The use of renewable resources (biomass) as an alternate source for fuel and the production of valuable chemicals is becoming a topic of great interest and a driving force behind research into biorefinery concepts. In the early parts of the 20th century, most nonfuel industrial products such as medicines, paints, chemicals, dyes, and fibers were made from vegetables, plant and crops. During the 1970s, petroleum based organic chemicals had largely replaced those derived from plant materials, capturing more than 95% of the markets previously held by products from biological sources. By then, petroleum accounted for more than 70% of our fuel. However, recent developments in biobased materials research show prospects that many petrochemical derived products can be replaced with industrial materials processed from renewable resources. Researchers continue to make progress in research and development of new technologies that bring down the cost of processing plant matter into value-added products. Rising environmental concerns are also suggesting the use of agriculture and forestry resources as alternative feedstock. Being able to develop soft nanomaterials and fuel from biomass will have a direct impact on industrial applications and economically viable alternatives. Researchers already have used plant-derived resources to make a variety of soft nanomaterials, which are useful for a wide range of applications.
The study of very thin structural foams for cushioning and energy dissipation is, now more than ever, of primary importance in the engineering world, for example for the protection of electronic gadgets (such as MP3 players, cell phones, PDAs, etc.) from microimpacts due to accidental drops, as well as in the security area, for mitigation of explosive loading in macro scales. The advancement in the controlled growth of carbon nanotubes and other nanostructures has allowed researchers to create improved systems designed accurately for specific engineering applications.
As scientific interests and engineering applications delve down to the nanometer scale, there is a strong need to fabricate nanostructures with good regularity and controllability of their pattern, size, and shape. Furthermore, the nanostructures are useful in many applications only if they cover a relatively large sample area and the manufacturing cost is reasonable. Researchers at UCLA have now achieved a breakthrough by developing a simple but efficient fabrication method to produce well-regulated silicon nanostructures over a large sample area with excellent control of their pattern, size, and shape. Affordable surfaces with well-controlled nanostructures over a large area open new applications not only in electronics but also in the physical world through their unique properties originating from their nanoscale geometry.
'Carrier mobility' is a major factor in determining the speed of electronic devices. Aggressive scaling of the complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) transistor technology requires a high drive current, which depends on the charge carrier mobility. As the dimensions of nanoelectronic circuits continue to shrink, it is important that the carrier mobility does not deteriorate and, if possible, improves. The search for nanostructures where the carrier mobility values can be preserved or even improved continues owing to the extremely high technological pay-off if successful. Nanowires represent a convenient system to understand the effects of low dimensionality on the carrier drift mobility. One can also look at nanowires as an ultimately scaled transistor channel. New research at the University of California - Riverside demonstrates a method for the significant enhancement of the carrier mobility in silicon nanowires. Such mobility enhancement would allow to make smaller and faster transistors and improve heat removal.
Back in 2005, Dr. Pu-Chun Ke conducted an experimental study ("Coating Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes with Phospholipids") where he discovered a very efficient method of solubilizing nanotubes using lysophospholipids, or the so-called single-tailed phospholipids. The solubility provided by lysophospholipid LPC is at least one order of magnitude better than that provided by SDS, a routine surfactant people use to solubilize nanomaterials in aqueous solutions. Ke and his colleagues showed that superior solubility was due to the formation of lipid 'striations' coated on the nanotubes. The underling principle of this superior solubility of nanotubes by lysophospholipids is supramolecular assembly, a topic of common interest to researchers in nanoscience, chemistry, materials, and biophysics. New results obtained during recent follow-up research provide useful insight on the binding mechanism of amphiphiles and one-dimensional nanostructures. This knowledge may facilitate the bottom-up design of supramolecular assembly, nanotechnology, nanotoxicology, and gene and drug delivery.
Adhesives may be broadly divided in two classes: structural and pressure sensitive. To form a permanent bond, structural adhesives harden via processes such as evaporation of solvent or water (white glue), reaction with radiation (dental adhesives), chemical reaction (two part epoxy), or cooling (hot melt). In contrast, pressure sensitive adhesives (PSAs) form a bond simply by the application of light pressure to attach the adhesive to the adherend. PSAs adhere instantly and firmly to nearly any surface under the application of light pressure, without covalent bonding or activation. Waterborne pressure-sensitive adhesives solve the problem of meeting environmental regulations that forbid the emission of volatile organic compounds in manufacturing. However, often waterborne PSAs have poor adhesive performance. Another problem, particularly relevant to display technologies, is how to make an electrically-conducting material that is also flexible and optically transparent. Indium tin oxide is commonly used as a transparent electrode in displays, but it is brittle and prone to mechanical failure or scratching. Adhesives can be made electrically conductive through the addition of metal particles, but then they lose optical transparency, and their adhesiveness is diminished. New research shows that waterborne PSAs containing single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) meet the requirements of environmental regulations while improving the adhesive performance. The resulting unprecedented combination of adhesion and conductivity properties holds enormous potential for demanding applications in displays and electronics.
Nanotechnology has recently found practical applications in the conservation and restoration of the world's cultural heritage. Nanoparticles of calcium and magnesium hydroxide and carbonate have been used to restore and protect wall paints, such as Maya paintings in Mexico or 15th century Italian masterpieces. Nanoparticle applications were also used to restore old paper documents, where acidic inks have caused the cellulose fibers to break up, and to treat acidic wood from a 400-year-old shipwreck.
Sophisticated biomolecular motors have evolved in nature, where motor proteins actively control the delivery and assembly of materials within cells. In contrast, the development of synthetic nanomotors is in its infancy. Such nanomotors are currently explored for an increasing number of applications in hybrid bionanodevices. Along these lines, gliding motility assays, where reconstituted microtubule filaments are propelled over a substrate by surface-attached motor proteins, have been used to transport micro- and nanosized objects, such as small beads, quantum dots or DNA molecules. However, one prerequisite for controllable nanotransport is the reliable guiding of filament movement along predefined paths, a challenging task that has recently been achieved only via costly and labor-intensive topographical surface modifications. Researchers have now demonstrated a novel approach for the nanostructuring of surfaces with functional motor proteins. In contrast to all other current methods, their approach allows the three-dimensionally oriented deposition of proteins on surfaces, being the result of first binding them to the highly oriented and regulated structures of microtubules and then transferring them to the surface.