years for the nanotech findings to make their way into consumer-facing products, this research may lend a clue as to what kind of technology we have to look forward to.
Feb 18, 2013
Researchers in California have developed a way to quickly reduce the blood alcohol levels of drunken mice, potentially paving the way for a so-called "booze pill" that would instantaneously combat intoxication. The study, led by UCLA professor Yunfeng Lu and USC's Cheng Ji, involves the combination of two enzymes, wrapped in a nanoscale shell. Drunken mice injected with this enzyme nanocapsule saw their alcohol levels drop significantly faster than those in the control group.Read Article >
Jan 24, 2013
IBM has helped to develop a new substance it says will aid in the fight against deadly infections. Superbugs like MRSA cause thousands of deaths per year thanks to their resistance to traditional antibiotics. MRSA, for example, can survive and multiply in "biofilms" — extra-cellular matrixes that can thrive on virtually any surface. Hospitals can kill MRSA using traditional disinfectants, but such ethanol- and bleach-based substances evaporate rapidly and aren't ideal for application to skin.Read Article >
In collaboration with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (or IBN, confusingly), IBM has developed a new kind of hydrogel, a substance that can destroy bacteria while also providing long-lasting protection. The hydrogel is non-toxic and biodegradable, and is suitable for application to human skin as well as surfaces and medical equipment. To create the hydrogel, IBM used materials and techniques developed as part of its semi-conductor program. It created what it calls "ninja polymers," nanostructures that destroy infected cells before biodegrading.
Dec 10, 2012
Researchers from MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories claim to have created the smallest transistor ever to be made out of a material other than silicon. The transistor is made of indium gallium arsenide, a material already used in fiber-optic and radar technologies, and is just 22 nanometers thick — the size of about nine strands of human DNA. Because this is the same type of transistor typically used in microprocessors, it could mean more densely packed — and consequently higher performance — chips.Read Article >
Researchers hope to have found an alternative to silicon, the speed and effectiveness of which dwindles on extremely small scales, threatening the forward progress predicted by Moore's Law. Co-developer and MIT professor Jesús del Alamo claims that this development "promises to take Moore's Law beyond the reach of silicon." MIT News reports that the researchers' next step is to improve the transistor's electrical performance and overall speed. If they manage to achieve that goal, the team intends to attempt to shrink the device even further, aiming for smaller than ten nanometers.
Oct 29, 2012
Researchers at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center claim to have made a breakthrough in chip-manufacturing technology, according to a recent study published in Nature Nanotechnology. The breakthrough centers on carbon nanotubes, which are sheets of carbon atoms rolled into cylinders. After placing the small molecules in a solution of soapy water, researchers relied on the principles of self-assembly to create patterned arrays of these nanotubes, which could be used to create chips with a density over two orders of magnitude higher than previous attempts.Read Article >
Carbon nanotubes are both smaller and faster than the current materials used in chipmaking, and this breakthrough would allow manufacturers to mass-produce the miniscule structures. Advances in chip density and clock speed have slowed recently, making this development crucial if manufacturers hope to keep pace with Moore's law. However, this new technology may not be available in consumer products for at least another decade, as researchers still need to find a way to further refine the carbon nanotube material in order to reach its full potential as a semiconductor.
Sep 24, 2012
"What we have here is the Bell Labs of the 21st century," proclaimed Mike Lazaridis, co-founder and vice-chairman of Research In Motion, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre (QNC) last week. Nestled in the middle of the University of Waterloo's campus, the new facility is designed to bring researchers from quantum computing and nanotechnology together under one roof. "We're going to have an insight that we believe will be unique," Lazaridis says of bringing the two disciplines together. And just as Bell Labs fostered a boom of innovation leading to the creation of Silicon Valley in California, Lazaridis believes that the QNC will have a similar impact on the troubled Waterloo region.Read Article >
While separate fields of study, both disciplines are concerned with matter on an incredibly small scale. Nanotechnology deals with the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular level, while quantum computing hopes to exploit the laws of physics to — among many other things — shrink transistors to the size of individual atoms. As we look to create smaller and smaller devices, both fields have become important avenues of scientific research. "There are many institutes of nanotechnology around the world, and similarly institutes for quantum computing," says university president Feridun Hamdullahpur. "They exist in other parts of the world. But to put the two of them together — this is the first of its kind. It doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."
