Posts belonging to Category Carbon nanotubes

Flying Electric Planes Between London And Paris

EasyJet could be flying planes powered by batteries rather than petroleum to destinations including Paris and Amsterdam within a decade. The UK carrier has formed a partnership with US firm Wright Electric, which is developing a battery-propelled aircraft for flights under two hoursEasyJet said the move would enable battery-powered aircraft to travel short-haul routes such as London to Paris and Amsterdam, and Edinburgh to Bristol. Wright Electric is aiming for an aircraft range of 335 miles, which would cover the journeys of about a fifth of passengers flown by easyJet.

Carolyn McCall, easyJet’s chief executive, said the aerospace industry would follow the lead of the automotive industry in developing electric engines that would cut emissions and noise.

For the first time in my career I can envisage a future without jet fuel and we are excited to be part of it,” she said. “It is now more a matter of when, not if, a short-haul electric plane will fly.”

The company said it was the next step in making the airline less harmful for the environment, after cutting carbon emissions per passenger kilometre by 31% between 2000 and 2016. Wright Electric claims that electric planes will be 50% quieter and 10% cheaper for airlines to buy and operate, with the cost saving potentially passed on to passengers. The US firm said its goal was for every short flight to be electric within 20 years. It has already built a two-seater prototype and is working towards a fully electric plane within a decade. The next step is to scale-up the technology to a 10-seater aircraft, and eventually to build a single aisle, short haul commercial plane, with the capacity to carry at least 120 passengers.


Renewable Fuel From Water

Physicists at Lancaster University (in UK) are developing methods of creating renewable fuel from water using quantum technologyRenewable hydrogen can already be produced by photoelectrolysis where solar power is used to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. But, despite significant research effort over the past four decades, fundamental problems remain before this can be adopted commercially due to inefficiency and lack of cost-effectivenessDr Manus Hayne  from the Department of Physics said: “For research to progress, innovation in both materials development and device design is clearly needed.

The Lancaster study, which formed part of the PhD research of Dr Sam Harrison, and is published in Scientific Reports, provides the basis for further experimental work into the solar production of hydrogen as a renewable fuel. It demonstrates that the novel use of nanostructures could increase the maximum photovoltage generated in a photoelectrochemical cell, increasing the productivity of splitting water molecules.

To the authors’ best knowledge, this system has never been investigated either theoretically or experimentally, and there is huge scope for further work to expand upon the results presented here,” said Dr Haynes. “Fossil-fuel combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing global climate change, and there is only a finite amount of them available for extraction. We clearly need to transition to a renewable and low-greenhouse-gas energy infrastructure, and renewable hydrogen is expected to play an important role.

Fossil fuels accounted for almost 90% of energy consumption in 2015, with absolute demand still increasing due to a growing global population and increasing industrialisationPhotovoltaic solar cells are currently used to convert sunlight directly into electricity but solar hydrogen has the advantage that it is easily stored, so it can be used as and when needed. Hydrogen is also very flexible, making it highly advantageous  for remote communities. It can be converted to electricity in a fuel cell, or burnt in a boiler or cooker just like natural gas. It can even be used to fuel aircraft.


Nanogels For Heart Attack Patients

Heart disease and heart-related illnesses are a leading cause of death around the world, but treatment options are limited. Now, one group reports in ACS Nano that encapsulating stem cells in a nanogel could help repair damage to the heart.

Myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, causes damage to the muscular walls of the heart. Scientists have tried different methods to repair this damage. For example, one method involves directly implanting stem cells in the heart wall, but the cells often don’t take hold, and sometimes they trigger an immune reaction. Another treatment option being explored is injectable hydrogels, substances that are composed of water and a polymer. Naturally occurring polymers such as keratin and collagen have been used but they are expensive, and their composition can vary between batches. So Ke Cheng, Hu Zhang, Jinying Zhang and colleagues wanted to see whether placing stem cells in inexpensive hydrogels with designed tiny pores that are made in the laboratory would work.

The team encapsulated stem cells in nanogels, which are initially liquid but then turn into a soft gel when at body temperature. The nanogel didn’t adversely affect stem cell growth or function, and the encased stem cells didn’t trigger a rejection response. When these enveloped cells were injected into mouse and pig hearts, the researchers observed increased cell retention and regeneration compared to directly injecting just the stem cells. In addition, the heart walls were strengthened. Finally, the group successfully tested the encapsulated stem cells in mouse and pig models of myocardial infarction.


