Nanotechnology Spotlight – Latest Articles

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Showing Spotlights 57 - 64 of 68 in category Molecular Devices & Computing, Nanomotors (newest first):


Towards wet computing

The human body so far is the ultimate 'wet computer' - a highly efficient, biomolecule-based information processor that relies on chemical, optical and electrical signals to operate. Researchers are trying various routes to mimic some of the body's approaches to computing. Especially research related to molecular logic gates is a fast growing and very active area. Already, common logic gates, which are used in conventional silicon circuitry, can be also mimicked at the molecular level. Chemists have reported that a molecular logic gate has the potential for calculation on the nanometer scale, which is unparalleled in silicon-based devices. The general character of the concept of binary logic allows the substitution of electrical signals by chemical and optical signals, which for example opens access to a vast pool of photoactive molecules to be used for the purpose of molecular logic. Molecular logic gate structures using fluorescence changes have been studied intensively using various inputs, such as pH, metal ions, and anions. Now, South Korean scientists using solutions of fluorescent sensor molecules - and, for the first time, proteins - have developed the first soluble molecular logic gates. By using a microfluidic device, input solutions are routed into a central loop, which is filled with a fluorescent sensor solution. There the solutions mix and, in certain combinations, switch the fluorescence 'output' on or off.

Dec 5th, 2007

Nanotechnology monorail cargo shuttles

Shuttles - whether the space shuttle, an airport shuttle bus, or a loom shuttle - basically do one thing: they transport cargo (astronauts, passengers, thread) from one point to another on a controlled route. Although not always called shuttles, the basic concept is critical to modern transportation systems and is used by nearly every society. The concept of the shuttle has been used for centuries from Egyptian barges to Roman railways and canals. Even before these inventions, however, nature employed molecular shuttles in biological organisms. In molecular shuttles, kinesin proteins propel cargo (such as organelles) along hollow tubes called microtubules. Cells use these motors to transport cargo to highly specific destinations, in order to regulate levels of macromolecules and processes, much like a train along a track. Using biological motors to transport and precisely distribute cargo requires a clear understanding of how molecular shuttles pick up and deliver specific payload. However, scientists are challenged by the need to better control the interactions along the route so that the cargo remains on the line when not needed, but when it is needed, can be picked up and transported to a specific location. Researchers in Switzerland have now built nanoscale cargo loading stations and shuttles, an important step towards assembly lines for nanotechnology.

Oct 3rd, 2007

The road to molecular computing

The human body so far is the ultimate 'wet computer' - a highly efficient, biomolecule-based information processor that relies on chemical, optical and electrical signals to operate. Researchers are trying various routes to mimic some of the body's approaches to computing. Prominent among them is DNA computing, a form of computing which uses DNA and molecular biology instead of the traditional silicon-based computer technologies (see our Spotlight: "Molecular automaton plays tic-tac-toe"). Not limited to DNA, "gooware" computer scientists attempt to exploit the computational capabilities of molecules. In doing so, they expect to realize faster (massively parallel), smaller (nanoscale), and cost efficient (energy-saving) information processing devices that are very distinct from today's silicon-based computers.

May 29th, 2007

Mind the gap - nanotechnology robotics vision versus lab reality

Science fiction style robots like Star Wars' R2-D2 or the NS-5 model in I, Robot firmly belong into the realm of Hollywood - and so do "nanobots" a la Michael Crichton's Prey. Staying with both feet firmly on scientific ground, robotics can be defined as the theory and application of robots, a completely self-contained electronic, electric, or mechanical device, to such activities as manufacturing. Scale that robot down to a few billionth of a meter and you are talking nanotechnology robotics; nanorobotics in short. The field of nanorobotics brings together several disciplines, including nanofabrication processes used for producing nanoscale robots, nanoactuators, nanosensors, and physical modeling at nanoscales. Nanorobotic manipulation technologies, including the assembly of nanometer-sized parts, the manipulation of biological cells or molecules, and the types of robots used to perform these tasks also form a component of nanorobotics. Nanorobotics might one day even lead to the holy grail of nanotechnology where automated and self-contained molecular assemblers not only are capable of building complex molecules but build copies of themselves - "self-replication" - or even complete everyday products (this vision is nicely illustrated in the clip "Productive Nanosystems: From Molecules to Superproducts"). Whether this will ever happen is hotly debated - to understand where both sides stand, read the famous 2003 debate where Drexler and Smalley make the case for and against molecular assemblers. Today's nanorobotics research deals with more mundane issues such as how to build nanoscale motors and simple nanomanipulators.

