Nanotechnology Spotlight – Latest Articles

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Truly green nanotechnology - growing nanomaterials in plants

A lot of buzz has been created by the term "green nanotechnology". In a broad sense, this term includes a wide range of possible applications, from nanotechnology-enabled, environmentally friendly manufacturing processes that reduce waste products (ultimately leading to atomically precise molecular manufacturing with zero waste); the use of nanomaterials as catalysts for greater efficiency in current manufacturing processes by minimizing or eliminating the use of toxic materials (green chemistry principles); the use of nanomaterials and nanodevices to reduce pollution (e.g. water and air filters); and the use of nanomaterials for more efficient alternative energy production (e.g. solar and fuel cells). Unfortunately, there is a flip side to these benefits. As scientists experiment with the development of new chemical or physical methods to produce nanomaterials, the concern for a negative impact on the environment is also heightened: some of the chemical procedures involved in the synthesis of nanomaterials use toxic solvents, could potentially generate hazardous byproducts, and often involve high energy consumption (not to mention the unsolved issue of the potential toxicity of certain nanomaterials). This is leading to a growing awareness of the need to develop clean, nontoxic and environmentally friendly procedures for synthesis and assembly of nanoparticles. Scientists are now exploring the use of biological organisms to literally grow nanomaterials.

Jun 21st, 2007

Congressional pork bloats U.S. military nanotechnology spending

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has released its 2007 review of DoD nanotechnology programs. In 2007, estimated DoD nanotechnology expenditures will be $417m, about the same level as the year before. For the first time, however, the report lists the congressional additions to DoD's investment in nanotechnology. From 2005 to 2007, the Pentagon has requested about $350 million each year for its nanotechnology research. Congressional earmarks of $75.6 million in 2006 (actual) and $63 million in 2007 (estimate) have substantially increased this budget and given the Pentagon more money - and programs - than it actually asked for. The Pentagon report even states that "Congressional additions significantly complicate the assessment of current and proposed funding levels for the DoD investment in nanotechnology, since these Congressional appropriated programs commonly avoid the standard agency technical scrutiny. Furthermore, Congressional additions are often inconsistent with, or even in direct opposition to, the technical focus areas and directions of DoD agencies." Makes you almost feel sorry for the military... but it is yet another perfect example of how warped (sorry, can't use a stronger word here) the U.S. Congressional budget system has become.

Jun 20th, 2007

Nanotechnology's "magic bullet"

The ideal drug carrier may be something out of science fiction. In principle, it is injected into the body and transports itself to the correct target, such as a tumor, and delivers the required dose at this target. This idealized concept was first proposed by Paul Ehrlich at the beginning of the 20th century and was nicknamed the "magic bullet" concept. With the advent of nanotechnology and nanomedicine this dream is rapidly becoming a reality. Nanotechnology has already been applied to drug delivery and cosmetics through the use of liposomal technology, and now nanoparticles and nanotubes present an exciting and more promising alternative.

Jun 19th, 2007

Growing semiconducting nanostructures directly on conducting metal substrates

Large-scale and high-density semiconductor arrays with one-dimensional ("1D" - where one dimension of the structure is nanoscale) nanostructures have been extensively studied for their potential application in future electrooptical devices. Among them, zinc oxide (ZnO) is considered to be very attractive for high-efficiency short-wavelength optoelectronic nanodevices because of its large exciton binding energy of 60 meV and high mechanical and thermal stabilities. ZnO nanorod/ nanowire arrays have also been demonstrated to be highly versatile and proven to be quite effective in piezoelectric nanogenerators, dye-sensitized solar cells, photonic crystals, superhydrophobic surfaces, and even biodevices due to their biocompatibility. One of the issues researchers are still grappling with is the synthesis of ZnO nanowire arrays. On one hand, high-temperature techniques such as chemical vapor deposition (CVD) have been widely employed and result in high quality nanostructures. However, these methods are energy-consuming and expensive. On the other hand, there are several advantages of growing semiconducting nanostructures directly on conducting metal substrates, for instance the formation of robust electrical contacts during the growth. Such wet chemical methods, which are appealing for their low temperature, facile manipulation, and potential for scale-up have recently been developed for the production of aligned ZnO nanostructures and so far the most successful route has been seeded growth on ZnO-nanoparticle-coated substrates. In these two-step processes the coating of the substrate for the formation of a nucleation layer remains complex and difficult/irreproducible. Therefore, large-scale, low-cost controllable growth of well-aligned ZnO 1D nanostructures on properly fitting substrates via a one-step synthetic approach is still crucially needed for novel applications to become practicable. Researchers in China now have demonstrated exactly such a highly effective solution by growing well-aligned ZnO 1D nanostructures on various inert metal substrates at low temperature on a large scale.