Biomaterial To Replace Plastics And Reduce Pollution

An inexpensive biomaterial that can be used to sustainably replace plastic barrier coatings in packaging and many other applications has been developed by Penn State researchers, who predict its adoption would greatly reduce pollution. Completely compostable, the material — a polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex — is comprised of nearly equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, which is derived from chitin — the primary ingredient in the exoskeletons of arthropods and crustaceans. The main source of chitin is the mountains of leftover shells from lobsters, crabs and shrimp consumed by humans.

These environmentally friendly barrier coatings have numerous applications ranging from water-resistant paper, to coatings for ceiling tiles and wallboard, to food coatings to seal in freshness, according to lead researcher Jeffrey Catchmark, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, College of Agricultural Sciences.

In the research, paperboard coated with the biomaterial exhibited strong oil and water barrier properties. The coating also resisted toluene, heptane and salt solutions and exhibited improved wet and dry mechanical and water vapor barrier properties.

The material’s unexpected strong, insoluble adhesive properties are useful for packaging as well as other applications, such as better performing, fully natural wood-fiber composites for construction and even flooring,” Jeffrey Catchmark said. “And the technology has the potential to be incorporated into foods to reduce fat uptake during frying and maintain crispness. Since the coating is essentially fiber-based, it is a means of adding fiber to diets.”


Nano Robots Build Molecules

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world’s first ‘molecular robot’ that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules.

The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimetre in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm.

Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks.

In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines.

All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks, explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University’s School of Chemistry. “The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientistIt is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”

The research has been published in Nature.


New Treatment To Kill Cancer

Raise your hand if you haven’t been touched by cancer,” says Mylisa Parette to a roomful of strangers. Parette, the research manager for Keystone Nano (KN), has occasional opportunities to present her company’s technologies to business groups and wants to emphasize the scope of the problem that still confronts society. “It’s easier to see the effects of cancer when nobody raises their hand,” she says. Despite 40 years of the War on Cancer, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. Parette and her Keystone Nano colleagues are working on a new approach to cancer treatment. The company was formed from the collaboration of two Penn State faculty members who realized that the nanoparticle research that the one was undertaking could be used to solve the drug delivery problems that the other was facing.

Mark Kester, a pharmacologist at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, was working with a new drug that showed real promise as a cancer therapy but that could be dangerous if injected directly into the bloodstream. Jim Adair, a materials scientist in University Park, was creating nontoxic nanoparticles that could enclose drugs that might normally be toxic or hydrophobic and were small enough to be taken up by cells.

The two combined their efforts and, licensing the resulting technology from Penn State, they joined with entrepreneur Jeff Davidson, founder of the Biotechnology Institute and the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Association, to form Keystone Nano. The new company’s first hire was Parette, whose job is to translate the lab-scale technology into something that can be ramped up to an industrial scale, and to prepare that technology for FDA approval leading to clinical trials.

Davidson, Parette, and KN’s research team work out of the Zetachron building, a long, one-story science incubator a mile from Penn State’s University Park campus. Operated by the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation, the building was originally the home of the successful Penn State spin-out company that gave it its name. A second Keystone Nano lab was recently opened in the Hershey Center for Applied Research, a biotech incubator adjacent to Penn State College of Medicine.

Our excitement is that we think our technology has shown efficacy in a whole range of animal models,” Davidson, Keystone CEO, remarks during a recent meeting in the shared conference room at Zetachron. “We understand the method of action, the active ingredient. We think it has every chance of being useful in treating disease. Our question is, how do we push this forward from where we are today to determining, one way or another, that it really does work?

Keystone Nano is pioneering two approaches to cancer therapy, both of which rely on advances in nanotechnology to infiltrate tumors and deliver a therapeutic agent. The approach nearest to clinical trials is a ceramide nanoliposome, or what Davidson calls a “nano fat ball around an active ingredient.” Kester, in whose lab the approach was developed, thinks of it as a basketball with a thick bilayer coating that contains 30 percent active ceramide and a hollow interior that can hold another cancer drug.


Optical Computer

Researchers at the University of Sydney (Australia) have dramatically slowed digital information carried as light waves by transferring the data into sound waves in an integrated circuit, or microchipTransferring information from the optical to acoustic domain and back again inside a chip is critical for the development of photonic integrated circuits: microchips that use light instead of electrons to manage data.

These chips are being developed for use in telecommunications, optical fibre networks and cloud computing data centers where traditional electronic devices are susceptible to electromagnetic interference, produce too much heat or use too much energy.