Apr 5th, 2007

Nanotechnology reinvents the wheel

The invention of the wheel was one of the most significant events in human history. It has been at the origin of major scientific and technological developments: from the creation of astronomical clocks or calculating machines to motor-drawn vehicles and other motor cars. At the molecular scale, the smallest at which a wheel can be created, it represents a major challenge for chemists and physicists. For years, scientists have been working on the design of molecular machines equipped with wheels. After observing the random rotation of a flat molecular wheel in 1998, designing and synthesizing a mono-molecular wheelbarrow in 2003 and then synthesizing a molecular motor in 2005, a European group of researchers managed to operate the first molecular rack with a pinion of 1.2 nm in diameter. They controlled the rotation of a 0.7 nm diameter wheel attached to a 0.6 nm-long axle in a molecule. This molecular 'wheel' could revolutionize machinery built at the nanoscale. Nanowheel rotation has been claimed before, but never shown directly.

Feb 26th, 2007

RNA used to control a DNA rotary nanomachine

A large number of DNA-based nanomechanical devices have been described, controlled by a variety of methods: These include pH changes and the addition of other molecular components, such as small molecule effectors, proteins and DNA strands. The most versatile of these devices are those that are controlled by DNA strands: This versatility results because they can be addressed specifically by strands with particular sequences; these strands can be added to the solution directly, or perhaps they can result from another process ongoing within the local environment. Researchers have now shown that the state of a DNA-based nanomechanical device can be controlled by RNA strands, which means that nanomechanical devices could potentially be run from transcriptionally derived RNA molecules.

Dec 7th, 2006

Molecular engineering: networks of nanotubes and containers

Back in 2001, Swedish researchers developed techniques for creating complex two- and three-dimensional networks of nanotubes and micrometer-sized containers from liquid crystalline lipid bilayer materials based on the propensity in liposomes to undergo complex shape-transitions under mechanical excitations. The membrane composition and container contents can be controlled allowing chemical programming of networks in studies of enzyme kinetics, reaction-diffusion phenomena, and single-biomolecule detection. Materials contained in the networks can be routed among containers. Thus, networks of nanotubes and vesicles serve as a platform to build nanofluidic devices operating with single molecules and particles and offer new opportunities to study chemistry in confined biomimetic compartments. The networks can furthermore be used to build nanoscale chemical laboratories for applications in analytical devices as well as to construct computational and complex sensor systems that can also be integrated to living cells. In recent work, the researchers have now demonstrated that these nanotube-container networks can be constructed directly from plasma membranes of cultured cells.

Nov 8th, 2006

Nanoscale structuring of surfaces with biomolecular motors

Sophisticated biomolecular motors have evolved in nature, where motor proteins actively control the delivery and assembly of materials within cells. In contrast, the development of synthetic nanomotors is in its infancy. Such nanomotors are currently explored for an increasing number of applications in hybrid bionanodevices. Along these lines, gliding motility assays, where reconstituted microtubule filaments are propelled over a substrate by surface-attached motor proteins, have been used to transport micro- and nanosized objects, such as small beads, quantum dots or DNA molecules. However, one prerequisite for controllable nanotransport is the reliable guiding of filament movement along predefined paths, a challenging task that has recently been achieved only via costly and labor-intensive topographical surface modifications. Researchers have now demonstrated a novel approach for the nanostructuring of surfaces with functional motor proteins. In contrast to all other current methods, their approach allows the three-dimensionally oriented deposition of proteins on surfaces, being the result of first binding them to the highly oriented and regulated structures of microtubules and then transferring them to the surface.

Oct 20th, 2006