Jun 18th, 2007

The phenomena behind nanotechnology's many promises

"Canadians spy on U.S. with nanotechnology coins!" You might remember this hilarious story that made the rounds a few weeks ago. The U.S. Defense Department had issued an espionage warning after U.S. Army contractors traveling in Canada had filed confidential espionage accounts about Canadian coins as "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nanotechnology." It just exemplifies how the term "nanotechnology" gets thrown around and misused for all kinds of purposes. Just because something is really small doesn't mean it has to do with nanotechnology. Of course, here at Nanowerk we sometimes fall into the same trap and use "nanotechnology" in a story headline just to make it catchier, even if the underlying story is not so much about a "technology" but rather a nanoscale phenomenon. Today's Spotlight therefore takes a step back and looks some of the various nanoscale phenomena that make new technologies - nanotechnologies - possible and that hold the key to many technological advances that lie ahead of us.

Jun 15th, 2007

Paperlike thermochromic display

Thin, flexible displays have become an everyday component in many electronic gadgets from cell phones to digital cameras and MP3 players. Most of these displays are based on LCD technology, liquid crystals combined with polymeric structures, and one of their drawbacks is that their manufacturing cost grows rapidly with increasing screen size. A recently developed alternative approach for thin, flexible displays makes use of thermochromic composite thin-films. Thermo- chromism is the ability of a substance to change color due to a change in temperature. This first of a kind thermochromic display is based on films with thermochromic nanoparticles and embedded conductive wiring patterns. Based on the ease of fabrication and simple architecture, thermochromic displays could have advantages in lowering the display unit cost and, due to their heating pulse control scheme, can also lower power consumption compared with conventional displays.

Jun 14th, 2007

Nanotechnology material, heal thyself

You cut yourself in the finger - and a few days later your skin has completely healed again. Biological organisms have an amazing ability to automatically initiate self-healing and self-repair when they sustain damage. Materials engineers are dreaming about making materials that could do the same thing. Imagine self-repairing cars, planes, bridges or buildings. These materials could be of particular use in structures that are at present impractical or impossible to repair, such as electronic circuit boards, implanted medical devices or spacecraft. Self-repairing materials would have a massive impact on virtually all industries, lengthening product lifetimes, increasing safety, and lowering product costs by reducing maintenance requirements. Thanks to nanotechnology, these visions are coming closer to reality. One approach is the use of nanocontainers that possess the ability to release encapsulated active materials in a controlled way, leading to a new family of self-repairing coatings.

Jun 13th, 2007

Transparent and flexible electronics with nanowire transistors

Thin-film transistors (TFTs) and associated circuits are of great interest for applications including displays, large-area electronics and printed electronics (e.g. radio-frequency identification tags - RFID). Well-established TFT technologies such as amorphous silicon and poly-silicon are well-suited for many current applications - almost all mobile phone color screens use them - but face challenges in extensions to flexible and transparent applications. In addition, these TFTs have modest carrier mobilities, a measure of the velocity of electrons within the material at a given electric field. The modest mobility corresponds to a modest operating speed for this class of TFTs. Organic TFTs are generally better suited for flexible applications, and can be made transparent. However, mobilities in organic TFTs are generally quite low, restricting the speed of operation and requiring relatively large device sizes. Researchers at Purdue University, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California now have reported nanowire TFTs that have significantly higher mobilities than other TFT technologies and therefore offer the potential to operate at much higher speeds. Alternatively, they can be fabricated using much smaller device sizes, which allows higher levels of integration within a given chip area. They also provide compatibility with a variety of substrates, as well as the potential for room-temperature processing, which would allow integration of the devices with a number of other technologies (e.g. for displays).

Jun 12th, 2007