Liquid Storage Of The Sun’s Power

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have demonstrated efficient solar energy storage in a chemical liquid. The stored energy can be transported and then released as heat whenever needed. ​Many consider the sun the energy source of the future. But one challenge is that it is difficult to store solar energy and deliver the energy ‘on demand’.

The research team from Chalmers University has shown that it is possible to convert the solar energy directly into energy stored in the bonds of a chemical fluid – a so-called molecular solar thermal system. The liquid chemical makes it possible to store and transport the solar energy and release it on demand, with full recovery of the storage medium. The process is based on the organic compound norbornadiene that upon exposure to light converts into quadricyclane.

The technique means that that we can store the solar energy in chemical bonds and release the energy as heat whenever we need it,’ says Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen, who is leading the research team. ‘Combining the chemical energy storage with water heating solar panels enables a conversion of more than 80 percent of the incoming sunlight.’

The research project was initiated at Chalmers more than six years ago and the research team contributed in 2013 to a first conceptual demonstration. At the time, the solar energy conversion efficiency was 0.01 percent and the expensive element ruthenium played a major role in the compound. Now, four years later, the system stores 1.1 percent of the incoming sunlight as latent chemical energy – an improvement of a factor of 100. Also, ruthenium has been replaced by much cheaper carbon-based elements.

We saw an opportunity to develop molecules that make the process much more efficient,’ says Moth-Poulsen. ‘At the same time, we are demonstrating a robust system that can sustain more than 140 energy storage and release cycles with negligible degradation.’

The research is presented on the cover of the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science.


Nanoparticles From Air Pollution Travel Into Blood To Cause Heart Disease

Inhaled nanoparticles – like those released from vehicle exhausts – can work their way through the lungs and into the bloodstream, potentially raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to new research part-funded by the British Heart Foundation. The findings, published today in the journal ACS Nano, build on previous studies that have found tiny particles in air pollution are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, although the cause remains unproven. However, this research shows for the first time that inhaled nanoparticles can gain access to the blood in healthy individuals and people at risk of stroke. Most worryingly, these nanoparticles tend to build-up in diseased blood vessels where they could worsen coronary heart disease – the cause of a heart attack.

It is not currently possible to measure environmental nanoparticles in the blood. So, researchers from the University of Edinburgh, and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, used a variety of specialist techniques to track the fate of harmless gold nanoparticles breathed in by volunteers. They were able to show that these nanoparticles can migrate from the lungs and into the bloodstream within 24 hours after exposure and were still detectable in the blood three months later. By looking at surgically removed plaques from people at high risk of stroke they were also able to find that the nanoparticles accumulated in the fatty plaques that grow inside blood vessels and cause heart attacks and strokesCardiovascular disease (CVD) – the main forms of which are coronary heart disease and stroke – accounts for 80% of all premature deaths from air pollution.


It is striking that particles in the air we breathe can get into our blood where they can be carried to different organs of the body. Only a very small proportion of inhaled particles will do this, however, if reactive particles like those in air pollution then reach susceptible areas of the body then even this small number of particles might have serious consequences,”  said Dr Mark Miller, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh who led the study.


Coldest City Grow Tomatoes All Year Round

Greenhouse invented by a Japanese company allows what’s often called the coldest city on earth to grow tomatoes when temperatures drop to -50 Celsius. Yakutsk in Siberia is one of the coldest cities in the world. During the freezing winter months it averages a temperature of minus 34 degrees Celcius with only five hours of daylight. That means crops can’t be grown in the frozen soil. But local authorities now believe they’ve found a way around that. They’ve teamed up with Japanese firm Hokkaido Corporation to build greenhouses with special technology. The local mayor hopes the project will go a long way to providing the fruit and veg needed by Yakutsk‘s people.


When the entire infrastructure is ready, when the first and the second of the greenhouses are complete and we reach full capacity, then we plan to harvest around 1700 tonnes of cucumbers, more than 600 tonnes of tomatoes and around 25 tonnes of greens which should satisfy about 30-40 percent of the Yakutsk population’s needs,” says Aisen Nikolaev, the Mayor of Yakutsk.  The greenhouses are specially designed to withstand the extreme cold. Three layers of a rubber made from rubber with frozen soil properties are used.

It is three times thinner, but at the same time it can be stretched widely. It takes seven tonnes of weight per square metre piece for the film to break. And of course it has unique thermal insulation qualities and it lets the sunlight through better than ordinary glass. Just three layers of this thinnest film managed to last through this winter with temperatures dropping below minus 50 Celsius,”  explains the Mayor. Until now most produce had to be transported from Russia‘s Krasnodor region or imported from China. But now, if the technology proves a success, the tomatoes won’t have to travel too far to feed Yakutsk.


Nanoparticle Vaccine Against Cancer

Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a first-of-its-kind nanoparticle vaccine immunotherapy that targets several different cancer types.

The nanovaccine consists of tumor antigens tumor proteins that can be recognized by the immune system – inside a synthetic polymer nanoparticle. Nanoparticle vaccines deliver minuscule particulates that stimulate the immune system to mount an immune response. The goal is to help people’s own bodies fight cancer.


