Due to their unique structural and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes have been extensively investigated as promising catalyst supports to improve the efficiency of direct ethanol/methanol fuel cells. CNTs have a significantly higher electronic conductivity and an extremely higher specific surface area in comparison with the most widely-used Vulcan XC-72R carbon support. Several approaches, such as electrochemical reduction, electroless deposition, spontaneous reduction, sonochemical technique, microwave-heated polyol process, and nanoparticle decoration on chemically oxidized nanotube sidewalls, have been reported to form CNT-supported platinum catalysts. Some remarkable progress has been made in synthesis techniques; however, pioneering breakthroughs have not been made yet in terms of cost-effectiveness catalyst activity, durability, and chemical-electrochemical stability. Nanotechnology researchers in the U.S. have now discovered that platinum nanoparticles selectively grow on carbon nanotubes in accordance with single-stranded DNA locations.
From an energy savings point of view, the use of smart windows - electrically switchable glass which controls the amount of light passing through when voltage is applied - can save costs for heating, air-conditioning and lighting and avoid the cost of installing and maintaining motorized light screens or blinds or curtains. A disadvantage is of course the fact that the smart windows themselves need to draw energy in order to do their job. Now, researchers have developed a self-powered, fast-switching smart window that doubles as a solar cell, using sun light to power its chromic behavior and making the case for energy savings even more compelling. By employing a patterned tungsten oxide/platinum electrochromic electrode and a dye-sensitized titanium dioxide nanoparticle photoanode, the self-powered photovoltachromic cell (PVCC) which exhibits distinct electrochromic characteristics of a fast switching rate and tunable transmittance under illumination. The novel device has both photoelectrochromic and photovoltaic characteristics.
A couple of years ago we reported on applications of nanotechnology-based processes to the restoration and preservation of priceless artwork. Researchers have shown that nanodispersions of solids, micelle solutions, gels and microemulsions offer new reliable ways to restore and preserve works of art by merging together the main features and properties of soft-matter and hard-matter systems, allowing the synthesis of systems specifically tailored for the works of art to fight the deterioration processes which threaten many priceless masterpieces. Researchers at the University of Florence, who have been leading efforts to apply nanoparticle-based cleaning agents for artwork, have now further developed their work by exploring the design of novel systems containing low amounts of volatile oils as low-impact cleaning tools for the removal of aged polymeric coatings from the surface of paintings.
Eric Drexler replies to yesterday's Spotlight on Feynman and nanotechnology. 'Neither Feynman nor the vision of molecular manufacturing created the fields that have joined to become 'nanotechnology', nor did they provide the concrete scientific opportunities and technological applications that drive it forward. However, what set nanotechnology on its path to prominence was not a sudden realization by the public and politicians that new molecules and nanostructures have a host of applications in materials, sensors, and so on. It was, and is, the promise of revolutionary advances in atomically precise manufacturing, advances that will build on the technology platform now emerging from nanotechnology research.'
In December 2009 we will receive a series of reminders of the fiftieth anniversary of Richard Feynman's noted talk, 'There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom'. As commentaries appear in scientific journals, the nanotechnology community will have multiple opportunities to think about the role of Feynman's talk in the history of nanotechnology. Feynman's 1959 talk has been widely hailed as the origin of nanotechnology. It is a comprehensive vision of controlling matter at the nanoscale, including controlling individual atoms. However, at this point, there are two very different views of the role of Feynman's talk in the history of nanotechnology: 1. Everybody knows that Feynman's 'Plenty of Room' is the origin of nanotech. 2. The emergence of nanotech had little to do with Feynman's talk.
Nanotechnologies are opening vast new opportunities for scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to participate in solving some of the major problems facing mankind today. But the road from idea to commercially viable product or process is long. Especially when it comes to nanotech innovations, the research and development phase tends to be relatively lengthy. To help potential nanotechnology start-up founders with shaping their plans, Nanowerk, the leading nanotechnology information service, and Nanostart, the world's leading nanotechnology venture capital company, have teamed up to provide this useful guide which particularly addresses the funding aspects of nanotechnology start-ups, along with answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Detection at the earliest stage provides the greatest chance of survival for cancer patients. Cancer has a logarithmic growth rate and doctors typically don't see 80% of the life of a tumor. Detection can be done using a number of techniques including standard immunoassays and biopsies. Nanotechnology offers new detection approaches such as targeted contrast agents, nanoscale cantilevers coated with antibodies against tumor markers, and magnetic nanoparticles coated with DNA labeling. But the problem is daunting because there are over 50 common types of cancer and in practice it is difficult to ask people to come to the clinic on a regular basis for cancer screening. Researchers have now proposed a new method for the detection of cancer cells based on measurement of the physical adhesion of silica beads to malignant versus normal cells cultured from human cervix.
Spider silk is a fascinating biopolymer that is stronger than steel and more elastic than rubber. Most of the world's 40,000 species of spiders produce a silken thread that possesses a unique combination of mechanical properties: strength (its tensile strength is about five times as strong a steel of the same density), extensibility (up to 30%) and toughness (its ability to absorb a large amount of energy without breaking). Researchers are experimenting with spider silk to design better adhesives; advanced materials that are both stretchy and strong; and to get clues for protein engineering. Yet the impressive performance of spider silk is not limited solely to tensile mechanics. Researchers have now shown that silk also exhibits powerful cyclic contractions that are precisely controlled by changes in humidity, allowing it to act as a high performance mimic of biological muscles.