You might have seen our recent Nanowerk Spotlight on modern military nanotechnology (Military nanotechnology - how worried should we be?) and read about the hundreds of millions of dollars that the U.S. military pours into nanotech research every year. Well, it turns out that metalsmiths in India perhaps as early as 300 AD, and presumably with a much lower budget, developed a new technique known as wootz steel that produced a high-carbon steel of unusually high purity. Wootz, which are small steel ingots, was widely exported and became particularly famous in the Middle East, where it became known as Damascus steel. This steel had extraordinary mechanical properties and an exceptionally sharp cutting edge. The original Damascus steel swords were made possibly as early as 500 AD to as late as 1750 AD. What's so interesting about this? It turns out that the secret of Damascus steel is carbon nanotubes. Recently discovered in the nanostructure of a 17th century Damascus saber, the nanotubes could have encapsulated iron-carbide (cementite) nanowires that might give clues to the mechanical strength and sharpness of these swords.
The electrical properties of CNTs are extremely sensitive to defects which can be introduced during the growth, by mechanical strain, or by irradiation with energetic particles such as electrons, heavy ions, alpha-particles, and protons. When highly energetic particles collide, a latchup, electrical interference, charging, sputtering, erosion, and puncture of the target device can occur. Therefore the information on the effects of various types of high energetic irradiation on CNTs and other nanomaterials will be important in developing radiation-robust devices and circuits of nanomaterials under aerospace environment. As a result, degradation of the device performance and lifetime or even a system failure of the underlying electronics may happen. Researchers in South Korea conducted a systematic study of the effects of proton irradiation on the electrical properties of CNT network field effect transistor (FET) devices showing metallic or semiconducting behaviors. The most important outcome of this work is that no significant change in the electrical properties of CNT-based FET was observed, even after high-energy proton beam irradiated directly on the device. This result show that CNT-based devices can be a promising substitute for classical silicon-based devices, which are known to be very fragile against proton radiations
Back in 2001, Swedish researchers developed techniques for creating complex two- and three-dimensional networks of nanotubes and micrometer-sized containers from liquid crystalline lipid bilayer materials based on the propensity in liposomes to undergo complex shape-transitions under mechanical excitations. The membrane composition and container contents can be controlled allowing chemical programming of networks in studies of enzyme kinetics, reaction-diffusion phenomena, and single-biomolecule detection. Materials contained in the networks can be routed among containers. Thus, networks of nanotubes and vesicles serve as a platform to build nanofluidic devices operating with single molecules and particles and offer new opportunities to study chemistry in confined biomimetic compartments. The networks can furthermore be used to build nanoscale chemical laboratories for applications in analytical devices as well as to construct computational and complex sensor systems that can also be integrated to living cells. In recent work, the researchers have now demonstrated that these nanotube-container networks can be constructed directly from plasma membranes of cultured cells.
Various methods have been developed for growing well-aligned CNTs based on variant alignment mechanisms such as 'overcrowding growth', 'template hindrance growth' and 'electric field induced growth'. Compared to other methods, electric field induced growth has been considered to be a more effective and controllable method for producing well-aligned single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). Interestingly, while the alignment of CNTs became more controllable and repeatable with the assistance of an electric field, it was also shown that for CNTs grown in an electric field, the diameter uniformity and the crystallinity of graphite sheets of CNTs were clearly improved. This led Chinese researchers to develop an electric-field-induced method to not only improve CNT uniformity but also to create a new approach to control the microstructure of CNTs.
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.
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.
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis and is highly lethal in some forms. Anthrax spores can and have been used in biological warfare. "Weaponizing" the spores requires a process to make an aerosol form of anthrax so that they easily can enter the lungs. Inhalation is the most lethal form of anthrax infection. Consequently there has been significant interest in the surface structure and characteristics of anthrax spores as related to their binding by molecular species. The investigation of such binding is obviously important to the development of countermeasure technologies for the detection and decontamination of anthrax spores. A group of researchers at Clemson University have come up with an agent that clings to the anthrax spores to make their inhalation into the lungs difficult.
Individual carbon nanotubes (CNTs) of different structural and thus electronic characteristics can be joined to build up three-terminal logic devices. However, today this can only be achieved using highly sophisticated nanomanipulation processes. The direct growth of intrinsic functional CNT elements such as Y-shaped CNTS (YCNTs) and helical CNTs (HCNTs) can be considered as an important alternative. YCNTs already have proven to show rapid and nonlinear transistor action without the need for external gating, while HCNTs could be used as inductive elements offering rapid signal processing. Additionally, HCNTs have shown operational functionality as high sensitivity force and mass sensors and are of great interest for nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). A research group in Spain now reports that sulfur may be used as a highly efficient additive in chemical vapor deposition (CVD) processes, allowing enhanced selectivity in the synthesis of helical and Y-shaped CNTs.