What is unique about our design is the simplicity of the single-polymer composition that can precisely deliver tumor antigens to immune cells while stimulating innate immunity. These actions result in safe and robust production of tumor-specific T cells that kill cancer cells,” said Dr. Jinming Gao, a Professor of Pharmacology and Otolaryngology in UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

A study outlining this research, published online today in Nature Nanotechnology, reported that the nanovaccine had anti-tumor efficacy in multiple tumor types in mice.

The research was a collaboration between the laboratories of study senior authors Dr. Gao and Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology and Director of the Center for Inflammation Research. The Center was established in 2015 to study how the body senses infection and to develop approaches to exploit this knowledge to create new treatments for infection, immune disorders, and autoimmunity.


How To Detect Nuclear Device

How to keep U.S. ports of entry safe and secure by detecting and interdicting illicit radioactive or nuclear materials? A team led by Northeastern’s Swastik Kar and Yung Joon Jung has developed a technology that could go a long way toward achieving that goal.

nuclear radiation

Our detector could dramatically change the manner and accuracy with which we are able to detect nuclear threats at home or abroad,” says Kar, associate professor in the Department of Physics. It could also help streamline radio-medicine, including radiation therapies and scanning diagnostics, boost the effectiveness of unmanned radiation monitoring vehicles in mapping and monitoring contaminated areas following disasters, and revolutionize radiometric imaging in space exploration. Made of graphene and carbon nanotubes, the researchers’ detector far outpaces any existing one in its ultrasensitivity to charged particles, minuscule size, low-power requirements, and low cost.

All radiation, of course, is not harmful, and even the type that may be depends on dosage and length of exposure. The word “radiation” refers simply to the emission and propagation of energy in the form of waves or particles. It has many sources, including the sun, electronic devices such as microwaves and cellphones, visible light, X-rays, gamma waves, cosmic waves, and nuclear fission, which is what produces power in nuclear reactors. Most of the harmful radiations are “ionizing radiations”—they have sufficient energy to remove electrons from the orbits of surrounding atoms, causing them to become charged, or “ionized.” It is those charged particles, or ions, that the detectors pick up and quantify, revealing the intensity of the radiation. Most current detectors, however, are not only bulky, power hungry, and expensive, they also cannot pick up very low levels of ions. Kar and Yung Joon’s detector, on the other hand, is so sensitive it can pick up just a single charged particle.

Our detectors are many orders of magnitude more sensitive in terms of how small a signal they can detect,” says Yung Joon, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “Ours can detect one ion, the fundamental limit. If you can detect a single ion, then you can detect everything larger than that.”


Inkjet Printers Grow Nerve Stem Cells

Inkjet printers and lasers are parts of a new way to produce cells important to research on nerve regeneration. Researchers at Iowa State University have developed a nanotechnology that uses inkjet printers to print multi-layer graphene circuits….It turns out mesenchymal stem cells adhere and grow well on the treated circuit’s raised, rough, and 3D nanostructures. Add small doses of electricity—100 millivolts for 10 minutes per day over 15 days—and the stem cells become Schwann-like cells, [which secrete substances that promote the health of nerve cells].

nerve cells

This technology could lead to a better way to differentiate stem cells,” says Metin Uz, a postdoctoral research associate in chemical and biological engineering. The researchers report the results could lead to changes in how nerve injuries are treated inside the body. “These results help pave the way for in vivo peripheral nerve regeneration where the flexible graphene electrodes could conform to the injury site and provide intimate electrical stimulation for nerve cell regrowth,” the researchers write in a summary of their findings.


How To Prevent Metastasis In Pancreatic Cancer

UCLA scientists have unlocked an important mechanism that allows chemotherapy-carrying nanoparticles—extremely small objects between 1 and 100 nanometers (a billionth of a meter)—to directly access pancreatic cancer tumors, thereby improving the ability to kill cancer cells and hence leading to more effective treatment outcome of the disease. The researchers also confirmed the key role of a peptide (an extremely small protein) in regulating vascular access of the nanoparticle to the cancer site.

The discovery is the result of a two-year study co-led by Drs. Huan Meng and André Nel, members of UCLA‘s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute. The findings are important as they demonstrate how the delivery of chemotherapy to pancreatic cancer can be improved significantly through the use of smart-designed nanoparticle features.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is generally a fatal disease, with a five-year survival rate of less than 6 percent. The introduction of nanocarriers as delivery vehicles for common chemotherapy agents such as the drug irinotecan, has led to improved survival of patients with this disease. However, the reality is that nanocarriers may not always reach their intended target in sufficient numbers because of a constraint on their ability to transit through the blood vessel wall at the tumor site, leading the encapsulated drugs to be diverted or lost before they can deliver their payload.

silica nanoparticle

A key challenge for scientists is how to help nanoparticles travel to and be retained at tumor sites. This can be accomplished by custom-designed or engineered nanoparticles that overcome common challenges, such as the presence of a dense tissue surrounding the pancreas cancer cells. Prior research has identified a major vascular access mechanism that relies on a vesicle transport system, which can be turned with a peptide called iRGD in the blood vessel wall. iRGD is therefore potentially useful to optimize the delivery of cancer drugs by the nanoparticle to the tumor.

