While the first reported fullerenes and nanotube structures were composed of carbon, it was soon recognized that a plethora of comparable inorganic candidates should also exist. A rich assortment of IF (inorganic fullerene-like structures, or IF for short) nanostructures have been synthesized, and are finding practical uses in tribology, photonics, batteries, and catalysis. On such inorganic molecule that can achieve fullerene-like nanostructures, cesium oxide, is particularly useful for a multitude of applications in photoemissive systems. Unfortunately, it is extremely reactive in the ambient atmosphere, so its production and handling require high vacuum and very pure inert conditions; which translates into problematic and expensive manufacturing and handling, which in turn limits its technological scope and device lifetime. In their quest for a relatively uncomplicated high-yield synthesis method for chemically stable cesium oxide IFs, scientists succeeded in exploiting highly concentrated solar radiation (ultrabright incoherent light) toward that end. This resulted in a simple, inexpensive, and reproducible photothermal procedure for synthesizing IF nanoparticles.
Zinc oxide (ZnO) is considered a workhorse of technological development exhibiting excellent electrical, optical, and chemical properties with a broad range of applications as semiconductors, in optical devices, piezoelectric devices, surface acoustic wave devices, sensors, transparent electrodes, solar cells, antibacterial activity etc. Thin films or nanoscale coating of ZnO nanoparticles on suitable substrates are viewed with great interest for their potential applications as substrates for functional coating, printing, UV inks, e-print, optical communication (security-papers), protection, barriers, portable energy, sensors, photocatalytic wallpaper with antibacterial activity etc. Various methods like chemical, thermal, spin coating, spray pyrolysis, pulsed laser deposition have been used for thin film formation but they are limited to solid supports such as metal, metal oxides, glass or other thermally stable substrates. Coating of ZnO nanoparticles on thermolabile surfaces is scarce and coating on paper was yet to be reported. Paper as a substrate is an economic alternative for technological applications having desired portability and flexibility. Researchers from the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan found a way of coating paper with ZnO nanoparticles using ultrasound.
Synthetic nanopores are promising biosensors, possibly as a robust and versatile replacement for their biological counterparts in characterizing DNA, RNA, and polypeptides. In the past few years since their first introduction, synthetic nanopores have been found in a wide range of biological and nonbiological applications, including characterization of double-stranded DNA length and folding, detection of immune complexes, profiling of optical traps, and basic studies of nanoscale ion transport mechanisms. Given the broad technological importance of synthetic nanopores, it is highly desirable to develop a reliable technique for fabricating these devices using low-cost materials. Researchers at Brown University now report a systematic study of nanopore formation in a plastics system. They also developed a lithography-free technique for fabricating nanopores with biomolecular sensing capabilities.
Back in March Nanowerk Spotlight reported on work by Sandia researchers who developed a range of novel platinum nanostructures with potential applications in fuel and solar cells (see: Novel platinum nanostructures). Through the use of liposomal templating and a photocatalytic seeding strategy the Sandia team produced a variety of novel dendritic platinum nanostructures such as flat dendritic nanosheets and various foam nanostructures (nanospheres and monoliths). In an intriguing follow-up report on the growth of hollow platinum nanocages, they now show for the first time a one-to-one correspondence between the porphyrin photocatalyst molecules and the seed particles that go on to grow the dendrites. This indicates that the whole process might be used for nanotagging biological molecules and other structures that have been labeled with a photocatalytic porphyrin.
Nanoshells are a novel class of optically tunable nanoparticles that consist of alternating dielectric and metal layers. They have been shown to have tunable absorption frequencies that are dependent on the ratio of their inner and outer radii. Therefore nanoshells can potentially be used as contrast agents for multi-label molecular imaging, provided that the shell thicknesses are tuned to specific ratios. When used as contrast agents, nanoshells of small dimensions offer advantages in terms of delivery to target sites in living tissues, bioconjugation, steric hindrance, and binding kinetics. Besides their improved tissue penetration, smaller nanoshells generate a strong surface plasmon resonance and may exhibit absorption peaks in the visible?near-infrared spectrum. Sub-100 nm nanoshells also provide large surface areas to volume ratios for chemical functionalization that can be used to link multiple diagnostic (e.g. radioisotopic or magnetic) and therapeutic (e.g. anticancer) agents. Researchers at Northwestern University have come up with a relatively easy way to synthesize sub-100 nm nanoparticles that give rise to tunable peaks.
The interest in research on magnetic nanocapsules has increased considerably since it was found that their intermediate states between bulk and atomic materials may present different magnetic behaviors from their correspondent bulk counterparts. This difference offers an opportunity for researchers to develop many important technical applications such as magnetic refrigerators, magnetic recording, or magnetic fluids. As the principal contributor of the novel properties, various magnetic cores of nanocapsules, including rare earths and their carbides, have been researched extensively over the past two decades. In addition, cores of magnetic rare-earth intermetallic compounds are becoming a major research focus. However, there have been considerable difficulties in preventing oxidation of the particles of rare-earth elements and compounds. Researchers in PR China have now succeeded in synthesizing a new type of intermetallic nanocapsule that can be applied in cyrogenic magnetic refrigerator devices.
Various methods have been developed for growing well-aligned CNTs based on variant alignment mechanisms such as 'overcrowding growth', 'template hindrance growth' and 'electric field induced growth'. Compared to other methods, electric field induced growth has been considered to be a more effective and controllable method for producing well-aligned single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) and multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). Interestingly, while the alignment of CNTs became more controllable and repeatable with the assistance of an electric field, it was also shown that for CNTs grown in an electric field, the diameter uniformity and the crystallinity of graphite sheets of CNTs were clearly improved. This led Chinese researchers to develop an electric-field-induced method to not only improve CNT uniformity but also to create a new approach to control the microstructure of CNTs.
The use of renewable resources (biomass) as an alternate source for fuel and the production of valuable chemicals is becoming a topic of great interest and a driving force behind research into biorefinery concepts. In the early parts of the 20th century, most nonfuel industrial products such as medicines, paints, chemicals, dyes, and fibers were made from vegetables, plant and crops. During the 1970s, petroleum based organic chemicals had largely replaced those derived from plant materials, capturing more than 95% of the markets previously held by products from biological sources. By then, petroleum accounted for more than 70% of our fuel. However, recent developments in biobased materials research show prospects that many petrochemical derived products can be replaced with industrial materials processed from renewable resources. Researchers continue to make progress in research and development of new technologies that bring down the cost of processing plant matter into value-added products. Rising environmental concerns are also suggesting the use of agriculture and forestry resources as alternative feedstock. Being able to develop soft nanomaterials and fuel from biomass will have a direct impact on industrial applications and economically viable alternatives. Researchers already have used plant-derived resources to make a variety of soft nanomaterials, which are useful for a wide range of applications.