The manifold properties of carbon nanotubes (as well as other carbon nanomaterials such as fullerenes and graphene) are related to the various ways the carbon atoms can be arranged to form the tube lattice. Studies have shown that atomic-scale defects in these lattices can strongly influence the electronic and mechanical properties of the nanotubes. The simplest defect type is a vacancy where an atom is missing from the lattice site. Such defects can also be seen as chemically active sites for tube side wall functionalization. Due to the difficulty of observing vacancies directly, it remained unclear under what conditions vacancies in nanotubes are stable or exist at all. Researchers have now demonstrated a technique that allows them to remove carbon atoms from carbon nanotubes with atomic precision and in a controlled way with an extremely focused electron beam.
The importance of novel markers for microcopy cannot be underestimated. Such markers can provide novel information about functioning of protein in cell. Owing to their unlimited photostability diamond nanoparticles can be used for long-term monitoring of intracellular processes. Diamond nanoparticles also appear to be ideal candidates for ultra microscopy techniques like STED. Furthermore, nitrogen-vacancy color centers in diamond have non-zero spin in the ground state. This allows their use as markers for magnetic resonance imaging with very high sensitivity. To date, few methods exist to produce diamond nanoparticles containing color centers (c-diamond), but they are only laboratory-scale. The most common, large-scale nanodiamond production method, detonation, produces diamond nanoparticles which do not contain any color centers but impurities such as surface-or lattice-aggregated nitrogen and metals in significant amounts. A German-French research team has now developed a high yield method for the large-scale production of fluorescent nanodiamonds.
Many nanotechnology research efforts have explored the use of hollow nanochannels formed by carbon nanotubes (CNTs). However, the usually large length/diameter aspect ratio of CNTs has made it challenging to insert other materials into them in a controlled manner. A team of scientists has now developed the idea of using a nanocup morphology to solve this problem. The length/diameter ratio of these new graphitic architectures is 1,000 to 100,000 times smaller compared to conventional carbon nanotubes. This will allow researchers to build highly engineered and multicomponent functional nano building blocks for various applications including nanomedicine and nanometrology.
Much effort has been invested into finding a non-toxic replacement for semiconductor quantum dots (Q-dots) possessing bright fluorescence. Intrinsic toxicity of Q-dots composed of elements such as selenium, tellurium, cadmium, and lead severely hinders their in vivo applications for fluorescent imaging. Therefore many carbon nanomaterials have been considered as a replacement for Q-dots for in vivo imaging. However, it is still unclear how safe carbon nanomaterials are, and this is an obstacle for their use in medicine. Nanodiamond has been an exception among nanomaterials in many aspects, but what is important for biomedical applications is that it has shown very little or zero toxicity in all tests done so far. In addition, nanodiamond powders are already produced by detonation on a large commercial scale. This is why fluorescent nanodiamonds currently attract so much attention.
For the past 20+ years, the atomic force microscope has been one of the most important tools to visualize nanoscale objects where conventional optics cannot resolve them due to the wave nature of light. One limiting factor of conventional AFM operation is the speed at which images can be acquired. Over the past five years, researchers have been developing a high-speed AFM capable of video-rate image capture. An AFM with this ability enables nanoscale processes to be observed in real-time, rather than capturing only snap-shots in time. An obvious application of this instrument is to modify the sample surface while observing changes in the surface topography. Successful demonstration of this would indicate the potential for a new generation of fabrication tools. Scientists have now done exactly that.
Currently, all existing methods of fabricating CNT-polymer composites involve quite complicated, expensive, time-demanding processing techniques such as solution casting, melting, molding, extrusion, and in situ polymerization. In all of these techniques, nanotubes must either be incorporated into a polymer solution, molten polymer or mixed with the initial monomer before the formation of the final product. In addition, these methods can not be applied in the case of insoluble or temperature sensitive polymers, which decompose without melting. Kevlar is a well known high-strength polymer with a variety of important applications - think bullet-proof vests and car armor plating. However, Kevlar is not soluble in any common solvent and Kevlar fibers must be produced by wet spinning from sulphuric acid solutions. Researchers in Ireland have now found a way to develop a new effective post-processing technique which would allow to incorporate carbon nanotubes into already formed polymer products, such as for example Kevlar yarns.
Back in 2006, researchers introduced the concept of a carbon nanotube (CNT) knife that, in theory, would work like a tight-wire cheese slicer. In the meantime, other research groups have developed similar approaches, for instance for cutting and sharpening carbon nanotubes (see for instance: Nanotechnology grinders). Now, the group that introduced the CNT nanoknife in 2006 has refined their design and demonstrated the feasibility of fabricating a nanoknife (compression-cutting tool at the nanoscale) based on an individual CNT. The researchers stretched an individual nanotube between two tungsten needles in a manner that allowed them to test the mechanical strength of assembled device. A force test on the prototype nanoknife indicated that failure was at the weld while the CNT was unaffected by the force we applied. In situ load tests on the nanoknife indicated maximum breaking force to be in micro Newton range.
Nearly every chemical or physical property of materials depends upon temperature, and researchers are only beginning to understand the huge breadth of applications that nanoscale heaters could facilitate. For example, scientists have previously demonstrated that a micro-heater built into an atomic force microscope can be used instead of a large furnace that is normally used to grow nanotubes as part of the chemical vapor deposition process. The tiny device provided highly-localized heating for only the locations where researchers wanted to grow the nanostructures. While most previous research on this kind of microcantilever heaters and thermometers used device elements that were several micrometers in size, researchers have now reported an approach to fabricate a 100 nanometer-sized heater/thermometer using contact photolithography and controlled anneal conditions. A deep understanding of nanomaterials requires nanoscale probes. With such nanoscale heater/thermometer devices it becomes possible to test the temperature dependence of materials properties at the very smallest scale and perform thermal diagnostics of nanomaterials.