Articles from December 2011

Photonic chip paves the way to quantum processors

Researchers from Bristol University in Great Britain, who have been developing quantum photonic chips for the past six years, are now working on scaling up the complexity of this device, and see this technology as the building block for the quantum computers of the future.In order to build a quantum computer, we not only need to be able to control complex phenomena such as entanglement and mixture, but we need to be able to do this on a chip, in much the same way as the modern computers we have today,” says Professor Jeremy O'Brien, Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics.Our device enables this and we believe it is a major step forward towards optical quantum computing.”

“It isn’t ideal if your quantum computer can only perform a single specific task”, explains Peter Shadbolt, lead author of the study, which is published in the journal Nature Photonics.  “We would prefer to have a reconfigurable device which can perform a broad variety of tasks, much like our desktop PCs today – this reconfigurable ability is what we have now demonstrated. This device is approximately ten times more complex than previous experiments using this technology.

Pacemaker for Ever


A team in Japan has  reported in a post to the Journal  Angewandte Chemie International Edition that  pacemakers can keep using the same batteries indefinitively. They have found  a mechanism for remotely recharging them from outside the body by converting laser light into thermal energy and subsequently to electricity. The main purpose of this study was to show that it is possible to remotely control electrical energy generation by laser light that can be transmitted through living tissue in order to target various bionic applications implanted in the body.

 "Among various power sources for implanted medical devices, our system is a promising candidate because of its excellent ability to obtain energy directly from external and non-contact laser light and because its production of electricity can be controlled by laser light intensity," said  Dr. Eijiro Miyako, a research scientist at the Health Research Institute (HRI) at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) In Osaka – Japan.


From wood to nanomaterial, a new industry

CelluForce announces  the start of operations at the first manufacturing plant for NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC) in the world..Recyclable and renewableNCC is an advanced material derived from wood fibre.It  improves strength, durability and toughness, and can reduce damage caused by wear, abrasion and light. This nanomaterial can also be incorporated into systems to make structures that are light reflective (tunable from ultraviolet to infrared), impermeable to gas and stable over time. The remarkable properties of this advanced material derived from wood fibre will lead to commercial applications largely exceeding those of traditional wood fibre products.

 A high-value nanomaterial, NCC is capable of transforming the performance of existing products and creating new unique and improved products for numerous industrial sectors.


Organic solar cells

Imec, Polyera and international chemical group Solvay have achieved a new world-record efficiency of 8.3% for polymer-based single junction organic solar cells in an inverted device stack. These excellent performance results represent a crucial step towards successful commercialization of organic photovoltaic cells.

Solar power is gradually becoming cost-competitive with traditional mainstream energy sources such as coal, oil, and nuclear. Continued reduction of manufacturing and installation costs of solar panels will further drive this cost-competitiveness. Organic solar cells are holding the promise of addressing these issues, due to their potential to be manufactured on large-areas at high-throughput, and on lightweight, flexible substrates (like plastic or textiles), significantly reducing transportation and installation costs. This, along with optical translucency, gives organic solar cells the potential to be cheaply integrated into everything from clothing to building facades and windows.


Building an artificial brain

A scientific  team is creating a synapse using carbon nanotubes. Engineering researchers of  the University of Southern California have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron, the building block of the brain. (Physorg April 21.2011).



Meanwhile a nanocomputer research team at Harvard University  have succeeded a major milestone towards the first nancocomputer, which if  connected to medical research can produce an huge progress for humanity. predicting the feasibility of artificial brains in the future. The researchers from USC focus on biomimetic neural models and electronic circuits that implement those models.  Complexities in modeling biological neural tissue are discussed.  Estimates are given for the size of artificial neural systems based on CMOS technology in 2021, without considering interconnections. Some solutions to the problem of interconnecting neurons are proposed.


Gold nanoparticules to fight cancer

Berkeley Lab chemist Jay Groves and his team successfully tested  hybrid membranes on a line of breast cancer cells known as MDA-MB-231 that is highly invasive. The team demonstrated that in the absence of cell adhesion molecules, the membrane remained essentially free of the cancer cells, but when both the gold nanoparticles and the lipid were functionalized with molecules that promote cell adhesion, the cancer cells were found all over the surface. Gold nanoparticle membranes are used to study both cancer metastasis and T cell immunology.

Biology is a game of nanometers, where spatial differences of only a few nanometers can determine the fate of a cell – whether it lives or dies, remains normal or turns cancerous. Groves  and his group have used supported membranes to demonstrate that living cells not only interact with their environment through chemical signals but also through physical force.
Source: Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and the University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Chemistry Department 

Artificial Electronic Skin

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a promising new inexpensive technique for fabricating large-scale flexible and stretchable backplanes using semiconductor-enriched carbon nanotube solutions that yield networks of thin film transistors with superb electrical properties, including a charge carrier mobility that is dramatically higher than that of organic counterparts.
To demonstrate the utility of their carbon nanotube backplanes, the researchers constructed an artificial electronic skin (e-skin) capable of detecting and responding to touch. mong the applications that have been envisioned are electronic pads that could be folded away like paper, coatings that could monitor surfaces for cracks and other structural failures, medical bandages that could treat infections and food packaging that could detect spoilage. From solar cells to pacemakers to clothing, the list of smart applications for so-called “plastic electronics” is both flexible and stretchable. First, however, suitable backplanes must be mass-produced in a cost-effective way.


