Animals that cling to walls and walk on ceilings owe this ability to micro- and nanoscale attachment elements. The highest adhesion forces are encountered in geckos. A gecko is the heaviest animal that can 'stand' on a ceiling, with its feet over its head. This is why scientists are intensely researching the adhesive system of the tiny hairs on its feet. On the sole of a gecko's toes there are some one billion tiny adhesive hairs, about 200 nanometers in both width and length. These hairs put the gecko in direct physical contact with its environment. The shape of the fibers is also significant; for example, spatula-shaped ends on the hairs provide particularly strong adhesion. Researching how insect and gecko feet have evolved to optimize adhesion strength is leading to bio-inspired development of artificial dry adhesive systems. Potential applications range from protective foil for delicate glasses to reusable adhesive fixtures - say goodbye to fridge magnets, here comes the hairy stuff, which will also stick to your mirror, your cupboard and your windows.
The controllable fabrication of highly ordered homogeneous nanostructures on surfaces remains a difficult challenge. Nevertheless, motivated by potential applications in micro- and optoelectronic devices, the problem of organic nanoscale structures on surfaces with long-range order and uniform size has attracted considerable attention in recent years. Researchers in Switzerland have now grown ordered arrays of fullerene nanochains on a gold surface. This demonstration constitutes a successful proof-of-principle for the concept of site-selective molecular anchoring on nanostructured template surfaces, and provides the perspective of fabricating complex supramolecular nanostructures being of potential technological relevance by site-selective anchoring and selfassembly methods using properly designed functional molecular building blocks.
Gears, bearings, and liquid lubricants can reduce friction in the macroscopic world, but the origins of friction for small devices such as micro- or nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS) require other solutions. Despite the unprecedented accuracy by which these devices are nowadays designed and fabricated, their enormous surface-volume ratio leads to severe friction and wear issues, which dramatically reduce their applicability and lifetime. Traditional liquid lubricants become too viscous when confined in layers of molecular thickness. This situation has led to a number of proposals for ways to reduce friction on the nanoscale, such as superlubricity and thermolubricity. Researchers in Switzerland now describe a resonance-induced superlubricity, which also occurs in many natural phenomena from biological systems to the motion of tectonic plates. This new method provides an efficient way to switch friction on and off at the atomic scale and, as a simple way of preventing mechanical damage without chemical contamination, could be of enormous importance for the development of NEMS.
In recent years, the manipulation of single atoms and molecules has been a major advance in the application of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). The main appeal of STM manipulation is the ability to access, control and modify the interactions between the tip and the adsorbate, a few angstroms apart. So far, however, atom manipulation using a STM or an AFM -tip has been restricted to flat surfaces. Manipulation of atoms on a rough terrain requires much more precise control at the atomic scale. Researchers now report extraction and manipulation of individual silver atoms on three dimensional silver nanoclusters. This is the first demonstration that individual atoms can be repeatedly pulled out from a silver cluster on a silver surface using STM tip. It is also the first atom manipulation work done on a 3-D surface. There are still very few research groups that have demonstrated single atom manipulation with atomic scale precision on flat surfaces. This remarkable achievement has an impact on the fundamental understanding of interactions between the matters. While it certainly is not a commercial production technique, it does further the fundamental understanding of the interaction between atoms, and it is an atom production technique that can be used to extract the atoms for atomistic construction.
Drug intoxication, developed as a result of accidental overdosing, is a serious health problem. Drug overdoses are sometimes also caused intentionally to commit suicide, but many drug overdoses are usually the result of either irresponsible behavior, or the misreading of product labels. Other causes of overdose (especially heroin) include multiple drug use with counter indications (cocaine/amphetamines/alcohol) or use after a period of abstinence. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in the U.S. alone almost 20,000 people a year die due to drug overdoses and accidental poisoning. While there has been a tremendous effort to develop drug delivery methods using nanotechnology, a new report shows that this could work the other way around as well, and that porous nanoparticles can soak up drug molecules in the body like a sponge. This could help to reduce fatalities from overdoses, according to tests showing that tiny spheres of poly(acrylic acid) can absorb substantial amounts of an antidepressant and an anesthetic in just a few minutes. In short, nanoparticles can act as potent antidotes!
A novel discipline is emerging in medicine: nanoscopic medicine. Based on the premises that diseases manifest themselves as defects of cellular proteins, these proteins have been recently shown to form specific complexes exerting their functions as if they were nanoscopic machines. Nanoscopic medicine refers to the direct visualization, analysis (diagnosis) and modification (therapy) of nanoscopic protein machines in life cells and tissues with the aim to improve human health. The term nanoscopic medicine was coined by a group of researchers in Germany whose mission is to extend live cell nanoscopy into a comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic scheme. This includes both the creation of a set of novel instruments and the analysis of nanoscopic protein machine networks in health and disease. In addition, they seek to construct artificial devices mimicking cellular nanomachines.
Along the way to all-optical devices in communication and information technology, photonic crystals play a significant role. They form a basis material for the future realization of optical components and circuits, and maybe even complex optical circuits or optical computers. Examples include complex waveguides, integrated microcavities, channel drop filters, optical switches and low-threshold lasers. All such devices depend on the inclusion of defect structures, non-linear materials and/or light-emitters into photonic bandgap material. The combination of several devices into one photonic crystal would allow to realize the optical equivalent of an electronic circuit. So far, the intentional inclusion of such combined structures was very difficult to realize in practice, however. A group of German and Italian researchers now present a powerful technique that allows to create such photonic circuits inside photonic crystals by controlled micro-infiltration of liquid substances with sub-micron resolution. This approach forms an enabling technology for the realization of all optical devices and circuits.
Due to the the increased use of modern bombs in terrorist attacks worldwide, where the amount of metal used is becoming very small, the development of a new approach capable of rapidly and cost-efficiently detecting volatile chemical emission from explosives is highly desirable and urgently necessary nowadays. The trained dogs and physical methods such as gas chromatography coupled to a mass spectrometer, nuclear quadrupole resonance, electron capture detection as well as electrochemical approaches are highly sensitive and selective, but some of these techniques are expensive and others are not easily fielded in a small, low-power package. As a complementary method, however, chemical sensors provide new approaches to the rapid detection of ultra-trace analytes from explosives, and can be easily incorporated into inexpensive and portable microelectronic devices. Researchers in PR China have developed a nanocomposite film that shows very fast fluorescence response to trace vapors of explosives such as TNT, DNT or NB.