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Nanotechnology Spotlight

Behind the buzz and beyond the hype:
Our Nanowerk-exclusive feature articles

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Showing Spotlights 1281 - 1288 of 1781 in category (newest first):

 

Nanotechnology and water treatment

waterdropOnly 30% of all freshwater on the planet is not locked up in ice caps or glaciers (not for much longer, though). Of that, some 20% is in areas too remote for humans to access and of the remaining 80% about three-quarters comes at the wrong time and place - in monsoons and floods - and is not always captured for use by people. The remainder is less than 0.08 of 1% of the total water on the planet. Expressed another way, if all the earth's freshwater were stored in a 5-liter container, available fresh water would not quite fill a teaspoon. The problem is that we don't manage this teaspoon very well. Currently, 600 million people face water scarcity. Depending on future rates of population growth, between 2.7 billion and 3.2 billion people may be living in either water-scarce or water-stressed conditions by 2025. Freshwater looks like it will become the oil of the 21st century - scarce, expensive and the reason for armed conflicts. While in our previous article we have only talked about nanotechnology and water in general terms, a new paper gives us the opportunity to look in more detail at the role that nanotechnology could play in resolving issues relating to water shortage and water quality. This review highlights the uses of nanotechnology in areas relevant to water purification, including separation and reactive media for water filtration, as well as nanomaterials and nanoparticles for use in water bioremediation and disinfection.

Posted: Feb 22nd, 2008

'Cool' graphene might be ideal for thermal management in nanoelectronics

grapheneThere has been quite a buzz about graphene, a single atomic layer thick, plane of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Discovered only in 2004, graphene exhibits many exotic properties and currently is considered the most exciting new material system among nanotechnology researchers. This rising star in material science exhibits remarkable electronic properties that qualify it for applications in future optoelectronic devices. In a first experimental study of the thermal conductivity of single-layer graphene, researchers found that on top of many unique electronic properties, graphene also is an extraordinary good heat conductor. Measurements revealed that graphene's near room temperature thermal conductivity, which is in the range from 3500-5300 W/mK, is much higher than that of diamond, the best bulk crystal heat conductor. It appears that the thermal conductivity of graphene is larger than conventionally accepted experimental values reported for individual suspended carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and corresponds to the upper bound of the highest values reported for single-wall CNT bundles. The superb thermal conduction property of graphene is beneficial for its proposed electronic applications and establishes graphene as an excellent material for thermal management also in optoelectronics, photonics and bioengineering.

Posted: Feb 21st, 2008

Small is beautiful? Nanotechnology solutions for development problems

developing_worldA number of researchers and organizations such as the Meridian Institute in the US believe that nanotechnology could contribute to some or all of the UN Millennium Development Goals, aiming for poverty reduction by 2015. Applications of nanotechnology that could benefit those living in poverty include diagnostics and therapies for infectious diseases, water purification and desalination, sustainable energy production, and environmental monitoring and remediation. Nanotechnology could also contribute to food security by boosting the yields of food crops, and packaging materials coated with nanoparticles that will allow food to be stored longer. So far, nanotechnology has been an area of 'technology push', with substantial investments in both generic research and technology development, in the absence of clear market demand. Worldwide, private investments in research have recently overtaken public funding, but the potential advantages of nanotechnology-based products compared to other alternatives are not yet clear. Also, there is a growing global debate on the ethical, legal and social aspects of nanotechnology, in particular the potential risks to human health and the environment posed by engineered nanomaterials. Nanotechnology is still mainly a solution looking for problems to solve, including sustainable development issues.

Posted: Feb 20th, 2008

Nanotechnology materials to the rescue of stone monuments

crumbling_facadeThe list of great monuments and frescoes destroyed or seriously damaged by negligence or criminal action is dramatically increasing, and the biggest culprit is air pollution. Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the most serious causes of degradation in carbonate stone, which in the form of marble, limestone and similar materials comprises some of the most important monuments and artifacts in the world. The main damage to monuments is that the stonework becomes sulphated through the transformation of calcium carbonate to calcium sulphate owing to the presence of sulphur dioxide. Two forms of deterioration then take place: the constitution of a black film in areas sheltered from the rain, and elsewhere the crumbling of the interior of the stone. For instance, UNESCO estimates that the surface eaten away annually in a cultural heritage site such as Venice represents 6 per cent of marble and stone monuments and 5 per cent of frescoes. The problem is not only what causes the damage but also how repairs are done. Quite often, the experts in charge of restoration work - architects, restorers, renovators - conduct their work without previous scientific studies of the damaged monument. Specifically the consolidation of decayed stone in historical buildings is a common intervention that can cause irreparable damage to the monument. Although commercial products, such as alkoxysilanes that are commonly used to consolidate stone, present unquestionable advantages they also present certain disadvantages totally ignored by the experts in charge of their application. Scientists in Spain are committed to the development of new nanotechnology materials specifically suited to stone-based historical structures. Their objective has been the development of a new nanomaterial which forms a crack-free gel in the pores of the treated stone.

