Photonic crystals are similar to semiconductors, only that the electrons are replaced by photons (i.e. light). By creating periodic structures out of materials with contrast in their dielectric constants, it becomes possible to guide the flow of light through the photonic crystals in a way similar to how electrons are directed through doped regions of semiconductors. The photonic band gap (that forbids propagation of a certain frequency range of light) gives rise to distinct optical phenomena and enables one to control light with amazing facility and produce effects that are impossible with conventional optics. A prominent example of a photonic crystal is the naturally occurring gemstone opal. The problem with artificial opals, which limits their applications, is that they lack in pattern variety and their fabrication requires very expensive equipment and sophisticated processes. In contrast, natural photonic crystals have various patterns that are quite promising structural matrices for creating novel optical devices. One example are peacock feathers, whose iridescent colors are derived from the 2D photonic crystals structure inside the cortex.
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been hyped as the wunderkind material of the 21st century. And while researchers have developed numerous CNT applications, ranging from nanoelectronics to nanomedicine and military armor, the actual properties of CNTs fell way short of what the theory predicted. For instance, quantum mechanics calculations predict that defect-free single-walled carbon nanotubes possess a tensile strength of well over 100 gigapascals - which translates into the ability to endure weight of over 10,000 kg on a cable with a cross-section of 1 square millimeter. In practice, CNT tensile strength of only up to 28 GPa have been measured. The problem lies not so much with the actual CNTs but rather with the mechanical tests that have been employed so far. It is very difficult to produce testable samples without damaging the tubes (which in turn adversely affects their properties), and to image the test with high enough resolution to determine the exact nature of the fracture. First experimental measurements of the mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes have now been made that directly correspond to the theoretical predictions.
Radioactive material is toxic because it creates ions when it reacts with biological molecules. These ions can form free radicals, which damage proteins, membranes, and nucleic acids. Free radicals damage components of the cells' membranes, proteins or genetic material by "oxidizing" them - the same chemical reaction that causes iron to rust. This is called 'oxidative stress'. Many forms of cancer are thought to be the result of reactions between free radicals and DNA, resulting in mutations that can adversely affect the cell cycle and potentially lead to malignancy. Nanotechnology has provided numerous constructs that reduce oxidative damage in engineering applications with great efficiency. As a new research report shows, nanotechnology applications could also help to remediate radioactive contamination at the source, by removing radioactive ions from the environment. Environmental contamination with radioactive ions that originate from the processing of uranium or the leakage of nuclear reactors is a potential serious health threat because it can leach into groundwater and contaminate drinking water supplies for large population areas. The key issue in developing technologies for the removal of radioactive ions from the environment and their subsequent safe disposal is to devise materials which are able to absorb radioactive ions irreversibly, selectively, efficiently, and in large quantities from contaminated water.
Generally, a surface either loves a liquid drop (then it's called solvophilic - wetting) or hates it (called solvophobic - repulsion) when it lands, depending on several parameters of both the surface - like geometric roughness asperities or ups and downs and chemical composition - and the liquid - like surface tension or tendency of solvation. When water is the liquid the terms hydrophilic and hydrophobic are used respectively for this and for oil similar terms like oleophilic and oleophobic. Advanced material engineering techniques can structure surfaces that allow dynamic tuning of their wettability all the way from superhydrophobic behavior to almost complete wetting - but these surfaces so far only work with high-surface-tension liquids. Just recently, researchers in India have developed a superhydrophobic (where the contact angle between the droplet and the surface is approaching 180 degrees) carbon nanotube (CNT) 'bucky paper' that shows fascinating wetting behavior as a result of an applied electric field, which could be remarkably tuned by changing key solution variables like ionic strength, nature of electrolyte, and pH of the droplet.
The key to using self-assembly as a controlled and directed nanofabrication process lies in designing the components that are required to self-assemble into desired patterns and functions. Self-assembly reflects information coded in individual components - characteristics such as shape, surface properties, charge, polarizability, magnetic dipole, mass, etc. These characteristics determine the interactions among the components and the whole essence of self-assembly arises from these dynamic properties. In this respect, many self-assembled nanostructures show to be responsive to external stimuli such as temperature, pH, or solvent polarity. An exciting field for nanotechnology researchers is the challenge of extending the scope of nanostructures with stimulus-responsive properties towards the fabrication of 'smart' nanoscale materials. New work by Korean scientists demonstrates that simple addition of small guest molecules triggers reversible structural transformation. The novelty of this research is that, so far, switching of material properties triggered by external stimuli via nanoscale objects had not been realized yet.
Our title today refers to the 1960 article by Yuri Artsutanov in Pravda: 'To the Cosmos by Electric Train'. This article is the granddaddy of all 'space elevator' concepts and first to propose the idea that a cable-based transport system could become an alternative to rockets for launching people and payload into space. The single most difficult task in building the Space Elevator is achieving the required tether strength-to-weight ratio - in other words, developing a material that is both strong enough and light enough to support the up to 100,000 km long tether. Thanks to nanotechnology, this material has become available in the form of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). The challenge ahead is to weave these raw CNTs into a useful form - a space worthy climbable ribbon. Assembling carbon nanotubes into commercially usable fibers is still one of the many challenges that nanotechnology researchers are faced with when trying to exploit the amazing properties of many nanomaterials.
More than half a century ago, Erwin Schroedinger, nobel laureate in physics, claimed that it is 'impossible to carry out experiments on single molecules or atoms'. Today, the detection, tracking and study of single molecules and atoms has become an omnipresent tool in biology, chemistry and physics alike. For example, sequencing DNA one base pair (or letter) at a time currently provides the most likely solution to fulfill the quest for a $1,000 human genome. Nevertheless, observation of a single molecule, especially with standard light microscopes requires a good deal of laboratory skills. This is mostly due to the fact that a single molecule only gives a miniscule amount of detectable signal. In fact, people using light as a probe have relied exclusively on the use of fluorescence, the emission of lower energy light following absorption of radiation at a certain energy. In this scheme, the signal from the molecule of interest can be easily separated from residual excitation light or background fluorescence simply by filtering the detected light spectrally and only detecting the color that is emitted by the molecule. In this way, it is possible to suppress unwanted signals from the billions of other molecules that are in the vicinity of the molecule of interest. As powerful as this approach has been, it also has one major limitation: it is only possible to study molecules that are highly fluorescent, i.e. emit lower energy light with high efficiency. Scientists from the ETH Zurich have recently demonstrated a major step towards the detection and study of single molecules in absorption.
The success of the semiconductor industry has been due in large part to its ability to continuously increase the complexity, and therefore the processing power, of integrated circuits at a given manufacturing cost. Moore?s Law observes that the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles every two years, whilst the cost of making the chip remains the same, due to miniaturization of the components. In order to produce the next generation of computer chips it is necessary to continue to shrink the size of the components on the chip. The miniaturization upon which Moore?s Law rests has been achieved through advances in the photolithographic process used to pattern the components onto to the silicon wafer. A beam of light is projected through a shadow-casting reticule and the light pattern is then directed onto a silicon wafer coated with a photochemically sensitive material, known as a resist. The solubility of the resist is modified by exposure to the light, allowing specific areas of the resist film to be removed, whilst other areas remain as a mask, so that the silicon wafer can be selectively etched, metallized or doped. For many years it has been predicted that the end of photolithography is approaching, and that further miniaturization will require next generation lithography techniques, such as EUV lithography. However, photolithography has proved remarkably resilient, and continues to improve. Unfortunately, whilst the ability of photolithography to pattern small features continues to improve, the industry is beginning to challenge the capabilities of the photosensitive resist.