Today we are going to tackle a general topic that deals with how data is represented in scientific papers. The use of illustrations in scientifi c publications is a longstanding tradition that goes back thousands of years. In the course of writing 1,200 Nanowerk Spotlights over the past six years, we have worked our way through thousands of papers. And if one thing has stood out, it is the quality of the illustrations included in these papers: some are just excellent and capture the essence of the findings; others, well, let's just say they could be improved upon. Here are five specific recommendations on how scientists should design effective figures.
It is quite difficult - not least because there is no consensus about a proper definition - to assess the scope of nanotechnology research and its impact on the overall scientific body as well as its commercialization prospects. In a new attempt to put some numbers behind the general perception of a rapidly expanding nanotechnology field, two researchers at UC Davis have trawled scientific databases and come up with some surprising findings. For instance, that China has now overtaken the USA in annual research paper output related to nanoscience and nanotechnology. Also, the proportion of "nano"-related articles relative to the total size of the subject categories (such as physics, materials sciences or chemistry) has risen dramatically over the past 13 years.
Fabrication of a single nanodevice is no longer the state of the art in nanotechnology. The leading edge - and also currently the most challenging area in nanotechnology - is research that leads to a self-powered nanoscale system that is driven by the energy harvested from its environment and that can perform its work independently and sustainable. This is a key step toward self-powered nanotechnology, which is vitally important for medical science, environmental monitoring, defence technology and even personal electronics. A research team has now provided the first demonstration that a nanogenerator can be strong enough to power a device with the capability of sensing, data processing and wireless data transmission. This is a powerful demonstration of the self-powered nanosystem and its potential applications.
Glues adhere to solid materials via a multitude of fundamental physical or chemical interactions. Either chemical reaction times or solvent evaporation rates determine the point in time, when this interaction sets in and fixes the object to be glued. Electric potential has been used to attract polymers continuously to an electrode surface and to toggle molecules between states for a molecular switch. If you wanted to create electric glue, you would need to be able to control the interaction of a polymer and an electrode surface reversibly, thus creating a nanoscale system with electrochemically controlled adhesion. A research team now describes how Coulomb forces between polymers and surfaces may be measured, controlled, and manipulated.
Life cycle assessment is an essential tool for ensuring the safe, responsible, and sustainable commercialization of a new technology. With missing data about the large scale impact of nanotechnology, life cycle assessments of potential nanoproducts should form an integral part of nanotechnology research at early stages of decision making as it can help in the screening of different process alternatives. Part of any meaningful results from a life cycle assessment is the total quantity of the material under investigation. Especially exposure assessments often begin with estimates based on total amounts of a material produced with the assumption that some fraction of the material in question will ultimately released to the environment. As it turns out, nobody - no research institution, no government agency, no industry association - knows even vaguely how much nanomaterials are manufactured today.
Metrology is the science of measurements, and nanometrology is that part of metrology that relates to measurements at the nanoscale. Many governments worldwide have existing nanotechnology policies and are taking the preliminary steps towards nanometrology strategies, for example in support of pre-normative R+D and standardization work. In this Nanowerk Spotlight, we look at the European Commission funded project Co-Nanomet as an example of the importance of nanometrology as a key enabling technology for quality control at the nanoscale. While a first and obvious benefit of metrology is its potential to improve scientific understanding, a second, equally important, but less obvious benefit of metrology is closely linked to the concepts of quality control or conformity assessment, which means making a decision about whether a product or service conforms to specifications.
It started innocently enough with isolated instances of smoke coming out of computers. Then networks crashed. Now, programs are malfunctioning on a large scale, shutting down the Vatican's huge computer infrastructure which it depends on to manage its billions upon billions of investment dollars, real estate portfolios, and art collections. It is difficult to obtain all the details, but it appears that some form of nanotechnology got out of control. Surprisingly, and against its deeply ingrained reflexes of total openness and transparency, the Vatican initially tried to cover the whole thing up. Until a tabloid reporter got wind of what had happened and the whole thing became public with an article today (April 1) in an Italian tabloid that had this sensation-seeking headline splashed all over the front page: "Gay nanobots ballano Bunga-Bunga in Vaticano" - Gay nanobots dance Bunga-Bunga in the Vatican.
At the core of research efforts to determine the impact of synthetic nanoparticles on the environment and living systems is a fundamental understanding of the interactions between man-made nanoparticles and natural living systems that have evolved over millions of years. To describe nanoparticles at large, it may be beneficial to acknowledge that 1) biological systems are part of the food chain and therefore an essential component of the ecosystems and 2) collaborations are essential for such interdisciplinary research. Researchers have now presented a biophysical perspective that describes the fate of nanoparticles in both the aqueous phase and in living systems.