Sep 2, 2012
Major advances in technology often stir opposition, and as Nature reports, nanotechnology is no exception: an eco-anarchist group known as Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS) has been responsible for several bombings at prominent nanotechnology universities in Mexico over the past two years. The group reportedly looks to prevent "nanocontamination" and agrees with author Derrik Jensen's view that "industrial civilization is responsible for environmental destruction and must be dismantled." Nanotechnology concerns are a global issue — in 2010 another group attempted to bomb IBM's nanotechnology lab in Switzerland — but Nature explores why Mexico appears to be the epicenter of the violence.Read Article >
Mexico began investing heavily in nanotechnology in 2002 in an attempt to develop the country's economy, and Nature speculates that concern over the environmental and health impacts of nanotechnology combined with growing violence and political upheaval in the country may have lead to the inception of groups like the ITS. Nature says that while other environmental activist groups like the Canada-based ETC condemn the violence, they're worried about even more elaborate consequences, like a future in which "the merger of living and non-living matter will result in hybrid organisms and products that are not easy to control." Regardless of whether the violence continues to spread, universities have instituted new stringent security measures to combat the attacks, and researchers told Nature that they will not be discouraged from their work.
Apr 16, 2012
Researchers at Italy's Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), home of the iCub, have created a way of giving extra properties to paper, including magnetism, waterproofing, fluorescence, and even the ability to clean itself and fight bacteria. However, despite these fundamental changes, it still looks and behaves like ordinary paper, and can be printed upon in the same way. The work centers around combining liquefied cellulose molecules (monomers) from wood or other plant material with the nanoparticles. These entirely coat the momomer fibers and create a polymer solution, which can be applied to any non-woven material like paper or fabric by rolling, dipping, or spray-coating.Read Article >
The physical effect on the paper depends on the nanoparticles used — add iron oxide and the polymer solution will become magnetic, while silver nanoparticles will cause the fibers to become antibiotic. Dr. Roberto Cingolani, the leader of the team behind this research, told Forbes that he sees all number of possibilites for the creation. He sees a major role for antibacterial paper in healthcare and the food industry, magnetic and fluorescent in official documents and money, and waterproof paper in protecting significant documents.
Apr 9, 2012
Nosang Myung, a researcher at the University of California, Riverside has created an electronic 'nose' using nanotechnology, which he says could be integrated into portable technology like cellphones to 'smell' harmful airborne substances. Applications for the tech don't stop there, though: the same tech could also be used to measure concentrations of pesticides in agriculture, monitoring for chemical leaks in industry, or even warning of bio-terrorism. The device uses carbon nanotubes, which have been arranged in such a way that they can detect a variety of air-borne substances.Read Article >
The technology has been licensed to start-up Nano Engineering Applications, which envisages phones that are able to measure air quality and toxins, pairing this data with GPS information that can be used to monitor the safety of air in a given area. However, there's no word on which manufacturers might consider including the tech — they might take some convincing considering the drive for thinner and thinner phones.
Feb 20, 2012
A team based at the University of New South Wales has created a "perfect" single atom transistor, leading the way for smaller and more powerful electronics. The active component in the device is a single phosphorus atom, which is placed onto a silicon wafer using a combination of scanning tunnelling microscope microscopy (STM) and hydrogen-resist lithography. To achieve this, a silicon wafer is coated in hydrogen, before individual hydrogen atoms are lifted away using STM. The wafer is then treated with phosphene, which only binds to the silicon at points where the hydrogen has been removed (similar to creating a circuit board in an acid bath, where the masked areas don't get cut away). The same universities are behind the one-atom high wire, which has been hailed as a huge step in the development of quantum computing.Read Article >
While single-atom transistors have been created before, the team says that it's the first to be able to produce them reliably, with others often stumbling across the transistors by accident and being unable to replicate the results. The team see this atom-by-atom method (known as bottom-up) of building transistors as the future of creating smaller and more powerful circuits, saying that the current top-down method of production will be unable to match this accuracy with any degree of reliability. Professor Michelle Simmons, the group leader behind the project, says that "This is the first time that anyone has shown control of an atom in a substrate with this level of accuracy."
Jan 20, 2012
Battery life is a huge issue for smartphone users, and 2012 seems to be the year that manufacturers are taking notice. Last November at the Materials Research Society fall meeting, a team led by Arman Ahnood of the London Centre for Nanotechnology demoed a prototype technology that harvests energy wasted by the display to increase battery life.Read Article >
According to the team, a typical OLED panel wastes 64 percent of the light produced, a large portion of which escapes the edges of the display. Their prototype uses thin-film photovoltaic cells both within and around the display to capture the wasted light and convert it back into useable energy. Instead of developing complex circuitry to charge the battery of the phone, the team utilized a thin-film supercapacitor for immediate storage. When coupled with the photovoltaic array, the system has yielded an average efficiency of 11 percent, generating just over 1mW per square inch.
