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.
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. In its advanced form, which should be achieved within the next decade or two, the technology will allow a revolution in manufacturing - building powerful products with atomic precision from the bottom up - and could fundamentally alter our ability to confront challenging issues such as climate change. In the United States, a new President is about to take office, and is expected to bring with him a totally new outlook on science. We think it?s important now to let Mr. Obama and his advisors know the most important factors about the near future of nanotechnology and its potential impacts, especially as it relates to climate change.
Scintillation - a flash of light, lasting only nanoseconds to microseconds, produced in a particular material when it absorbs ionizing radiation - is one of the main methods used for the detection of ionizing radiation. Scintillators are very versatile and can be used for detecting almost all types of radiation in a wide range of energy from several electron volts (eV) to tens of billion of electron volts (GeV). Scintillation is useful for sensing alpha, beta and gamma radiation as well as other nuclear particles and in some cases determining the particle type. For example, organic scintillators can sense fast neutrons emitted spontaneously from fissile isotopes of uranium and plutonium, enabling passive detection of nuclear weapons. The detection and identification of subatomic particles is not only important for nuclear nonproliferation efforts but is a wide-ranging scientific problem with implications for medical devices, radiography, biochemical analysis, particle physics, and even astrophysics. Scientists from the Sandia National Laboratories in California have now proposed that metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) could potentially offer the desired level of structural control, leading to an entirely new class of radiation detection materials.
Conventional vaccine development is based on the body's successful approach to dealing with viral infections. Unfortunately, standard vaccine technologies are ineffective against some of the most devastating infectious diseases such as HIV. A key role in developing cell-mediated immunity against viruses is played by so-called T-cells, which belong to a group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. One variant of T-cells (cytotoxic T lymphocytes) directly attacks body cells that are infected with a virus or malignant or abnormal tumor cells. These 'killer' T-cells are called into action by 'helper' T-cells, which also activate other immune cells to produce antibodies. HIV, though, takes over helper T-cells and uses them to replicate itself. A major focus in AIDS research has therefore been the development of a 'T-cell vaccine' that induces T-cell immunity. While it was shown that peptides in blood could effectively stimulate T cell immunity in monkeys, and peptides are considered safe vaccine antigens, proteases in vivo can rapidly degrade peptide-based vaccines and this has limited their utility to date. New research by scientists in Australia represents an important finding for vaccine delivery as it demonstrates a feasible method for protecting biologically active peptides for delivery to antigen presenting cells (APCs).
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.
Stakeholders attending the second annual "Safety for Success" dialogue last October in Brussels agreed that while many activities had taken place during the past year towards the responsible development and regulation of nanotechnologies more effort was needed. Discussion highlighted three areas that require coordinated effort from all parties: 1) Developing trustworthy information on products containing nanomaterials that are on or near the market, and on how they are tested. 2) Meaningful public engagement on the basis of shared definitions of nanotechnology. 3) Ongoing regulatory reviews to provide clear guidance to industry on how to interpret regulatory frameworks, and clear indications to the public about action being taken in cases where relevant risk data is limited or uncertain. In addition, the meeting identified a number of key points that need to be addressed in order to meet these three priorities.
Olfaction, our sense of smell, depends on the capability of specialized sensory cells in the nose to detect airborne odorant molecules. These olfactory cells contain specific protein molecules that acts as 'olfactory receptors' - they bind only to specific odorant molecules present in the air inhaled through the nose. When such a binding event occurs, the olfactory receptors change their shape and this deformation triggers chemical and electrical signals which are eventually transmitted to the brain through neurons. So, in a nutshell, this is how we smell. Human and especially some animal noses (think bomb-sniffing dogs) are very sophisticated and extremely sensitive gas sensors that can distinguish between very similar gas molecules. Researchers have been trying for a while to replicate the human olfactory sense - a concept called electronic nose (e-nose). While most nanotechnology-based efforts have focused on nanowires, new research conducted in Korea has demonstrated the detection of specific odorant molecules with a single-carbon-atomic resolution using a human olfactory receptor-functionalized carbon nanotube based sensor.
One of the issues in using carbon nanotubes for applications is the challenge of separating metallic from semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) after production. Developing a rapid and parallel technique for the electronic characterization of high-density arrays of SWCNT devices is essential for future large-scale production processes of nanoelectronics components. Currently used methods for electronic characterization of SWCNT devices and arrays are time consuming to set up, slow to execute, and not suitable for large-scale deployment. These methods include direct electron transport measurements and scanning probe microscopy, which can map the surface potential along a nanotube; again, a very slow technique with limited ability to be integrated into the process flow for microelectronic fabrication and characterization. More recent demonstrations of sorting nanotubes with DNA have been more promising but are very early stage. Researchers in Germany have now presented Voltage-Contrast Scanning Electron Microscopy (VC-SEM) as a new technique for the characterization of molecular electronic devices and device arrays.