Poll after poll shows that most people today, assuming they have even heard the term, don't understand what nanotechnology is. Those who have heard about it are often misinformed by science fiction books and movies or tend to either focus on hype or fear surrounding available information about nanotechnologies. A team of scientists have described the key issues quite nicely: There is a general recognition that few people understand the implications of the technology, the technology itself or even the definition of the word. This lack of understanding stems from a lack of knowledge about science in general but more specifically difficulty in grasping the size scale and symbolism of nanotechnology. A potential key to informing the general public is establishing the ability to comprehend the scale of nanotechnology. Transitioning from the macro to the nanoscale seems to require an ability to comprehend scales of one-billion. Scaling is a skill not common in most individuals and tests of their ability to extrapolate size based upon scaling a common object demonstrates that most individuals cannot scale to the extent needed to make the transition to nanoscale.
While individual carbon nanotubes could find applications in nanoelectronics, in order to exploit their intriguing properties on the macroscale, for instance in thin films and membranes, many trillions of these tubes must be assembled. These macroscopic aggregates are commonly called buckypapers - thin sheets made from intertwined carbon nanotubes. Buckypapers could find numerous applications: As one of the most thermally conductive materials known, buckypaper could lead to the development of more efficient heat sinks for chips; a more energy-efficient and lighter background illumination material for displays; a protective material for electronic circuits from electromagnetic interference due to its unusually high current-carrying capacity; or switchable surfaces. Borrowing a technology from the textile industry, researchers have developed a novel nanotechnology fabrication technique that results in high-quality CNT membranes with controllable thickness and topology at high-speed and low-cost for many practical applications.
Ink-jet printing of metal nanoparticles for conductive metal patterns has attracted great interest as an alternative to expensive fabrication techniques like vapor deposition. The bulk of the research in this area focuses on printing metal nanoparticle suspensions for metallization. For example, silver and gold nanoparticle suspensions have been inkjet printed to build active microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), flexible conductors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Nobel metals like silver and gold are preferred nanoparticles for ink-jet formulations because they are good electrical conductors and they do not cause oxidation problems. However, gold and silver still are too expensive for most high volume, ultra low-cost applications such as RFID tags with required unit costs below one cent. A new technique developed in Switzerland uses flame spray synthesis in combination with a simple in-situ functionalization step to synthesize graphene coated copper nanoparticles which are air-stable and can be easily handled at ambient conditions. This work illustrates graphene's potential as a protective shell material for nanoparticles, enabling control and design of the chemical reactivity of non-noble metals.
Using single molecules as electronic components is the ultimate goal for future electronic nanotechnology devices. In order to explore the electronic properties of a single molecule, researchers have to make electrical contact between electrodes and molecules - and this has proven to be a big challenge. The problem is forming stable and reproducible molecular bridges and determining their electrical properties. It has already been shown that molecular bridges can be formed. However, their mechanical stability and reproducibility is usually low. Whether it is really possible to form a single stable molecular bridge, which can act as a 'normal' electrical component at room temperature has yet to be answered. An important step in this direction will be to identify all the mechanics involved in single atom contacts.
The long-term vision of revolutionary bottom-up nanotechnology is based on two different concepts of molecular assembly technologies. One follows Nature's blueprint, which uses molecular recognition for self-assembly of nanoscale materials and structures; the other is man-made and uses instruments to assemble nanoscale building blocs into larger structures and devices. In contrast, the most common nanoscale fabrication techniques used today, for instance in the sub 100-nanometer semiconductor industry, are top-down approaches where fabrication technologies such as lithography or stamping are used. Here, you create ever smaller structures by starting with a block of material and remove the bits and pieces you don't want until you get the shape and size you do want. While top-down techniques can be highly parallel (semiconductor industry) it is not feasible to control single molecules with them. Using a hybrid approach that combines the precision of an atomic force microscope with the selectivity of DNA interactions, researchers in Germany have successfully demonstrated a technique that fills the gap between top-down and bottom-up since it allows for the control of single molecules with the precision of atomic force microscopy and combines it with the selectivity of self-assembly.
In contrast to the often depicted model of a perfect hexagonal lattice cylinder shape of carbon nanotubes, these nanomaterials often become twisted, bent or otherwise deformed during their growth, processing, or characterization. Researchers have found that some of these defects can be associated with a rearrangement of atoms and bonds which in turn will impact on the band structure and therefore affects the electronic properties of the tube. Previous experimental Atomic Force Microscopy and Transmission Electron Microscopy studies of carbon nanotubes have clearly identified their susceptibility to collapse and theoretical predictions of the impact that these deformations have on the electronic properties have been formulated. Experiments at the University of Surrey in the UK are the first to show atomically resolved radially collapsed double-walled carbon nanotubes, bringing also clear evidence of changes in the fundamental electronic behavior of these systems in response to the deformation.
The study of individual live cells is a hugely important scientific task and essential to the field of molecular biology and biomedical research. Among the most significant technical challenges for performing successful live-cell imaging experiments is to maintain the cells in a healthy state and functioning normally on the microscope stage while being illuminated. Especially if scientists want to look into cellular processes that occur inside cells in their natural state and that cannot be observed by traditional cytological methods. Quantum dots (QDs), also called nanocrystals, hold increasing potential for in vitro and in vivo cellular imaging. For instance, we have previously reported about how researchers have used QDs for in vivo imaging of embryonic stem cells in mice, a novel technique that has opened up the possibility of using QDs for fast and accurate imaging applications in stem cell therapy. The usefulness of quantum dots comes from their peak emission frequency's extreme sensitivity to both the dot's size and composition. QDs have been touted as possible replacements for organic dyes in the imaging of biological systems, due to their excellent fluorescent properties, good chemical stability, broad excitation ranges and high photobleaching thresholds.
Safe, efficient and compact hydrogen storage is a major challenge in order to realize hydrogen powered transport. According to the U.S. Department of Energy Freedom CAR program roadmap, the on-board hydrogen storage system should provide 6 weight % of hydrogen capacity at room temperature to be considered for technological implementation. We have written several Nanowerk Spotlights where we introdduced and described novel, nanotechnology-based concepts for economically viable hydrogen storage methods. Scientists consider the storage of hydrogen in the absorbed form as the most appropriate way to solve the storage problem and one particular group of materials they have focused on are carbon nanomaterials like nanotubes or fullerenes. Offering a novel material approach, a theoretical investigation by researchers in Greece has shown that CNTs and graphene sheets could be combined to form novel 3-D nanostructures capable of enhancing hydrogen storage.