Safe drinking water has been and increasingly will be a pressing issue for communities around the world. In developed countries it is about keeping water supplies safe while in the rest of the world it is about making it safe. The potential impact areas for nanotechnology in water applications are divided into three categories - treatment and remediation, sensing and detection, and pollution prevention. Within the category of sensing and detection, of particular interest is the development of new and enhanced sensors to detect biological and chemical contaminants at very low concentration levels. Testing of water against a spectrum of pathogens can potentially reduce the likelihood of many diseases from cancer to viral infections.
A lot of the scientific knowledge in chemistry and biology comes from experiments on ensembles of molecules by which a vast number of duplicate behaviors are investigated and averaged responses are recorded. Especially the ability to make measurements at the single molecule level provides crucial information about biological and chemical systems. This research depends on molecular manipulation technologies that are able to isolate individual molecules and sequentially transport them for measurement and, potentially, manipulation. To this end, generation and manipulation of small, highly monodisperse droplets have received a lot of attention in the biotech community recently. Using a simple droplet generator chip, scientists can generate millions of droplets in a short amount of time. Each individual droplet is isolated from another droplet, hence, meaning that a million droplets constitute a million individual microreactors running a million reactions simultaneously.
Researchers have developed a self-sensing nanotechnology composite material for traffic monitoring by using piezoresistive multi-walled carbon nanotubes as an admixture. In experiments, they studied the response of the piezoresistive properties of this composite to compressive stress and they investigated with vehicular loading experiments the feasibility of using self-sensing CNT/cement composite for traffic monitoring. This nanocomposite cement has great potential for traffic monitoring use such as in vehicle detection, weigh-in-motion measurement and vehicle speed detection. An interesting aspect of this work is that, from the eventual traffic application's point of view, the pavement itself would become the traffic detection, thus eliminating the need for separate traffic flow detection sensors.
In their effort to develop a fast, sensitive, selective, inexpensive, and easy-to-use method for detecting and quantifying pathogenic bacterial cells, researchers in Spain have now demonstrated a carbon nanotube based potentiometric biosensor for selectively detecting one single colony-forming unit of the bacterium Salmonella Typhi in close to real time. The most important strength of this biosensor is that simple positive/negative tests can be carried out in real zero-tolerance conditions and without cross reaction with other types of bacteria. The ease with which measurements are taken in potentiometric analysis opens the door to greater simplicity in microbiological analysis.
According to the World Health Organization, lung cancer is the leading cancer-related cause of death, accounting for 18 percent of cancer deaths and killing about 1.3 million people worldwide every year. Conventional diagnostic methods for lung cancer occasionally miss tumors and they are costly and unsuitable for widespread screening. Breath testing is a fast, non-invasive diagnostic method that links specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath to medical conditions. However, these techniques - gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, ion flow tube mass spectrometry, laser absorption spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, polymer-coated surface acoustic wave sensors and coated quartz crystal microbalance sensors - are expensive, slow, and require complex instruments. A multidisciplinary research team at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology have now demonstrated a highly sensitive, stable, relatively inexpensive, and fast-response nine-sensor array that consists of gold nanoparticles functionalized with different organic groups that respond to various VOCs that are relevant to lung cancer.
The term bio-interface describes the boundary between synthetic materials such as plastics, and biological systems. This rapidly growing research area, where biology and material sciences overlap, is creating new opportunities for the design, synthesis, and optimization of biologically-enabled and biologically-inspired materials. It involves manufacturing and characterization of functional surfaces for specific interactions with bio-systems and studies of the molecular and kinetic processes occurring at such interfaces, ranging from small molecule and biomolecular interactions, to cell adhesion, differentiation and tissue formation at the interface. For example, the incorporation of proteins into polymers can result in hybrid materials that combine the properties of the polymer as a cost-effective and easy to process material with the highly evolved biological functionality of the protein, enabling new concepts for construction of sensors and biomedical materials. While researchers so far have been focusing on altering the properties of a polymer by adding the functionality of a biomolecule, a group in California has now demonstrated the reverse situation, where changes in the polymer can alter the properties of the protein.
Developing bioassays that are simple, portable, disposable and inexpensive will provide important tools to rapidly detect toxic substances. This technology could also be extremely useful in monitoring environmental and food-based toxins in remote settings such as less industrialized countries where these tools are essential for the first stages of detecting disease settings and where the time and expense of using sophisticated instrumentation would be prohibitive. To that end, researchers have developed simple, portable, disposable, and inexpensive paper-based solid-phase sensors to run multiple bioassays and controls simultaneously. Bioactive paper is any low-cost and easy-to-use paper product laced with biologically active chemicals that provides a rapid way to detect toxins like E. coli bacteria and salmonella, or pathogens such as SARS or influenza.
Controlling surface plasmons has become increasingly attractive for optical signal processing, surface enhanced spectroscopy and sensor nanotechnology. For instance, the role of surface plasmon resonance (SPR) on resonant transmission through nanohole arrays has motivated their application as surface-based biosensors. New work by a team of scientists in Canada has combined nanofluidics and nanoplasmonics for SPR sensing using flow-through nanohole arrays. This new format enables rapid transport of reactants to the active sensing surface and the array serves as a sieve. That is, the flow-through array efficiently collects and detects biomarkers from a very small volume of fluid.