The properties of a quantum dot are not only determined by its size but also by its shape, composition, and structure, for instance if it's solid or hollow. A reliable manufacturing technology that makes use of nanocrystals' properties - for a wide-ranging number of applications in such areas as catalysis, electronics, photonics, information storage, imaging, medicine, or sensing - needs to be capable of churning out large quantities of nanocrystals where each batch is produced according to the exactly same parameters. In a recent review article, Sara Skrabalak from Indiana University and Younan Xia from Washington University in St. Louis, describe recent advances in seeded growth as the ultimate approach to producing metal nanocrystals with precisely controlled sizes, shapes, and compositions - the necessary first step toward their use and assembly for large-scale applications.
In a previous Nanotechnology Spotlight, we describe how, in order to develop tomorrow's supermaterials, scientists need to unlock nature's structural design rules, in particular for nanoscopic hierarchical molecular structures, and make them available to engineers. This is only possible through a deep understanding of the structure-property relations in biological materials. There is also a surprising relationship between these material design issues and the understanding (or rather lack thereof) of genetic diseases, where structural changes are due to mutations on the molecular level that lead to changed chemical and mechanical properties, which in turn lead to a malfunction of the protein network under mechanical load. Hierarchical nanostructures - ranging through atomistic, molecular and macroscopic scales - represent universal features of biological protein materials. New work by MIT professor Markus Buehler discusses the role of these structural hierarchies in determining properties of biological materials.
Among the many challenges that researchers have to overcome in developing bottom-up nanotechnology fabrication techniques and processes, the requirement for extremely precise, nanometer-scale control of positioning and shaping of objects is one of the most vexing. New work by a team of scientists in Korea demonstrates the position- and shape-controlled growth of nanoarchitectures using the selective growth of nanowalls with conventional lithography and catalyst-free metal organic vapor-phase epitaxy (MOVPE). This presents a significant advance towards the fabrication of artificial 1D and 2D nanomaterials as functional components in many integrated electronic and photonic devices.
Colloidal materials have been playing a major role in many research fields such as chemistry, materials science, condensed matter physics, applied optics, fluid dynamics, and biology. Most of these studies require the use of monodisperse colloidal particles with uniformity in shape, size, composition, structure and surface properties. Both our current understanding of various physical phenomena and our capability to fabricate new functional materials have been considerably enriched by the development of synthetic strategies that are capable of generating copious quantities of colloidal entities of good size uniformity. Nevertheless, most of the available monodisperse colloidal materials are spherical because this represents a thermodynamically favorable state in terms of surface energy. This strongly limits the number of new structures which can be engineered by using these colloids as building blocks. A novel synthetic route can now produce a full set of new non-spherical, binary colloids with regular morphology in a high yield.
The thing with technology is that the science behind it isn't good or bad but the way it is used could make all the difference. There are plenty of examples throughout history. Military nanotechnology is a good present day example. And we don't even need to talk about the weird, far-out stuff like nanobots and the Casimir force. Take explosives. While on one side there is research going on to improve high explosives through nanoscale structuring, other research teams are putting a lot of effort into detecting ever smaller trace amounts of explosives and building the ultimate nanoscale bomb dog. A recent example has been demonstrated by scientists in China, who obtained organic super-nanostructures via a simple solution process, and, for the first time, demonstrated that such structures can be applied as chemosensors to detect explosives.
Civilization as we know it would, literally, fall apart without techniques to join materials together. With its historic development tracing back to the Bronze Age, welding has been one of the key technologies that serves modern industry in broad areas such as construction, manufacturing, and engineering. As we have reported in a previous Nanotechnology Spotlight, this Bronze Age technique could prove very useful in building complex nanostructures. Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK have now demonstrated the ability to reliably weld individual nanowires and nanoobjects into complex geometries with controllable junctions. This represents a significant breakthrough for the current and future bottom-up localized assembly, integration, and repair of micro- and nanodevices.
The performance of devices like organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), flexible solar cells, or plastic electronics is sensitive to moisture because water and oxygen molecules seep past the protective plastic layer over time and degrade the organic materials which form the core of these products. To protect these sensitive devices, barrier technologies have been developed that protect them from environmental degradation. State-of-the-art barrier materials employ metal oxide thin films, commonly from aluminum or silicon oxides, which provide excellent protection from atmospheric oxygen and water, but still suffer from problems. A new study demonstrates a nanocomposite material that can initiate self-healing upon the influx of water through pores and cracks by delivering titanium dioxide nanoparticles to the defective site, which ultimately slows the rate of moisture diffusion to the reactive electronic device.
Scientists are intensely researching how animals like spiders and geckos generate the high adhesion force that allows them to cling to walls and walk on ceilings, feet over their head. While this research so far has focused on novel materials like carbon nanotubes to replicate spider feet and gecko toes, a key challenge for materials engineers is the scaling up of such materials from small animals to, say, spiderman gloves that support a fully grown human. Complementing the ongoing gecko biomimetic materials research, Nicola M. Pugno, an Associate Professor of Structural Mechanics at the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, has developed what he termed Adhesive Optimization Laws.