The information in our chip in acoustic form travels at a velocity five orders of magnitude slower than in the optical domain,” said Dr Birgit Stiller, research fellow at the University of Sydney and supervisor of the project.

It is like the difference between thunder and lightning,” she said.

This delay allows for the data to be briefly stored and managed inside the chip for processing, retrieval and further transmission as light wavesLight is an excellent carrier of information and is useful for taking data over long distances between continents through fibre-optic cables.

But this speed advantage can become a nuisance when information is being processed in computers and telecommunication systems.


Skin Patches Melt Fat

Researchers have devised a medicated skin patch that can turn energy-storing white fat into energy-burning brown fat locally while raising the body’s overall metabolism. The patch could be used to burn off pockets of unwanted fat such as “love handles” and treat metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the University of North Carolina. Humans have two types of fat. White fat stores excess energy in large triglyceride droplets. Brown fat has smaller droplets and a high number of mitochondria that burn fat to produce heat. Newborns have a relative abundance of brown fat, which protects against exposure to cold temperatures. But by adulthood, most brown fat is lost.

For years, researchers have been searching for therapies that can transform an adult’s white fat into brown fat—a process named browning—which can happen naturally when the body is exposed to cold temperatures—as a treatment for obesity and diabetes.


There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” said study co-leader Li Qiang, PhD, assistant professor of pathology & cell biology at Columbia. “This exposes the whole body to the drugs, which can lead to side effects such as stomach upset, weight gain, and bone fractures. Our skin patch appears to alleviate these complications by delivering most drugs directly to fat tissue.

To apply the treatment, the drugs are first encased in nanoparticles, each roughly 250 nanometers (nm) in diameter—too small to be seen by the naked eye. (In comparison, a human hair is about 100,000 nm wide.) The nanoparticles are then loaded into a centimeter-square skin patch containing dozens of microscopic needles. When applied to skin, the needles painlessly pierce the skin and gradually release the drug from nanoparticles into underlying tissue.

The findings, from experiments in mice, were published online today in ACS Nano.


Robots With The Sense Of Touch

A team of researchers from the University of Houston (UH) has reported a breakthrough in stretchable electronics that can serve as an artificial skin, allowing a robotic hand to sense the difference between hot and cold, while also offering advantages for a wide range of biomedical devices.

Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering and lead author for the paper, said the work is the first to create a semiconductor in a rubber composite format, designed to allow the electronic components to retain functionality even after the material is stretched by 50 percent. The semiconductor in rubber composite format enables stretchability without any special mechanical structure. Yu noted that traditional semiconductors are brittle and using them in otherwise stretchable materials has required a complicated system of mechanical accommodations. “That’s both more complex and less stable than the new discovery, as well as more expensive.”

Our strategy has advantages for simple fabrication, scalable manufacturing, high-density integration, large strain tolerance and low cost,” he said.

Yu and the rest of the team – co-authors include first author Hae-Jin Kim, Kyoseung Sim and Anish Thukral, all with the UH Cullen College of Engineering – created the electronic skin and used it to demonstrate that a robotic hand could sense the temperature of hot and iced water in a cup. The skin also was able to interpret computer signals sent to the hand and reproduce the signals as .

The robotic skin can translate the gesture to readable letters that a person like me can understand and read,” Yu said.

The work is reported in the journal Science Advances.


Magnetic Cellular ‘Legos’ For Tissue Engineering

By incorporating magnetic nanoparticles in cells and developing a system using miniaturized magnets, researchers from 3 associated universities* in Paris (France) , have succeeded in creating cellular magneticLegos.” They were able to aggregate cells using only magnets and without an external supporting matrix, with the cells then forming a tissue that can be deformed at will. This approach, which is detailed in Nature Communications, could prove to be a powerful tool for biophysical studies, as well as the regenerative medicine of tomorrow.

Nanotechnology has quickly swept across the medical field by proposing sometimes unprecedented solutions at the furthest limits of current treatments, thereby becoming central to diagnosis and therapy, notably for the regeneration of tissue. A current challenge for regenerative medicine is to create a cohesive and organized cellular assembly without using an external supporting matrix. This is a particularly substantial challenge when it involves synthesizing thick and/or large-sized tissue, or when these tissues must be stimulated like their in vivo counterparts (such as cardiac tissue or cartilage) in order to improve their functionality.

The researchers met this challenge by using magnetism to act on the cells at a distance, in order to assemble, organize, and stimulate them. Cells, which are the building blocks of tissue, are thus magnetized in advance through the incorporation of magnetic nanoparticles, thus becoming true cellular magnetic “Legos” that can be moved and stacked using external magnets. In this new system acting as a magnetic tissue stretcher, the magnetized cells are trapped on a first micromagnet, before a second, mobile magnet traps the aggregate formed by the cells. The movement of the two magnets can stretch or compress the resulting tissue at will.