The UCLA research team designed a nanoparticle comprised of a hollow silica core surrounded by a lipid bilayer to enhance the delivery of irinotecan in an animal model with pancreatic cancer. The invention is called a silicasome. The researchers proposed that the therapeutic benefit of the irinotecan containing nanoparticles may be enhanced when combined with the injection of iRGD. The investigators used the nanoparticle plus the iRGD to deliver irinotecan in a robust animal model for pancreatic cancer that closely mimics human disease.

The study is published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


How To Harness Heat To Power Computers

One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don’t overheat or shut down. Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska–Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures. Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group’s development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.

thermal diode

If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways,” Ndao said. “In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating.”

A paper Ndao co-authored with Mahmoud Elzouka, a graduate student in mechanical and materials engineering, was published in the March edition of Scientific Reports. In it, they documented their device working in temperatures that approached 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 degrees Celsius).


Nanoparticles reprogram immune cells to fight cancer

Dr. Matthias Stephan has a bold vision. He imagines a future where patients with leukemia could be treated as early as the day they are diagnosed with cellular immunotherapy that’s available in their neighborhood clinic and is as simple to administer as today’s chemotherapy, but without the harsh side effects. The key to that scientific leap? Nanoparticles, tiny technology that’s able to carry tumor-targeting genes directly to immune cells still within the body and program them to destroy cancer. In a proof-of-principle study published Monday in Nature Nanotechnology, Stephan and other researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed that nanoparticle-programmed immune cells, known as T cells, can clear or slow the progression of leukemia in a preclinical model.

nanoparticles reprogram genes

“Our technology is the first that we know of to quickly program tumor-recognizing capabilities into T cells without extracting them for laboratory manipulation,” said Stephan, the study’s senior author. Although his method for programming T cells is still several steps away from the clinic, Stephan envisions a future in which biodegradable nanoparticles could transform cell-based immunotherapies — whether for cancer or infectious disease — into an easily administered, off-the-shelf treatment that’s available anywhere.

Stephan imagines that in the future, nanoparticle-based immunotherapy could be “something that is available right away and can hopefully out-compete chemotherapies. That’s my excitement.”


Clean Hydrogen Produced From Biomass

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has developed a way of using solar power to generate a fuel that is both sustainable and relatively cheap to produce. It’s using natural light to generate hydrogen from biomass. One of the challenges facing modern society is what it does with its waste products. As natural resources decline in abundance, using waste for energy is becoming more pressing for both governments and business. Biomass has been a source of heat and energy since the beginning of recorded history.  The planet’s oil reserves are derived from ancient biomass which has been subjected to high pressures and temperatures over millions of years. Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass and up to now its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process which uses high temperatures to decompose it fully.

biomass can produce hydrogen

Lignocellulose is nature’s equivalent to armoured concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibres, that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilisation of lignocellulose so challenging,” says  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research.

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles are added to alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light. The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.

The findings have been  published in Nature Energy.



A team of scientists led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering has invented a novel ultra-thin multilayer film which could harness the properties of tiny magnetic whirls, known as skyrmions, as information carriers for storing and processing data (nanocomputer) on magnetic media. The nano-sized thin film, which was developed in collaboration with researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Louisiana State University, is a critical step towards the design of data storage devices that use less power and work faster than existing memory technologies.

The digital transformation has resulted in ever-increasing demands for better processing and storing of large amounts of data, as well as improvements in hard drive technology. Since their discovery in magnetic materials in 2009, skyrmions, which are tiny swirling magnetic textures only a few nanometres in size, have been extensively studied as possible information carriers in next-generation data storage and logic devices.

Skyrmions have been shown to exist in layered systems, with a heavy metal placed beneath a ferromagnetic material. Due to the interaction between the different materials, an interfacial symmetry breaking interaction, known as the Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interaction (DMI), is formed, and this helps to stabilise a skyrmion. However, without an out-of-plane magnetic field present, the stability of the skyrmion is compromised. In addition, due to its tiny size, it is difficult to image the nano-sized materials. The NUS team found that a large DMI could be maintained in multilayer films composed of cobalt and palladium, and this is large enough to stabilise skyrmion spin textures.

skyrmionsThis experiment not only demonstrates the usefulness of L-TEM in studying these systems, but also opens up a completely new material in which skyrmions can be created. Without the need for a biasing field, the design and implementation of skyrmion based devices are significantly simplified. The small size of the skyrmions, combined with the incredible stability generated here, could be potentially useful for the design of next-generation spintronic devices that are energy efficient and can outperform current memory technologies,” explains Professor Yang .

The invention was reported in the journal Nature Communications.


Artificial Intelligence Tracks In Real Time Everybody In The Crowd

Artificial Intelligence that can pick you out in a crowd and then track your every move. Japanese firm Hitachi‘s new imaging system locks on to at least 100 different characteristics of an individual … including gender, age, hair style, clothes, and mannerisms. Hitachi says it provides real-time tracking and monitoring of crowded areas.


Until now, we need a lot of security guards and people to review security camera footage. We developed this AI software in the hopes it would help them do just that,” says Tomokazu Murakami, Hitachi researcher.

The system can help spot a suspicious individual or find a missing child, the makers say. So, an eyewitness could provide a limited description, with the AI software quickly scanning its database for a match.
In Japan, the demand for such technology is increasing because of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but for us we’re developing it in a way so that it can be utilized in many different places such as train stations, stadiums, and even shopping malls,” comments Tomokazu Murakami.

