Bacterial propulsion systems are intriguing for nanotechnology researchers because nature has already solved most of the problems that they are still struggling with in designing molecular motors and other self-sustained nanoscale actuating systems. Indeed, it has turned out to be very challenging to even move sub-micron scale structures in well directed paths, especially under biologically friendly conditions. In previous work, researchers have already shown how large numbers of bacteria can propel larger sub-mm scale structures. And in a 2005 paper, researchers demonstrated a method of using the power generated by biological motors to transport microscale loads while leaving these motors in intact cells. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have now demonstrated a strategy to autonomously move nanostructures in well defined paths by enabling individual bacteria-cargo conjugates. They showed how approximately 500 nm-sized structures deposited on substrates can be attached to individual bacteria and when released, the bacteria stay motile and ferry this cargo.
Previous research has shown that high performance piezoelectric ceramics PZT (lead zirconate titanate) could be printed as nanoribbons onto biocompatible and flexible substrates for applications such as harvesting energy from human motion like walking or breathing. While some motions, such as walking, only require flexibility, others, such as breathing, require that the materials be not just flexible but also stretchable. However, the PZT ribbons cannot stand stretching operation modes due to their brittle nature, which leads to cracking. The research team therefore has been looking to overcome this difficulty by fashioning the piezoelectric ribbons into wavy shapes, and integrating them with stretchable silicone rubber, such that the composite material can withstand large amounts of elastic strain.
Their use in large-scale commercial applications requires cobalt nanoparticles with well-defined size and shape to be prepared in large quantities. Accurate tuning of the nanoparticle size and shape requires understanding of the mechanisms involved in particle nucleation and growth. In spite of extensive ongoing research, these mechanisms are still not fully understood owing to their complexity and interplay. Moreover, the current small-scale synthesis methods, such as the hot-injection method, can be difficult to scale to industrially relevant levels. In order to find more suitable methods for synthesizing cobalt nanoparticles, Finnish researchers revisited a widely studied hot-injection synthesis of monodisperse cobalt nanoparticles and show that the particle nucleation differs from what is expected for a hot-injection synthesis.
Nanotechnology-enabled fabrication of solar cells with conventional nanoparticle-based thin-films has a drawback in that the diffusion length of the charge carriers is too short to get charge separation, although the nanoparticles themselves provide copious surface areas; whereas photovoltaic devices fabricated by aligned or partially aligned nanowire array configurations have exhibited enhanced performance owing to improved carrier collection, reduced optical reflection, and efficient absorption. While the nanowire-based approach indeed increases the diffusion length of carriers it also reduces the available surface area. However, being able to fully capture the promising surface and transport properties of nanoscale materials in practical devices or systems relies on the capability of effectively translating the extraordinary characteristics of nanoparticles or nanowires into larger-scale, three-dimensional (3D) structures. Researchers now have come up with a promising approach to address this problem by growing uniformly distributed and high density nanorods into high-aspect ratio nanochannels.
An important consideration for practical graphene applications is the fact that the physical characteristics of graphene are strongly dependent on the number of atomic planes, i.e. the properties of few-layer graphene are different from those of single layer graphene. Unfortunately, the one-atom thickness of graphene and its optical transparency make graphene identification and counting the number of atomic planes in few-layer graphene extremely challenging. This complicates the development of industrial-scale applications that would require the handling of large wafers with graphene. Current techniques for counting the number of atomic planes in few-layer graphene samples are either destructive, too complicated, or too slow. Researchers at UC Riverside have now developed a large-scale graphene recognition and quality control technique for industrial applications.
Electrically small antennas (ESA) find use in a wide variety of communications platforms - e.g. mobile phones an other handheld devices, RFID, aerospace and defense systems - but their construction requires advances in printing as well as a robust antenna design so that their operating frequency, size, and system impedance could be easily varied. Researchers have now demonstrated the conformal printing of electrically small antennas on spherical shapes with a key performance metric (radiation quality factor or Q) that very closely approaches the fundamental limit dictated by physics. This fundamental design approach enables specification of both operating frequency and size, while achieving near-optimal bandwidth at several frequencies of interest for wireless communications.
Spinal cord injury in humans remains a devastating and incurable disorder. Rapid progress in tissue engineering, especially electrospinning techniques that lead to micro- and nanofibrous flexible tubular scaffolds for nerve cell regeneration, may lead to promising therapies for spinal cord injuries. have now demonstrated the repair of a chronically injured spinal cord by attempting to replace the fluid-filled cyst found in these lesions with a neuroprosthetics conducive to tissue reconstruction and axonal regeneration. They managed, for the first time, to obtain a consistent regeneration of the nervous tissue in chronicized injuries at the spinal cord by using a nanostructured composite scaffold with no cells in it.
Thermoelectric materials therefore hold great promise for turning waste heat back into useful power and are touted for use in hybrid cars, new and efficient refrigerators, and other cooling or heating applications. Thermoelectric devices are energy converters - they are based on the fact that when certain materials are heated, they generate a significant electrical voltage; conversely, when a voltage is applied to them, they become hotter on one side, and colder on the other. But they have one big drawback: they are very inefficient. Efficient thermoelectric materials need to be very good at conducting electricity, but not heat - and that's the problem; these materials are not efficient enough to be practical. In most materials, electrical and thermal conductivity go hand in hand. So researchers have to find ways of boosting the performance of thermoelectric materials by separating the two properties.