Researchers first used embryonic stem cells to test their system. They began by showing that the incorporation of nanoparticles had no impact on either the functioning of the stem cell or its capacity for differentiation. These functional magnetic stem cells were then tested in the stretcher, in which they remarkably differentiated toward cardiac cell precursors when stimulation imposed “magnetic beating” imitating the contraction of the heart. These results demonstrate the role that purely mechanical factors can play in cell differentiation.

This “all-in-one” approach, which makes it possible to build and manipulate tissue within the same system, could thus prove to be a powerful tool both for biophysical studies and tissue engineering.

* Laboratoire Matière et Systèmes Complexes (CNRS/Université Paris Diderot), in collaboration with the Laboratoire Adaptation Biologique et Vieillissement (CNRS/UPMC) and the Centre de Recherche Cardiovasculaire de Paris (Inserm/Université Paris Descartes)


Rapid, Cheap Liver Cancer Test

University of Utah researchers say they are designing a diagnostic method that will be able to accurately identify signs of liver cancer within minutes, saving critical time for patients of the stealthy disease. The new type of test could forever change how people screen for the disease, said Marc Porter, a U. chemical engineering and chemistry professor who is leading the research along with Dr. Courtney Scaife, a surgeon who both practices and teaches surgery for the university. Porter said the long-term vision is for the tool itself to become as automatic and portable as a pregnancy test, though additional technology — called a spectrometer — is currently needed to precisely measure the results of the test.

A small domino-sized cartridge holds a membrane for a new field test for liver cancer developed by researchers from the University of Utah. The test doesn’t involve sending a specimen to a blood lab and cuts the wait time for results from two weeks to two minutes. It can be administered wherever the patient is, which will be valuable for developing nations with little access to hospitals.

It’s really compact, it’s simple and low cost,” he said of the test kit.

Liver cancer is difficult to survive because typically it is highly developed by the time symptoms show up, Porter said. It is the second deadliest form of cancer worldwide, resulting in about 788,000 deaths in 2015, according to the World Health Organization. “All too often, the cancer is diagnosed past when you can actually have surgical intervention,” Porter said.

Currently, a blood test taken to determine the presence of liver cancer is usually sent to a lab offsite, where it takes days or even up to two weeks to test and return, said Vincent Horiuchi, spokesman for the U.’s College of Engineering. Those days are precious time that is lost in the fight against the disease, he said.


How To Draw Electricity from the Bloodstream

Men build dams and huge turbines to turn the energy of waterfalls and tides into electricity. To produce hydropower on a much smaller scale, Chinese scientists have now developed a lightweight power generator based on carbon nanotube fibers suitable to convert even the energy of flowing blood in blood vessels into electricity.

For thousands of years, people have used the energy of flowing or falling water for their purposes, first to power mechanical engines such as watermills, then to generate electricity by exploiting height differences in the landscape or sea tides. Using naturally flowing water as a sustainable power source has the advantage that there are (almost) no dependencies on weather or daylight. Even flexible, minute power generators that make use of the flow of biological fluids are conceivable. How such a system could work is explained by a research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Huisheng Peng and his co-workers have developed a fiber with a thickness of less than a millimeter that generates electrical power when surrounded by flowing saline solution—in a thin tube or even in a blood vessel.

The construction principle of the fiber is quite simple. An ordered array of carbon nanotubes was continuously wrapped around a polymeric core. Carbon nanotubes are well known to be electroactive and mechanically stable; they can be spun and aligned in sheets. In the as-prepared electroactive threads, the carbon nanotube sheets coated the fiber core with a thickness of less than half a micron. For power generation, the thread or “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG), as the authors call it, was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water or simply repeatedly dipped into a saline solution. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the scientists explained. According to the theory, an electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.

The power output efficiency of this system was high. Compared with other types of miniature energy-harvesting devices, the FFNG was reported to show a superior power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. Other advantages are elasticity, tunability, lightweight, and one-dimensionality, thus offering prospects of exciting technological applications. The FFNG can be made stretchable just by spinning the sheets around an elastic fiber substrate. If woven into fabrics, wearable electronics become thus a very interesting option for FFNG application. Another exciting application is the harvesting of electrical energy from the bloodstream for medical applications. First tests with frog nerves proved to be successful.

The findings are published in  the journal Angewandte Chemie.