Ultrathin nanosieves with a thickness smaller than the size of the pores are especially advantageous for applications in materials separation since they result in an increase of flow across the nanosieve. Separation of complex biological fluids can particularly benefit from novel, chemically functionalized nanosieves, since many bioanalytical problems in proteomics or medical diagnostics cannot be solved with conventional separation technologies. Researchers in Germany have now fabricated chemically functionalized nanosieves with a thickness of only 1 nm - the thinnest free-standing nanosieve membranes that have been reported so far. The size of the nanoholes in the membranes can be flexibly adjusted down to 30 nm by choosing appropriate conditions for lithography.
Metastasis is caused by marauding tumor cells that break off from the primary tumor site and ride in the bloodstream to set up colonies in other parts of the body. These breakaway cancer cells in the peripheral blood are known as circulating tumor cells (CTCs). Detecting and analyzing these cells can provide critical information for managing the spread of cancer and monitoring the effectiveness of therapies. Nanotechnology researchers have now developed a an efficient cell-capture platform based on 3D nanostructured substrates. The device is engineered out of nanoscale silicon pillars and has managed to capture up to 65 percent of circulating tumor cells in lab samples within human blood - far more than any existing diagnosis tool for CTC capture.
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.
Nanostructures present novel material properties and interesting insight into new physical phenomena. However, from a technical and commercial application point of view, a successful bridging between the nanoscale specific significance with large-scale applications must be made to obtain these benefits. One of the 'hottest' nanomaterials at the moment is graphene, a one-atom thick sheet of carbon. Ribbons made from graphene, basically stripes that look like molecular chicken wire, show even more unconventional properties than graphene, especially when they are less than 100 nm wide. Any material approach to use graphene nanoribbons for larger-scale applications must be able to assemble them into macroscopic materials, while preserving their physical significance and novel properties at these larger scales. Researchers at MIT have addressed this issue by proposing hierarchical assemblies of graphene nanoribbons through hydrogen bonds, inspired by biological structures found in nature such as proteins and DNA macromolecules.
To date, a number of nanotechnology fabrication studies have focused on creating hierarchically ordered nanostructures using lithographic techniques. However, lithographic methods involve high processing and maintenance costs, and require an iterative, multi-step procedure that makes the structure formation process more complex and less reliable. By contrast, a novel nanofabrication method is fast and cost-effective, dispensing with the need for multistage lithography and externally applied fields. This new technique needs only a drop of diblock polymer solution, a curved upper surface and a flat silicon substrate, and a selective solvent. This is the first study of creating hierarchically ordered nanostructures composed of block copolymers with unprecedented regularity by controlled evaporative self-assembly.
In developing next generation data storage devices, researchers are employing a variety of nanotechnology fabrication and patterning techniques such as electron-beam lithography, photolithography, microcontact printing, nanoimprinting and scanning probe microscope-based lithography. A decade ago, IBM for instance introduced the Millipede Project, a thermomechanical AFM-based nanopatterning technique that was aimed at data storage systems. While this system required an AFM tip heated to 350 degrees centigrade, researchers in Korea have now demonstrated that the writing, reading, and erasure of nanoscopic indentations on a polymeric film can be achieved by using an AFM tip at room temperature - no heating required.
A hallmark of the Mission: Impossible series shows secret agent Phelps receiving his instructions on a tape that then self-destructs and goes up in a cloud of smoke. Existing self-erasing media are much less dramatic, of course. Most of these materials rely on photochromic molecules. One prominent example is an experimental printing technology with reusable paper developed by Xerox and PARC. While writing with light can be both rapid and accurate, photochromic 'inks' are not necessarily optimal for transforming light-intensity patterns into color variations, because they have relatively low extinction coefficients, are prone to photobleaching, and usually offer only two colors corresponding to the two states of photoisomerizing molecules. Researchers at Northwestern University have now developed a new concept that can be used to produce self-erasing pictures. In contrast to previous techniques, their method allows for multicolored pictures.
A few years ago it was discovered that the process of thermal inkjet printing can be applied to fabricate hard tissue scaffolds and, just recently, soft tissue with liquid biomaterials. Research is also underway to use inkjet printing for the fabrication of organic semiconductors, opening a route to the fabrication of high-performance and ultra low-cost electronics such as transparent electronics and thin film solar cells. As a matter of fact, the installation of the world's first silicon-ink based solar cell pilot production was completed this January. In your office, though, you have a choice between inkjet printers and (usually much faster) laser printers. And soon, nanotechnologists might have this choice, too. Researchers in California have demonstrated a novel technique for rapidly 'printing' various nanoparticles such as gold nanoparticles, carbon nanotubes, and semiconducting and metallic nanowires, on a photoconductive surface by light, much like a laser printer prints toner powder on paper.