Adding yet another twist to the emerging debate about the potential risks of nanomaterials, researchers have demonstrated how difficult it is to map out the health effects of nanoparticles. They have shown that, even if a certain nanoparticle does not appear toxic by itself, the interaction between this nanoparticle and other common compounds in the human body may cause serious problems to cell functions. On one hand, this effect could be used to great advantage in nanomedicine for killing cancer cells. On the other hand, unfortunately, it is unknown at present whether the same effect could be observed with healthy cells as well. Since the number of possible combinations of nanoparticles and various biomolecules is immense, it is practically impossible to research them systematically. This latest example of the risk-benefit dichotomy of nanotechnology just shows how thin the line is between promising applications such as effective cancer killers and the unknown risks posed by unintentional effects of exactly the same applications.
If current research is an indicator, wearable electronics will go far beyond just very small electronic devices or wearable, flexible computers. Not only will these devices be embedded in textile substrates but an electronics device or system could ultimately become the fabric itself. Electronic textiles (e-textiles) will allow the design and production of a new generation of garments with distributed sensors and electronic functions. Such e-textiles will have the revolutionary ability to sense, act, store, emit, and move - think biomedical monitoring functions or new man-machine interfaces - while ideally leveraging an existing low-cost textile manufacturing infrastructure. A recent research report proposes to make conductive, carbon nanotube-modified cotton yarn. This would offer a uniquely simple yet remarkably functional solution for smart textiles - close in feel and handling to normal fabric - yet with many parameters exceeding existing solutions.
As we have show before, nanotechnology applications could provide decisive technological breakthroughs in the energy sector and have a considerable impact on creating the sustainable energy supply that is required to make the transition from fossil fuels. Although we love to write about all the clean and green applications that will be nanotechnology enabled, the harsh reality is that dirty energy is still fuelling our way of life. No matter if you are a member of the "drill, baby, drill" crowd or if you are actively involved in saving energy and think that the development of renewable energies can't come fast enough, we have to live with the fact that the world's energy production will continue to depend on oil, gas and coal for quite a few more years. But even here, nanotechnology applications might offer some improvements. A new report shows that nanotechnology, in the form of carbon nanotube rubber composites, could help to significantly enhance oil production efficiency by allowing to probe and drill deeper wells.
The toxicity issues surrounding carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are highly relevant for two reasons: Firstly, as more and more products containing CNTs come to market, there is a chance that free CNTs get released during their life cycles, most likely during production or disposal, and find their way through the environment into the body. Secondly, and much more pertinent with regard to potential health risks, is the use of CNTs in biological and medical settings. CNTs interesting structural, chemical, electrical, and optical properties are explored by numerous nanomedicine research groups around the world with the goal of drastically improving performance and efficacy of biological detection, imaging, and therapy applications. In many of these envisaged applications, CNTs would be deliberately injected or implanted in the body. While it has been shown that carbon nanotubes can indeed act as a means for drug delivery, negative effects such as unusual and robust inflammatory response, oxidative stress and formation of free radicals, and the accumulation of peroxidative products have also been found as a result of carbon nanotubes and their accumulated aggregates. As a possible solution, scientists have provided compelling evidence of the biodegradation of carbon nanotubes by horseradish peroxidase and hydrogen peroxide over the period of several weeks. This marks a promising possibility for nanotubes to be degraded by horseradish peroxidase in environmentally relevant settings.
Forget boxy loudspeakers. Researchers have now found that just a piece of carbon nanotube thin film could be a practical magnet-free loudspeaker simply by applying an audio frequency current through it. These loudspeakers - which are only tens of nanometers thick, transparent, flexible, and stretchable - can be tailored into many shapes and mounted on a variety of insulating surfaces, such as room walls, ceilings, pillars, windows, flags, and clothes without area limitations. The scientists demonstrated that their CNT loudspeakers can generate sound with wide frequency range, high sound pressure level, and low total harmonic distortion. Another advantage compared to conventional loudspeakers is that the CNT loudspeakers don't vibrate and are damage tolerant. They will work even if part of the thin film is torn or damaged.
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.
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.
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.