High-speed tracking of individuals such as this will undoubtedly have its critics. But as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, Hitachi insists its system can contribute to public safety and security.


How To Capture Quickly Cancer Markers

A nanoscale product of human cells that was once considered junk is now known to play an important role in intercellular communication and in many disease processes, including cancer metastasis. Researchers at Penn State have developed nanoprobes to rapidly isolate these rare markers, called extracellular vesicles (EVs), for potential development of precision cancer diagnoses and personalized anticancer treatments.

Lipid nanoprobes

Most cells generate and secrete extracellular vesicles,” says Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. “But they are difficult for us to study. They are sub-micrometer particles, so we really need an electron microscope to see them. There are many technical challenges in the isolation of nanoscale EVs that we are trying to overcome for point-of-care cancer diagnostics.”

At one time, researchers believed that EVs were little more than garbage bags that were tossed out by cells. More recently, they have come to understand that these tiny fat-enclosed sacks — lipids — contain double-stranded DNA, RNA and proteins that are responsible for communicating between cells and can carry markers for their origin cells, including tumor cells. In the case of cancer, at least one function for EVs is to prepare distant tissue for metastasis.

The team’s initial challenge was to develop a method to isolate and purify EVs in blood samples that contain multiple other components. The use of liquid biopsy, or blood testing, for cancer diagnosis is a recent development that offers benefits over traditional biopsy, which requires removing a tumor or sticking a needle into a tumor to extract cancer cells. For lung cancer or brain cancers, such invasive techniques are difficult, expensive and can be painful.

Noninvasive techniques such as liquid biopsy are preferable for not only detection and discovery, but also for monitoring treatment,” explains Chandra Belani, professor of medicine and deputy director of the Cancer Institute,Penn State College of Medicine, and clinical collaborator on the study.

We invented a system of two micro/nano materials,” adds Zheng. “One is a labeling probe with two lipid tails that spontaneously insert into the lipid surface of the extracellular vesicle. At the other end of the probe we have a biotin molecule that will be recognized by an avidin molecule we have attached to a magnetic bead.”


Ultrafast Flexible Electronic Memory

Engineering experts from the University of Exeter (UK) have developed innovative new memory using a hybrid of graphene oxide and titanium oxide. Their devices are low cost and eco-friendly to produce, are also perfectly suited for use in flexible electronic devices such as ‘bendablemobile phone, computer and television screens, and even ‘intelligentclothing.
. Crucially, these devices may also have the potential to offer a cheaper and more adaptable alternative to ‘flash memory’, which is currently used in many common devices such as memory cards, graphics cards and USB computer drives. The research team insist that these innovative new devices have the potential to revolutionise not only how data is stored, but also take flexible electronics to a new age in terms of speed, efficiency and power.

bendable mobile phone

Using graphene oxide to produce memory devices has been reported before, but they were typically very large, slow, and aimed at the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the electronics goods market”, said Professor David Wright, an Electronic Engineering expert from the University of Exeter.

Our hybrid graphene oxide-titanium oxide memory is, in contrast, just 50 nanometres long and 8 nanometres thick and can be written to and read from in less than five nanoseconds – with one nanometre being one billionth of a metre and one nanosecond a billionth of a second.”

The research is published in the scientific journal ACS Nano.


Graphene And Fractals Boost The Solar Power Storage By 3000%

Inspired by an American fern, researchers have developed a groundbreaking prototype that could be the answer to the storage challenge still holding solar back as a total energy solution. The new type of electrode created by RMIT University (Australia) researchers could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 per cent. But the graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings. The new electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which can charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries. Supercapacitors have been combined with solar, but their wider use as a storage solution is restricted because of their limited capacity.

RMIT’s Professor Min Gu said the new design drew on nature’s own genius solution to the challenge of filling a space in the most efficient way possible – through intricate self-repeating patterns known as “fractals”.

The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant,” said Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics at RMIT.

mimicking fern

Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally-efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level. “The immediate application is combining this electrode with supercapacitors, as our experiments have shown our prototype can radically increase their storage capacity30 times more than current capacity limits.   “Capacity-boosted supercapacitors would offer both long-term reliability and quick-burst energy release – for when someone wants to use solar energy on a cloudy day for example – making them ideal alternatives for solar power storage.”  Combined with supercapacitors, the fractal-enabled laser-reduced graphene electrodes can hold the stored charge for longer, with minimal leakage.


Smart Printed Electronics

Researchers in AMBER, the materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time. These 2D materials combine exciting electronic properties with the potential for low-cost production. This breakthrough could unlock the potential for applications such as food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you of spoiling, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast

This discovery opens the path for industry, such as ICT and pharmaceutical, to cheaply print a host of electronic devices from solar cells to LEDs with applications from interactive smart food and drug labels to next-generation banknote security and e-passports.

printed transistor

Prof Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said, “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging.
Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.

We believe that 2D nanomaterials can compete with the materials currently used for printed electronics. Compared to other materials employed in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices. However, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. This publication is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing. We believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”
Led by Prof Coleman, in collaboration with the groups of Prof Georg Duesberg (AMBER) and Prof. Laurens Siebbeles (TU Delft, Netherlands), the team used standard printing techniques to combine graphene nanosheets as the electrodes with two other nanomaterials, tungsten diselenide and boron nitride as the channel and separator (two important parts of a transistor) to form an all-printed, all-nanosheet, working transistor.