Jan 7, 2012
The door to practically building tomorrow's quantum computers has opened a little wider, with researchers crafting a wire just four atoms wide and one atom high that is able to conduct current just like traditional copper wiring. The team, made up of participants from Purdue University, the University of New South Wales, and Melbourne University, created the wire by etching a microscopic line into a piece of silicon and lining up phosphorous atoms along it. Previous efforts to create wires on the nanometer scale had suggested that resistivity increases as sizes shrink, rendering them impractical for the very thing they're intended for: conducting current. The new atomic-level wire demonstrates none of these issues.Read Article >
The creation could provide a way to connect atomic-level components to one another in the practical construction of quantum computers. It may also extend the life of one of the semiconductor industry's favorite truisms: Moore's law. That concept, which suggests that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years, will eventually face physical size contraints. With innovations like the new wire, however, it may be able to continue all the way down to the atomic level.
Dec 26, 2011
Holographic displays have been tantalizing humanity ever since Dennis Gabor came up with the idea over 60 years ago, but you still won't see many of them outside of sci-fi movies and carefully constructed trade show exhibits. One seemingly promising new technique for creating holograms comes from IMEC over in Belgium, where researchers are working to create a nanoscale system of moving pixels. Measuring half a micron squared in area, these so-called pixels are used to reflect laser light and thereby generate 3D visuals. The pixels closer to the light interfere with it one way and the ones further away in another, so small nanometer distances between them are what generates the image for the human eye. The eventual goal is to build MEMS structures out of silicon and germanium that allow for the pixels to move back and forth like pistons, which in turn would permit for the projection of 3D video as well.Read Article >
For now, the IMEC team has put together a prototype imprinted with a nanoscale pattern just to show that the concept is viable. They're aiming to produce a motion-capable proof of concept midway through 2012. Given the complexity and cost of their method, it doesn't look likely to be replacing HDTVs any time soon, but you have to give credit to the research team for coming up with a suitably futuristic way to make holograms: with lasers and nanotechnology. Philip K. Dick would be proud.
Nov 19, 2011
Researchers in the Netherlands have created a car, made of a single molecule, that is both fully electrical and actually drivable. They built the "car," which they say is one billionth the size of a VW Golf, by fashioning a molecule into a long body and four paddle-like structures that act like wheels. They then used a tiny stylus to direct electron pulses at the wheels, to make them move a quarter turn at a time; the wheels then tried to reset to a more molecularly optimal position, which moved them forward again. They also found that by freezing the car with temperatures as low as 7 kelvin, they could move it even more efficiently.Read Article >
It's still an early test, more proof of concept than useful technology — the car can't move backward, and takes a relatively huge amount of energy to move a tiny distance (six nanometers). The researchers are now working on controlling the car using light, which might be more efficient. Either way, though, the ability to reliably control and move a motor at such a small level could be a big advance for nanotechnology, and could have implications on how we build larger-scale motors as well.
Nov 17, 2011
Researchers from Stanford University have taken a big step forward in the development of light-based communications in computer chips. Laser optical interconnect systems already exist, but their new nanoscale LED setup improves the energy efficiency 2,000 times, sipping just 0.25 femto-joules per bit sent as compared to a laser's 500 femto-joules. In spite of this low power consumption, chips using the LEDs will reportedly be capable of transfer speeds of 10Gbps.Read Article >
This data speed is achieved through using single-mode LEDs: normal LEDs give off light at a range of frequencies, whereas the Stanford team's new design creates a single frequency of light. Electricity is applied to dots of indium arsenide, which give off light as current passes through them. This is then focused by a photonic crystal, created by putting an array of holes into a semiconductor, which both forces the light to resonate at the desired frequency and acts as a focusing mirror, creating a beam of light.
Oct 19, 2011
Researchers at Northwestern have developed technology to "steer" electrical currents through a solid nanomaterial, even on multiple paths in opposite directions. The material could be used as a " programmable bridge" between current technologies, allowing newer components to work in older devices just by running a program that creates new circuitry.Read Article >
The substance is created with large positive particles and smaller negative ones; applying an electric charge realigns the negative parts into a conductive path. This allows the substance to be electronically rewired for different needs. Furthermore, the team says basic electrical components can be made using other nanoparticles, and it is working toward a device that would allow changing the actual hardware, rather than just the wires that connect it. The team's research was published in Nature Nanotechnology on October 16th.