Engineered DNA Make Nano-Machines

Engineers have built simple folding machines the size of molecules out of snips of synthetic and natural DNA. The nano-machines, like the opening and closing hinges shown above, can repeatedly perform the task for which they are designed.

Mechanical engineers at The Ohio State University built these objects using the long-understood principles of human-sized machine design. They say this approach to building 3-D constructs out of DNA is different from other groups, which are instead trying to build complex, static shapes or mimicking the structure of biological systems.

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Watch Droplets Bounce Off Amazing New Water-Repellent Metal

Scientists have used lasers to create a water-repelling metal surface that acts like a trampoline for water droplets.

Researchers at the University of Rochester, who published an article in the Journal of Applied Physics this week, used lasers to etch micro- and nanoscale structures into a metal surface that make it almost completely water-repellent, or hydrophobic.”

See the full video at timemagazine.

Researchers Print LEDs on a Contact Lens Using Quantum Dots

From the team that brought you the Bionic Ear:

For the contact lens to actually work, it would require an external energy source, making it impractical as a real-world device. …the real point …was to show that it’s possible to produce electronic devices into complex shapes using equally complex materials.

“This shows that we can use 3D printing to create complex electronics including semiconductors,” said Michael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering… “We were able to 3D print an entire device, in this case an LED.”

The LED was made out of …quantum dots, nanocrystals that have been fashioned out of semiconductor materials and possess distinct optoelectronic properties, most notably fluorescence…

“We used the quantum dots… as an ink,” McAlpine said. “We were able to generate two different colors, orange and green.”

…the researchers built a hybrid 3D printer that is a combination of off-the-shelf parts and others a bit more exotic.

While the researchers concede that the 3D printing of electronics in this way is not applicable for a lot of electronics manufacturing… it may make sense for bespoke applications such as those needed for medical devices.

Trying to print a cellphone is probably not the way to go,” McAlpine said. “It is customization that gives the power to 3D printing.”

In this case, the researchers scanned the lens and then fed the geometry into the printer so it that it could print an LED that conformed to the shape of the lens.

The challenge for the researchers was how to bring together different materials that may be mechanically, chemically or thermally incompatible.

…”it is not trivial to pattern a thin and uniform coating of nanoparticles and polymers without the involvement of conventional microfabrication techniques, yet the thickness and uniformity of the printed films are two of the critical parameters that determine the performance and yield of the printed active device,” said Yong Lin Kong, a researcher who worked on both the bionic ear and contact lens projects.


Nanotechnology on the Runway

The clothes we wear allow us to express ourselves, influenced by our moods and tastes. Fashion brand CuteCircuit goes one step further, allowing technology to help make a statement in our next fashion choice.

Most of the clothes designed at CuteCircuit have thousands of micro LEDs sewn into the fabric, which allow one garment to have different colours and patterns on it. As co-founder of CuteCircuit Francesca Rosella states:

"We are living in a digital future, so we do not need to sell 10,000 skirts. We could sell 500 skirts, but then could sell thousands of patterns that you download to your skirt."

These ‘smart textiles’ have the potential to evolve into even more drastic creations, especially with constant advancements in nanotechnology. One already impressive piece made by CuteCircuit is the “Kinetic Dress” (2010). This Victorian-style evening dress has sensors in the fabric which communicate to the electroluminescent embroidery when the wearer is moving. The faster the movement, the brighter the embroidery; it is translating movement into art and fashion.

If you would like to learn more about the different projects at CuteCircuit, check out this video: http://vimeo.com/104636495

-Anna Paluch


Paper Art Could Make Better Blood Tests, Architecture

We’re being swamped this week with news of ancient paper-folding art being used in the name of science. This one includes cutting, too. 

Yesterday’s post highlighted how the complex paper-folding method called origami is helping scientists visualize and communicate the way DNA fits inside the cell’s nucleus.

Now, University of Pennsylvania researchers reveal that a related art called kiragami, which involves cutting along with folding, could open up new worlds in architecture, nanotechnology and other fields. 

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Next Nature: NANO Supermarket introduces new line of products

The NANO Supermarket presents speculative & probable nanotechnology products from the next ten years, to discuss desirable and unwanted futures.

During the next Dutch Design Week, the supermarket staff from Next Nature (they are also the inventors of the in-vitro meat cuisine) will introduce a new line of items and goods:

Among the fresh items are the Healing Game, the videogame that keeps you healthy and PastaMarine, the high protein pasta that everyone can cultivate at home. Other newcomers include the allergy sensitive cutlery, the spray to bake food, the genetically modified rose that increases the libido and more!

Come visit the NANO Supermarket to discover all the products and experience the impact of nanotechnology on everyday life.

NANO Supermarket @ Dutch Design Week Location: 18 Septemberplein in Eindhoven Dates: 18 – 26 October 2014 – 10:00-18:00

Be sure to check the new collection and buy some nano socks, cloud cryons, coating cola or keratin ink.

[NANO supermarket] [next nature]

Welcome to nanoscale fall, y’all. 

These lovely leaves are actually the dendritic sprawl of lithium growing inside a battery. We use a technique called transmission electron microscopy to study the emergence of the atomic structures that cause batteries to age so poorly. Mapping what goes wrong on this fundamental scale helps us design new and improved nanotechnology for everything from smartphones to electric vehicles.

Plus, the data is stunning.

Stomach acid-powered micromotors get their first test in a living animal

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have shown that a micromotor fueled by stomach acid can take a bubble-powered ride inside a mouse. These tiny motors, each about one-fifth the width of a human hair, may someday offer a safer and more efficient way to deliver drugs or diagnose tumors.