The AMBER team’s findings have been published today in the journal Science*.


Carbon Nanotubes Self-Assemble Into Tiny Transistors

Carbon nanotubes can be used to make very small electronic devices, but they are difficult to handle. University of Groningen (Netherlands) scientists, together with colleagues from the University of Wuppertal and IBM Zurich, have developed a method to select semiconducting nanotubes from a solution and make them self-assemble on a circuit of gold electrodes. The results look deceptively simple: a self-assembled transistor with nearly 100 percent purity and very high electron mobility. But it took ten years to get there. University of Groningen Professor of Photophysics and Optoelectronics Maria Antonietta Loi designed polymers which wrap themselves around specific carbon nanotubes in a solution of mixed tubes. Thiol side chains on the polymer bind the tubes to the gold electrodes, creating the resultant transistor.

polymer wrapped nanotube

In our previous work, we learned a lot about how polymers attach to specific carbon nanotubes, Loi explains. These nanotubes can be depicted as a rolled sheet of graphene, the two-dimensional form of carbon. ‘Depending on the way the sheets are rolled up, they have properties ranging from semiconductor to semi-metallic to metallic.’ Only the semiconductor tubes can be used to fabricate transistors, but the production process always results in a mixture.

We had the idea of using polymers with thiol side chains some time ago‘, says Loi. The idea was that as sulphur binds to metals, it will direct polymer-wrapped nanotubes towards gold electrodes. While Loi was working on the problem, IBM even patented the concept. ‘But there was a big problem in the IBM work: the polymers with thiols also attached to metallic nanotubes and included them in the transistors, which ruined them.’

Loi’s solution was to reduce the thiol content of the polymers, with the assistance of polymer chemists from the University of Wuppertal. ‘What we have now shown is that this concept of bottom-up assembly works: by using polymers with a low concentration of thiols, we can selectively bring semiconducting nanotubes from a solution onto a circuit.’ The sulphur-gold bond is strong, so the nanotubes are firmly fixed: enough even to stay there after sonication of the transistor in organic solvents.

Over the last years, we have created a library of polymers that select semiconducting nanotubes and developed a better understanding of how the structure and composition of the polymers influences which carbon nanotubes they select’, says Loi. The result is a cheap and scalable production method for nanotube electronics. So what is the future for this technology? Loi: ‘It is difficult to predict whether the industry will develop this idea, but we are working on improvements, and this will eventually bring the idea closer to the market.’

The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials on 5 April.

‘Spray-On’ Memory for Paper, Fabric, Plastic

USB flash drives are already common accessories in offices and college campuses. But thanks to the rise in printable electronics, digital storage devices like these may soon be everywhere – including on our groceries, pill bottles and even clothingDuke University researchers have brought us closer to a future of low-cost, flexible electronics by creating a new “spray-on digital memory device using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks. The device, which is analogous to a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric.


Duke University researchers have developed a new “spray-on” digital memory (upper left) that could be used to build programmable electronics on flexible materials like paper, plastic or fabric. They used LEDS to demonstrate a simple application.

We have all of the parameters that would allow this to be used for a practical application, and we’ve even done our own little demonstration using LEDs,” said Duke graduate student Matthew Catenacci, who describes the device in a paper published online in the Journal of Electronic Materials. At the core of the new device, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is a new copper-nanowire-based printable material that is capable of storing digital information.

Memory is kind of an abstract thing, but essentially it is a series of ones and zeros which you can use to encode information,” said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and an author on the paper.


Artificial Embryo From Stem Cells

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have managed to create a structure resembling a mouse embryo in culture, using two types of stem cells – the body’s ‘master cells’ – and a 3D scaffold on which they can grow. Understanding the very early stages of embryo development is of interest because this knowledge may help explain why a significant number of human pregnancies fail at this time.

Once a mammalian egg has been fertilised by a sperm, it divides multiple times to generate a small, free-floating ball of stem cells. The particular stem cells that will eventually make the future body, the embryonic stem cells (ESCs) cluster together inside the embryo towards one end: this stage of development is known as the blastocyst. The other two types of stem cell in the blastocyst are the extra-embryonic trophoblast stem cells (TSCs), which will form the placenta, and primitive endoderm stem cells that will form the so-called yolk sac, ensuring that the foetus’s organs develop properly and providing essential nutrients.

Using a combination of genetically-modified mouse ESCs and TSCs, together with a 3D scaffold known as an extracellular matrix, Cambridge researchers were able to grow a structure capable of assembling itself and whose development and architecture very closely resembled the natural embryo.  There is a  remarkable degree of communication between the two types of stem cell: in a sense, the cells are telling each other where in the embryo to place themselves.

artificial embryo

We knew that interactions between the different types of stem cell are important for development, but the striking thing that our new work illustrates is that this is a real partnership – these cells truly guide each other,”  says Professor Zernicka-Goetz. “Without this partnership, the correct development of shape and form and the timely activity of key biological mechanisms doesn’t take place properly.”

