Australian becomes first woman to win the Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology

Australian nanoscientist Amanda Barnard has become the first woman – and the first person in the southern hemisphere – to win the premier international award in her field, the Feynman Prize.

The award is named after Richard Feynman a renowned physicist and Nobel Prize winner from last century: the father of quantum electrodynamics.

Barnard won this year’s prize for her work on diamond nanoparticles. She discovered that that they have unique electrostatic properties that make them spontaneously arrange into very useful structures, with huge implications for improving healthcare.

Already, her diamond discovery has underpinned the development of a potentially life-saving chemotherapy treatment that targets brain tumours, created by the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

She has also developed a new technique for investigating the shape of nanomaterials including their size, temperature or potential uses in chemistry. This means we can tailor them to make bespoke nanoparticles targeted to specific application areas.

“This prize is definitely a career highlight and I’m thrilled! This would have to be up there as a career highlight for anybody working in nanotechnology,” Barnard told interviewer Jesse Hawley.


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.

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. 

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


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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‘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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Micro-machines journey inside animal for first time-

In a case of science fiction meeting reality, microscopic “machines” have journeyed inside a living animal for the first time. The tiny devices delivered a cargo of nano-particles into the stomach lining of a mouse. The research by scientists at the University of California is published in the journal ACS Nano. Medical applications for micro-machines include the release of drugs into specific locations within the body. But until now, they have only been tested in laboratory cell samples. Wei Gao and colleagues from UC, Berkeley, fed the tiny motors to mice. The machines, made of polymer tubes coated with zinc, are just 20 micrometers long - the width of a strand of human hair. In stomach acid, the zinc reacts to produce bubbles of hydrogen, which propel the machines into the lining of the stomach, where they attach. As the machines dissolve, they deliver their cargoes into the stomach tissue. The researchers say the method may offer an efficient way to deliver drugs into the stomach, to treat peptic ulcers and other illnesses. In their paper, they suggest that further work is needed to “further evaluate the performance and functionalities of various man-made micro-motors in living organisms. This study represents the very first step toward such a goal”. The idea of molecular-scale surgery can be traced back to a lecture by celebrated physicist Richard Feynman in 1959 called There is Plenty of Room at the Bottom.


No, this isn’t the start of a sci-fi horror film… it’s just awesome science. 

In a basement laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, two robotocists have harnessed the sensing, swimming, and swarming abilities of bacteria to power microscopic robots. Even though their work sounds like the prologue to a dark science fiction film, Ph.D. students Elizabeth Beattie and Denise Wong hope these initial experiments with nano bio-robots will provide a platform for future medical and micro-engineering endeavors.

One nanoparticle, six types of medical imaging

It’s technology so advanced that the machine capable of using it doesn’t
yet exist. Using two biocompatible parts, Univ. at Buffalo researchers
and their colleagues have designed a nanoparticle that can be detected
by six medical imaging techniques: computed tomography (CT) scanning,
positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, photoacoustic imaging,
fluorescence imaging, upconversion imaging and Cerenkov luminescence

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In Significant Advance for Artificial Photosynthesis, a Machine and Living Bacteria Work Together to Make Fuel

Scientists say they have merged living organisms with nanotechnology to mimic the photosynthesis plants use to make energy.  

Blending chemistry, biology and materials science, the team from the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory created a living-synthetic hybrid system. The process brings together nanowires and bacteria (seen in the image above) to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide in the air into valuable chemicals like liquid fuel, plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Like plants, the system uses solar power to make complex molecules from simple ones. In contrast to the carbohydrates and oxygen that are the product of natural photosynthesis, the new device converts CO2 into acetate, which is the building block for a number of industrially useful chemicals.

“We believe our system is a revolutionary leap forward in the field of artificial photosynthesis,” said Peidong Yang, a Berkeley Lab chemist who was one of the project leaders. “Our system has the potential to fundamentally change the chemical and oil industry in that we can produce chemicals and fuels in a totally renewable way, rather than extracting them from deep below the ground.”

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Four animations I made for NAMDIATREAM (EU nanomedicine project) are now up on their new YouTube channel.

21 February 2015

Smart Particles

The new frontline in the fight against diseases is at the nanoscale – a size comparable to a cluster of atoms – where smart nanoparticles loaded with drugs track and burrow deep inside their target before releasing therapeutic agents just where they’re needed. Half the challenge is designing nanoparticles that bind to and attack only specific sites or cells, like this bone cancer cell (with DNA coloured blue, cellular skeleton in purple and energy-making centres in yellow). In a showcase experiment, researchers coated polymer nanoparticles laden with an anti-cancer agent using alendronate, a chemical taken up rapidly by bone cells, before injecting it into mice with bone cancer. And sure enough, the treatment slowed the spread of the cancer and prolonged the mice’s lives. Although more research is needed to ensure the treatment’s safety, smart nanoparticles stand to revolutionise medicine by one day consigning coarse treatments like chemotherapy to history.

Written by Tristan Farrow

Image by Dylan Burnette and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
Copyright held by National Institutes of Health
Research published in PNAS, July 2014

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From these seeds, new touchscreens and solar cells may grow. Duke University chemists are working with copper oxide nanoparticles–each in the pic above is less than a micron wide–to grow copper nanowires. The process could one day allow transparent conductive films made of copper nanowires to supplement or replace the more expensive material now used in touchscreens and photovoltaic solar panels. 

“The fact that Cu [copper] is only 6 percent less conductive than the most conductive element, Ag [silver], and yet is 1,000 times more abundant, makes it a particularly attractive element from which to grow nanowires for a diverse range of applications that require high electrical conductivity,” wrote the authors of study published in the journal Small.

When placed in the right solution, the octahedral cuprous oxide (Cu2O) seeds shown above sprout nanowires within minutes. The Duke team’s work is continuing efforts to control the length of nanowire growth to improve their performance in different applications.

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