The experiment is the first to show that these micromotors can operate safely in a living animal, said Professors Joseph Wang and Liangfang Zhang of the NanoEngineering Department at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

Wang, Zhang and others have experimented with different designs and fuel systems for micromotors that can travel in water, blood and other body fluids in the lab. “But this is the first example of loading and releasing a cargo in vivo,” said Wang. “We thought it was the logical extension of the work we have done, to see if these motors might be able to swim in stomach acid.”

Stomach acid reacts with the zinc body of the motors to generate a stream of hydrogen microbubbles that propel the motors forward. In their study published in the journal ACS Nano, the researchers report that the motors lodged themselves firmly in the stomach lining of mice. As the zinc motors are dissolved by the acid, they disappear within a few days leaving no toxic chemical traces.

Scanning electron microscopy image of the micromotors. Credit: Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

Interested in getting your own Tron light suit?

The picture above doesn’t show two crossed optical fibers like those used in telecommunications, where a source at the end of the cable sends light careening through it. Instead, these glowing blue and yellow fibers are actually generating their own light.

The material, called polymer light-emitting photochemical cells (PLEC), efficiently converts electrons to photons throughout the length of the fiber while operating on little power. They might one day be woven into clothing or other products to make new types of fashion or wearable, bendable displays. Imagine your smartphone on your shirtsleeve.  

(The letter “A” made from fiber-shaped polymer light-emitting electrochemical cells [PLECs]. Courtesy Zhang et al./Nature Photonics.)

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Researchers reveal new self-cleaning cashmere

Cashmere usually has to be cleaned by a dry-cleaner, and the process can be an expensive, sometimes-toxic, energy sap. But now researchers in Hong Kong have developed a new self-cleaning cashmere fabric that’s coated with an invisible layer of nanoparticles that makes stains disappear. And the best part? It’s only projected to be 1% more expensive than regular cashmere.

If you get dirt or coffee, red wine or bacteria on your self-cleaning cashmere, all you need to do is put it in some light for 24 hours. This will trigger a chemical reaction with the anatase titanium dioxide particles in the invisible coating to break down the stains.

According to Adele Peters at FastCompany, the team at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Energy and Environment has been developing the material for over a decade, starting with cotton and wool, then moving on to cashmere, seeing as it’s one of the most difficult fabrics to clean.

"Cashmere is a sensitive protein and can be easily damaged and therefore it is notoriously expensive to clean,” one of the team, materials scientist Walid Daoud, told Peters. “It is a delicate operation, because of the risk of spoiling the cashmere in the process. How to apply nano-sized photocatalysts to cashmere and retain its delicate characteristics was a huge challenge.”

The last step in the process to get their self-cleaning cashmere to market is to complete some health testing to make sure any residue from the nano-particle coating doesn’t have any adverse affects on the wearer’s skin. So far, tests have shown the coating is durable and doesn’t harm the fibres of the fabric. "It should reach the market very soon," said Daoud. “We are currently working toward transfer of the technology to the industry.” 

"Ultimately, the technology could be used in all clothing,” says Peters, “eliminating, for laundry in the US alone, more than 179 million metric tons of CO2 emissions every year.

Our scientists carved these dome-capped nano-towers into a silicon disk to mimic a well-known antireflective surface: the eyes of common moths. Why? Well, next-gen solar cells need structures that minimize reflections and absorb the sun’s rays, and nature happens to be a brilliant architect.

Moths’ compound eyes have textured patterns made of many tiny posts, each smaller than the wavelengths of light. This structure improves moths’ nighttime vision, and also prevents the “deer in the headlights” reflecting glow that might allow predators to detect them.

Read the full story and learn about how this research could transform photovoltaic technology. 

Cheap Drinking Water From The Sun, Aided By A Pop Of Pencil Shavings

Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel did it to survive on the Pacific Ocean. Robert Redford used the trick in All Is Lost.

When you’re trapped on a boat, you can easily make fresh water, right? Simply let the sun heat up and evaporate salt water. Then trap the steam, condense it on a plastic surface and collect the fresh water. The liquid even gets sterilized in the process.

So why can’t people around the world who lack clean drinking water do something similar?

Turns out, desalinating or sterilizing water with solar energy is way harder than Hollywood makes it look. The process is super inefficient and way too slow to be practical.

"The average yield is only about 1 cup per day," says the U.S. Air Force survival guide, even when you’ve got eight hours of sun and plenty of water.

But engineer Hadi Ghasemi, at the University of Houston, is trying to change that. He and a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a cheap material that desalinates water efficiently and fast using solar energy. And the secret to the new technology was sitting right on their desks: the graphite in pencils.

A simple solar still — and even more expensive versions with mirrors and lenses — heats up the entire water surface before it starts to evaporate, Ghasemi says. That takes time and wastes energy.

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Photo: Solar sponge: The top layer of graphite soaks up the sun’s energy in tiny holes. When drops of liquid fill the holes, the water quickly evaporates. (The beaker looks hot, but the water below the sponge is cool as a cucumber.) (Courtesy of George Ni/MIT)

'Glowing' new nanotechnology guides cancer surgery, also kills remaining malignant cells

Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a new way to selectively insert compounds into cancer cells - a system that will help surgeons identify malignant tissues and then, in combination with phototherapy, kill any remaining cancer cells after a tumor is removed.

It’s about as simple as, “If it glows, cut it out.” And if a few malignant cells remain, they’ll soon die.

The findings, published in the journal Nanoscale, have shown remarkable success in laboratory animals. The concept should allow more accurate surgical removal of solid tumors at the same time it eradicates any remaining cancer cells. In laboratory tests, it completely prevented cancer recurrence after phototherapy.

Technology such as this, scientists said, may have a promising future in the identification and surgical removal of malignant tumors, as well as using near-infrared light therapies that can kill remaining cancer cells, both by mild heating of them and generating reactive oxygen species that can also kill them.

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