Comparing their artificial ‘embryo’ to a normally-developing embryo, the team was able to show that its development followed the same pattern of development. The stem cells organise themselves, with ESCs at one end and TSCs at the other.

The study has been published in the journal Science.


NanoCar Race

The NanoCar Race is an event in which molecular machines compete on a nano-sized racetrack. These “NanoCars” or molecule-cars can have real wheels, an actual chassis…and are propelled by the energy of electric pulses! Nothing is visible to the naked eye, however a unique microscope located in Toulouse (France) will make it possible to follow the race. A genuine scientific prowess and international human adventure, the race is a one-off event, and will be broadcast live on the web, as well as at the Quai des Savoirs, science center in Toulouse.


The NanoCar race takes place on a very small scale, that of molecules and atoms: the nano scale…as in nanometer! A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 0.000000001 meters or 10 -9 m. In short, it is 500,000 times thinner then a line drawn by a ball point pen; 30,000 times thinner than the width of a hair; 100 times smaller than a DNA molecule; 4 atoms of silicon lined up next to one another.

A very powerful microscope is necessary to observe molecules and atoms: the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) makes this possible, and it is also responsible for propelling the NanoCars. The scanning tunneling microscope was invented in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, and earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. The tunnel effect is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics: using a tip and an electric current, the microscope will use this phenomenon to determine the electric conductance between the tip and the surface, in other words the amount of current that is passing through.

nanocar in movement Screening provides an electronic map of the surface and of each atom or molecule placed on it.At the CNRS‘s Centre d’élaboration de matériaux et d’études structurales (CEMES) in Toulouse, it is the one of a kind STM microscope that makes the race possible: the equivalent of four scanning tunneling microscopes, this device is the only one able to simultaneously and independently map four sections of the track in real time, thanks to its four tungsten tips.


Your browsing history may be up for sale soon

A US House committee is set to vote on whether to kill privacy rules that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers. Planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data – are now at risk. Here’s why it matters.

Your web browsing patterns contain a treasure trove of data, including your health concerns, shopping habits and visits to porn sites. ISPs can find out where you bank, your political views and sexual orientation simply based on the websites you visit. The fact that you’re looking at a website at all can also reveal when you’re at home and when you’re not.

spy your dataIf you ask the ISPs, it’s about showing the user more relevant advertising. They argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitiveinformation.
Not all ISPs want to abolish the privacy protections. A list of several smaller providers – including, Cruzio Internet and Credo Mobile – have written to representatives to oppose the decision. “One of the cornerstones of our businesses is respecting the privacy of our customers,” they said.
How does this differ from the way Google and Facebook use our data?
It’s much harder to prevent ISPs from tracking your data. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web, for example EFF’s Privacy Badger.

Consumers are generally much more limited for choice of ISP, in some cases only having one option in a given geographical area. This means they can’t choose one of the ISPs pledging to protect user data.


A Brain-computer Interface To Combat The Rise of AI

Elon Musk is attempting to combat the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) with the launch of his latest venture, brain-computer interface company NeuralinkLittle is known about the startup, aside from what has been revealed in a Wall Street Journal report, but says sources have described it as “neural lace” technology that is being engineered by the company to allow humans to seamlessly communicate with technology without the need for an actual, physical interface. The company has also been registered in California as a medical research entity because Neuralink’s initial focus will be on using the described interface to help with the symptoms of chronic conditions, from epilepsy to depression. This is said to be similar to how deep brain stimulation controlled by an implant helps  Matt Eagles, who has Parkinson’s, manage his symptoms effectively. This is far from the first time Musk has shown an interest in merging man and machine. At a Tesla launch in Dubai earlier this year, the billionaire spoke about the need for humans to become cyborgs if we are to survive the rise of artificial intelligence.

cyborg woman

Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,”CNBC reported him as saying at the time. “It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.” Transhumanism, the enhancement of humanity’s capabilities through science and technology, is already a living reality for many people, to varying degrees. Documentary-maker Rob Spence replaced one of his own eyes with a video camera in 2008; amputees are using prosthetics connected to their own nerves and controlled using electrical signals from the brain; implants are helping tetraplegics regain independence through the BrainGate project.

Former director of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Arati Prabhakar, comments: “From my perspective, which embraces a wide swathe of research disciplines, it seems clear that we humans are on a path to a more symbiotic union with our machines.


Quadriplegic Man Moves Again Just By Thinking

Bill Kochevar grabbed a mug of water, drew it to his lips and drank through the straw. His motions were slow and deliberate, but then Kochevar hadn’t moved his right arm or hand for eight years. And it took some practice to reach and grasp just by thinking about it. Kochevar, who was paralyzed below his shoulders in a bicycling accident, is believed to be the first person with quadriplegia in the world to have arm and hand movements restored with the help of two temporarily implanted technologies.

A brain-computer interface with recording electrodes under his skull, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system activating his arm and hand, reconnect his brain to paralyzed muscles. Holding a makeshift handle pierced through a dry sponge, Kochevar scratched the side of his nose with the sponge. He scooped forkfuls of mashed potatoes from a bowl—perhaps his top goal—and savored each mouthful. Kochevar (56, of Cleveland) is the focal point of research led by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (UH).

brain implant2

For somebody who’s been injured eight years and couldn’t move, being able to move just that little bit is awesome to me,” said Kochevar. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”


He’s really breaking ground for the spinal cord injury community,” commented Bob Kirsch, chair of Case Western Reserve’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, executive director of the FES Center and principal investigator (PI) and senior author of the research. “This is a major step toward restoring some independence.”