Optical image of flexible and stretchable thin film transistor array covering a baseball shows the mechanical robustness of this backplane material for future plastic electronic devices.


Robots thank the cricket

The tiny hairs on the abdomen of a cricket have inspired researchers at the University of Twente in Nederlands, to make a new type of sensor which is ultra sensitive to air flows. These synthetic cricket hairs can now also be tuned very precisely for a certain range of frequencies: the hairs are 10 times more sensitive in this range.

These hairs enable the cricket to feel/hear the approach of its enemies and estimate their distance and direction unerringly. These characteristics can be simulated by making a hair that is suspended in a flexible microsystem. The hair is made of polymer SU8, is 0.9 millimetre in length and is thicker at the base than at the top. The smallest movements are registered by the flexibly-suspended plate to which the hair is attached; the electrical capacity changes as a result and gives a measure for the movement. Potential applications include direction sensors used by robots and the study of very specific air flows. In the longer term, the synthetic hairs could also be used in hearing aids. The hairs can be made extra sensitive to certain frequencies in all these applications.
The researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology are presenting these new results in the scientific journal Applied Physics Letters..

Self-powered nanomotors

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University have now introduced a new bubble-free, high efficient nanomotor system that involves the operation of a miniaturized copper-platinum nanobattery. Their work has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) ("Autonomous Nanomotor Based on Copper–Platinum Segmented Nanobattery"). In this paper, first-authored by Ran Liu, a Ph.D. researcher in Ayusman Sen's group, they demonstrate that this motor system is significantly more efficient than the previously described bimetallic systems, such as platinum-gold segmented nanorod in hydrogen peroxide.

 Click on the picture to see the astonishing video!

The nanomotor described by Liu and Sen is based on self-propelling of template-synthesized copper-platinum bimetallic nanowires in either bromine or iodine diluted solutions. The motion is due to self-electrophoresis induced by the redox reaction occurring at the two electrodes of the copper-platinum nanobattery.

Toward solar fuels less costly than nuclear

Researchers  from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have reported the first solar cell that produces a photocurrent that has an external quantum efficiency greater than 100 percent when photoexcited with photons from the high energy region of the solar spectrum. The external quantum efficiency reached a peak value of 114 percent.


The newly reported work marks a promising step toward developing Next Generation Solar Cells for both solar  and solar fuels that will be competitive with, or perhaps less costly than, energy from fossil or nuclear fuels

A paper on the breakthrough appears in the Dec. 16 issue of Science Magazine. 

Immortal DNA chip

Scientists in Duke University have managed to create a reusable DNA chip from which DNA building blocks may be photocopied and used to create unique nanoscale structures.  Ishtiaq Saaem, a biomedical engineering researcher at Duke, commented: “We found we had an “immortal” DNA chip on our hands. Essentially, we were able to do the biological copying process to release material off the chip tens of times". "The process seems to work even using a chip that we made, used, stored in -20C for a while, and brought out and used again". “I would not be surprised if this methodology is used to fabricate the next generation of microprocessors that can push Moore’s law even further.

Duke University researchers have used an inkjet printer head to place droplets of chemicals on the plastic chip, slowly building a DNA strand of various length and composition. The researchers were surprised, subsequently discovered the chip could be reused.

Why nanotechnology could trigger economic growth in USA

Dr. Rickert, an american pioneer in the field of nanotechnology, believes that the nanotechnology industry could trigger the renew of  US american economic power. After the Nanomanufacturing Summit and Annual NanoBusiness Conference (25/27 sept. 2011) in Boston where  250 nanotechnology leaders from science, business and government gathered to take stock and look ahead, he went to the following conclusions:

 Three crucial transformations are coming together to reshape business and the economy.
  • Nanotechnology commercialization is a fact.
  • Nanotechnology will lead the U.S. out of the economic slump and into global strength.
  • Private and public sectors are working together to make sure that happens.
 click on the image to see a nanofactory animation

Dr Rickert explains that regarding commercialization,  "Nano-companies are defying Wall Street woes and going public. And even academics were talking about business plans, not prototypes.The virtually infinite platform of nanotechnology is now powering scores and scores of vertical markets through partnerships, customer relationships and licensing. It's now widely accepted as the strong, innovative link in existing—and profitable—supply chains. In fact, for many large companies, nanotechnology is now simply business as usual".

For the near future, he sees that "Nanotechnology is becoming, quite simply, the new normal in manufacturing. That capability is the driver that is taking the U.S. out of the economic doldrums and into global strength. The country accounts for about 35% of the global nanotechnology markets. That's 35% of a $1.6 trillion market by 2013".
Source: Interview given at 2011 Nanobusiness Conference in Boston.