Posted: Feb 19th, 2008

Wafer-level assembly of carbon nanotube networks

waferDue to their exceptional electronic and mechanical properties, as well as their nanoscale size, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) could become the active electronic elements in addressing next generation electronic requirements for which silicon is not a solution. Already, it has been shown extensively that semiconducting CNTs can be made into electronic components such as transistors and switches. Their thermal, mechanical, chemical stability, and large current-carrying capacity make CNTs attractive for applications not only in in electrical interconnects but also field-effect transistors, cold cathode field emitters, and sensors. Some of the problems in developing CNT-based electronic devices have to do with building reliable interconnections between CNTs and external electrical and mechanical systems and in developing a reliable fabrication batch process to allow for industrial-scale mass production that supports the direct manipulation and placement/growth of CNTs at specific locations. Pointing to a possible solution, researchers now have demonstrated controllable and simultaneous wafer-scale assembly of CNT networks by dielectrophoresis.

Posted: Feb 18th, 2008

Break a bone - and fix it with carbon nanotubes

carbon_nanotubes_for_bone_repairCarbon nanotubes (CNTs) have shown promise as an important new class of multifunctional building blocks and innovative tools in a large variety of nanotechnology applications, ranging from nanocomposite materials through nanoelectronics to biomedical applications. The exploration of CNTs in biomedical applications is well underway and exploratory uses have included CNT-coated implants, drug delivery and CNTs as components of biosensors. Notwithstanding the still not satisfactorily addressed issue of toxicity, CNTs' properties such as high strength, high electrical and thermal conductivities, and high specific surface area render them particularly useful in the fabrication of nanocomposite-derived biomedical devices. In one particular area - biomaterials applied to bone - CNTs are anticipated to improve the overall mechanical properties for applications such as high-strength arthroplasty prostheses expected to remain in the body for a long time, or fixation plates and screws that will not fail or impede healing of bone. In addition, CNTs are expected to be of use as local drug delivery systems or scaffolds to promote and guide bone tissue regeneration. A new study by Japanese scientists clearly demonstrates that multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs) have good bone-tissue compatibility, permitting bone repair and becoming closely integrated with bone tissue. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, their results indicate that MWCNTs accelerate bone formation.

Posted: Feb 15th, 2008

Protein engineering - from the humble spider to the nanotechnology future of material design

h-bonds_in_spider_silkMuch has been written about the fascinating properties of spider silk, a biopolymer that is stronger than steel and more elastic than rubber. The silken threads possess a unique combination of mechanical properties: strength, extensibility and toughness. Of course this begs the obvious question: How is it possible that spider silk, produced by little creatures that evolved about 400 million years ago, can be as strong as steel - a modern alloy that plays a critical role in our infrastructure and which still attracts considerable R&D investments in its production technology? What is perplexing is that the atomic interactions (H-bonds) in spider silk are actually 100 to 1,000 times weaker than those in steel, or than those in the superfiber Kevlar, where covalent bonds are used. Hydrogen bonds are the basic chemical bonds that hold together proteins, similar to trusses and beams in buildings, and play a key role in controlling the behavior of these structures. In order to reach silk's mechanical properties, most synthetic materials must be much denser, thus much heavier and consume much more energy during their synthesis and transport. New analysis performed at MIT's Laboratory for Atomistic and Molecular Mechanics shows that the intriguing strength of spider silk may be made possible by precisely controlling the number and the geometry of H-bonds at a characteristic length scale. The physical concept is that by making many small elements work together cooperatively, the weaknesses of the individual components can be overcome. All this must happen at the nanoscale in order to be effective.

Posted: Feb 14th, 2008

Nanotechnology and immortality - ...really?

allegory_to_immortalityHow much money would you pay to live forever? $100? $1,000? $100,000,000,000? Keeping in mind that forever is a long time; you could certainly arrange some kind of longterm loan, since you'd have plenty of time to make the payments. Historically, only religions have the lock on immortality. Thus guided by divine inspiration and a codicil transcribed directly from God, most religions profess the rebirth of consciousness after the body is disposed of. Well, guess what? There are some nanotechnologists who claim that in a few decades, death will be a choice rather than a requirement. Let's see how we can come to this rather heretical conclusion. Intel is already manufacturing devices with feature sizes about 20 nanometers across. A red blood cell is on the order of 10,000 nanometers across. In 2 dimensions we could stack about 250,000 components in the same space as a red blood cell. If the trends continue as far as 2017, which may be the end-point of Moore's Law we could be looking at a manufactured device the size of a red blood cell with 256,000,000 components. If we add the third dimension, that could translate into 65,536,000,000,000,000 components. Somewhere along the way, we're talking about the raw technical capability to produce a rather sophisticated robot small enough to wander around through your body doing whatever it has been programmed to do. The real question is, how practical is this speculation?

Posted: Feb 13th, 2008