A study of the work has been published in the The Lancet.


Nanocoatings Reduce Dental Implant Bacterial Infection By 97%

According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), 15 million Americans have crown or bridge replacements and three million have dental implants – with this latter number rising by 500,000 a year. The AAID estimates that the value of the American and European market for dental implants will rise to $4.2 billion by 2022. Dental implants are a successful form of treatment for patients, yet according to a study published in 2005, five to ten per cent of all dental implants fail. The reasons for this failure are several-fold – mechanical problems, poor connection to the bones in which they are implanted, infection or rejection. When failure occurs the dental implant must be removed. The main cause for dental implant failure is peri-implantitis. This is the destructive inflammatory process affecting the soft and hard tissues surrounding dental implants. This occurs when pathogenic microbes in the mouth and oral cavity develop into biofilms, which protects them and encourages growth. Peri-implantitis is caused when the biofilms develop on dental implants.

A research team comprising scientists from the School of Biological and Marine Sciences, Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and the School of Engineering at the University of Plymouth, have joined forces to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a new nanocoating for dental implants to reduce the risk of peri-implantitis.

dentistIn this cross-Faculty study we have identified the means to protect dental implants against the most common cause of their failure. The potential of our work for increased patient comfort and satisfaction, and reduced costs, is great and we look forward to translating our findings into clinical practice,”  commented Professor Christopher Tredwin, Head of Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry.

In the study, the research team created a new approach using a combination of silver, titanium oxide and hydroxyapatite nanocoatings. The application of the combination to the surface of titanium alloy implants successfully inhibited bacterial growth and reduced the formation of bacterial biofilm on the surface of the implants by 97.5 per cent.

Not only did the combination result in the effective eradication of infection, it created a surface with anti-biofilm properties which supported successful integration into surrounding bone and accelerated bone healing.

The results of their work are published in the journal Nanotoxicology.


Clean Renewable Source Of Hydrogen Fuel For Electric Car

Rice University scientists have created an efficient, simple-to-manufacture oxygen-evolution catalyst that pairs well with semiconductors for solar water splitting, the conversion of solar energy to chemical energy in the form of hydrogen and oxygen.

anode RiceA photo shows an array of titanium dioxide nanorods with an even coating of an iron, manganese and phosphorus catalyst. The combination developed by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston is a highly efficient photoanode for artificial photosynthesis. Click on the image for a larger version

The lab of Kenton Whitmire, a Rice professor of chemistry, teamed up with researchers at the University of Houston and discovered that growing a layer of an active catalyst directly on the surface of a light-absorbing nanorod array produced an artificial photosynthesis material that could split water at the full theoretical potential of the light-absorbing semiconductor with sunlight. An oxygen-evolution  catalyst splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Finding a clean renewable source of hydrogen fuel is the focus of extensive research, but the technology has not yet been commercialized.

The Rice team came up with a way to combine three of the most abundant metalsiron, manganese and phosphorus — into a precursor that can be deposited directly onto any substrate without damaging it. To demonstrate the material, the lab placed the precursor into its custom chemical vapor deposition (CVD) furnace and used it to coat an array of light-absorbing, semiconducting titanium dioxide nanorods. The combined material, called a photoanode, showed excellent stability while reaching a current density of 10 milliamps per square centimeter, the researchers reported.

The results appear in two new studies. The first, on the creation of the films, appears in Chemistry: A European Journal. The second, which details the creation of photoanodes, appears in ACS Nano.


How Brain Waves Can Control VR Video Games

Virtual reality is still so new that the best way for us to interact within it is not yet clear. One startup wants you to use your head, literally: it’s tracking brain waves and using the result to control VR video games.

Boston-based startup Neurable is focused on deciphering brain activity to determine a person’s intention, particularly in virtual and augmented reality. The company uses dry electrodes to record brain activity via electroencephalography (EEG); then software analyzes the signal and determines the action that should occur.


You don’t really have to do anything,” says cofounder and CEO Ramses Alcaide, who developed the technology as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. “It’s a subconscious response, which is really cool.”

Neurable, which raised $2 million in venture funding late last year, is still in the early stages: its demo hardware looks like a bunch of electrodes attached to straps that span a user’s head, worn along with an HTC Vive virtual-reality headset. Unlike the headset, Neurable’s contraption is wireless—it sends data to a computer via Bluetooth. The startup expects to offer software tools for game development later this year, and it isn’t planning to build its own hardware; rather, Neurable hopes companies will be making headsets with sensors to support its technology in the next several years.


Cheap, Non-Toxic, Super Efficient Solar Cell

In the future, solar cells can become twice as efficient by employing a few smart little nano-tricks. Researchers are currently developing the environment-friendly solar cells of the future, which will capture twice as much energy as the cells of today. The trick is to combine two different types of solar cells in order to utilize a much greater portion of the sunlight.


These are going to be the world’s most efficient and environment-friendly solar cells. There are currently solar cells that are certainly just as efficient, but they are both expensive and toxic. Furthermore, the materials in our solar cells are readily available in large quantities on Earth. That is an important point,” says Professor Bengt Svensson of the Department of Physics at the University of Oslo (UiO) and Centre for Materials Science and Nanotechnology (SMN) in Norway.

Using nanotechnology, atoms and molecules can be combined into new materials with very special properties. The goal is to utilize even more of the spectrum of sunlight than is possible at present. Ninety-nine per cent of today’s solar cells are made from silicon, which is one of the most common elements on Earth. Unfortunately, silicon solar cells only utilize 20 per cent of the sunlight. The world record is 25 per cent, but these solar cells are laced with rare materials that are also toxic. The theoretical limit is 30 per cent. The explanation for this limit is that silicon cells primarily capture the light waves from the red spectrum of sunlight. That means that most of the light waves remain unutilized.

The new solar cells will be composed of two energy-capturing layers. The first layer will still be composed of silicon cells. “The red wavelengths of sunlight generate electricity in the silicon cells in a highly efficient manner. We’ve done a great deal of work with silicon, so there is only a little more to gain.” The new trick is to add another layer on top of the silicon cells. This layer is composed of copper oxide and is supposed to capture the light waves from the blue spectrum of sunlight.


A Smartphone App To Loose Weight

Psychologists at the University of Exeter (UK) have found that less than ten minutes a day of ‘brain training’ using a game they have devised can slow impulses to reach for unhealthy snacks, and reduce calorie intake. Using neuroscience and lab trials to devise a proven method of curbing unhealthy food intake, Professor Natalia Lawrence’s Food Trainer app is being launched this week free to the public, in a month when people traditionally make resolutions to lose weight and cut down on junk foodDr Natalia Lawrence is a cognitive neuroscientist at Exeter University. She designed the app after using brain imaging to study how the brain’s reward system responded to pictures of unhealthy food.

food trainer

It’s very exciting to see that our free and simple training can change eating habits and have a positive impact on some people’s lives,” she said. “It’s a tool to help people make healthier choices. In an age where unhealthy food is so abundant and easily available and obesity is a growing health crisis, we need to design innovative ways to support people to live more healthily. We are optimistic that the way this app is devised will actually encourage people to opt for healthy food such as fruit and vegetables rather than junk food.

Among those to have used the training is Fiona Furness, a studios manager for a charity providing studios for artists, who went from around 11 stone to around nine stone after taking part in a trial of the food training game. She said the “pounds just melted way”. “I used to feel really guilt about my bad snacking habits. I’d often be rushing about, and I’d grab something high calorie and unsatisfying – often a pack of crisps. I’d be hungry again really soon afterwards so it became a vicious cycle. The results have been remarkable,” she explained. “These days, if I am feeling peckish I’ll go for a banana or a pack of almonds. That’s the food I’m craving. I’m now closer to nine stone than 11 – the pounds just melted away over eight or nine months without me even noticing. The weight loss wasn’t really my goal though – I feel younger and more energetic. Perhaps I’m particularly susceptible to this kind of brain training, but it has been transformative for me.

A study of 83 adults showed that people who played the game online just 4 times in one week lost weight and ate an average of 220 kcal less per day – roughly equivalent to a chocolate-iced doughnut.The academics found in trials that playing the game without distractions for a few minutes a day can train the brain to control impulses to reach for chocolate, cakes, crisps or alcohol. The release of the free app will allow dieters or those who want to cut consumption of junk food or alcohol to try it and in the process generate more anonymous data to help psychologists measure how effective an app version of the brain-training programme can be.

The basis of the app is published research showing that people are more inclined to choose foods or drink high in sugar and fat because they activate the brain’s reward system, stimulating the release of dopamine and endorphins, which can produce feelings of pleasure and make the person want more. Research has found that the more people activate brain areas associated with reward when they see foods, the more they eat and the more weight they gain. Once triggered, these impulses can be hard to control.


How To Trap Greenhouse Gases

Emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and natural gas tend to collect within Earth’s atmosphere as “greenhouse gases” that are blamed for escalating global warming.

So researchers around the globe are on a quest for materials capable of capturing and storing greenhouse gases. This shared goal led researchers at Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany and the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur to team up to explore the feasibility of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (VACNTs) to trap and store two greenhouse gases in particular: carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). As the team reports in The Journal of Chemical Physics, from AIP Publishing, they discovered that gas adsorption in VACNTs can be influenced by adjusting the morphological parameters of the carbon nanotube thickness, the distance between nanotubes, and their height.

Carbon nanotubes against greenhouse gases
Snapshots of CO2 adsorption in double-walled carbon nanotube arrays (with an inner tube diameter of 2r=3 nanometers and various inter-tube distance at T=303 K and p=1 bar)


These parameters are fundamental for ‘tuning’ the hierarchical pore structure of the VACNTs,” explained Mahshid Rahimi and Deepu Babu, the paper’s lead authors and doctoral students in theoretical physical chemistry and inorganic chemistry at the Technische Universität Darmstadt. “This hierarchy effect is a crucial factor for getting high-adsorption capacities as well as mass transport into the nanostructure. Surprisingly, from theory and by experiment, we found that the distance between nanotubes plays a much larger role in gas adsorption than the tube diameter does.