Articles from May 2012

Gene therapy to rejuvenate

Several studies have demonstrated that the average life of organisms, including that of mammals, can be lengthened by acting on different genes. Until now this has included permanent modifications in animal genes starting in the embryonic phase, something which is not intended to be carried out with humans. Researchers at CNIO and CBATEG now have proved it possible to prolong the life of mice using a treatment which acts directly on the genes, but is used in adult animals and is applied only once. This is achieved through gene therapy, a strategy never before used to fight the aging process.

The therapy demonstrated to be safe and effective in mice. Researchers worked with adult mice aged one year and older mice aged two. In both cases the gene therapy had a "rejuvenating" effect. The mice which were treated at one year of age on average lived 24% longer.

This research is led at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) by director Maria A. Blasco, in collaboration with Eduard Ayuso and Fátima Bosch, of the Centre for Animal Biotechnology and Gene Therapy (CBATEG) at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona UAB, Spain.


Temperature method to distinguish cancerous cells

A Spanish and French research team have described a new technique for measuring the temperature inside a single cell without altering the cell’s metabolism. 

The new technique uses transfected green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a temperature nanoprobe and measures the polarization anisotropy of the GFP fluorescence. This rapid and non-invasive thermal nanoscopy differs from previous intents in that it does not alter cellular processes with the introduction of synthetic nano-objects. Furthermore, it is fully compatible with widespread GFP cellular biology.This advance complements the optical toolbox for biologists and could help to provide new understanding of cellular processes, such as those involved in Cancer.

The research is published in NanoLetters, by Jon Donner, Sebastian Thompson and Mark Kreuzer in the group led by ICREA Professor at ICFO, Romain Quidant, in collaboration with Guillaume Baffou, ex-ICFOnian now at Institut Fresnel in Marseille, France, 


Terrorism Against Science

A loose coalition of eco-anarchist groups is increasingly launching violent attacks on scientists. A group calling itself the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front has claimed responsibility for the non-fatal shooting of a nuclear-engineering executive on 7 May in Genoa, Italy. The same group attempted to bomb IBM’s nanotechnology laboratory in Switzerland in 2010; and has ties with a group responsible for at least four bomb attacks on nanotechnology facilities in Mexico

Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self-destruction and total slavery,” explains the Olga Cell  in a letter and continues: “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world.” The group also threatened to carry out further attacks. In August 2011, a group called Individuals Tending Towards Savagery sent a parcel bomb that wounded two nanotechnology researchers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology. One received burns to his legs and a perforated eardrum and the other had his lung pierced by shrapnel (G. Herrera Corral Nature 476,373; 2011). The package contained enough explosive to collapse part of the building, according to police, but failed to detonate properly.Earlier that year, the same group sent two bombs to the nanotechnology facility at the Polytechnic University of the Valley of Mexico


Super-fast RAM Memory

Researchers at University College London – Great Britain, have developed  the first purely silicon oxide-based ‘Resistive RAM’ memory chip that can operate in ambient conditions – opening up the possibility of new super-fast memoryResistive RAM (or ‘ReRAM’) memory chips are based on materials, most often oxides of metals, whose electrical resistance changes when a voltage is applied – and they “remember” this change even when the power is turned off. ReRAM chips promise significantly greater memory storage than current technology, such as the Flash memory used on USB sticks, and require much less energy and space.

Dr Tony Kenyon, UCL Electronic and Electrical Engineering, said: “Our ReRAM memory chips need just a thousandth of the energy and are around a hundred times faster than standard Flash memory chips. The fact that the device can operate in ambient conditions and has a continuously variable resistance opens up a huge range of potential applications."


Record for graphene solar cell efficiency

Graphene solar cells are one of industry's great hopes for cheaper, durable solar power cells in the future. But previous attempts to use graphene, a single-atom-thick honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms, in solar cells have only managed power conversion efficiencies ranging up to 2.9 percent. A team from the University of Florida (UF) was able to achieve a record breaking 8.6 percent efficiency with their device by chemically treating, or doping, the graphene with trifluoromethanesulfonyl-amide, or TFSA. Their results are published in the current online edition of Nano Letters.

"The dopant makes the graphene film more conductive and increases the electric field potential inside the cell," said Xiaochang Miao, a graduate student in the physics department. That makes it more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. And unlike other dopants that have been tried in the past, TFSA is stable — its effects are long lasting.


Environmentally Friendly Solar Cells

Northwestern University researchers have developed a new solar cell that, in principle, will minimize all of solar energy technology limitations, as high production cost, low operating efficiency, durability and toxicity.

At Northwestern, where interdisciplinary collaboration is a cornerstone, nanotechnology expert Robert P. H. Chang challenged chemist Mercouri Kanatzidis with the problem of the Grätzel cellGrätzel cells use a molecular dye to absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity, much like chlorophyll in plants. But the cells typically don't last more than 18 months, making them commercially unviableKanatzidis' solution was a new material for the electrolyte that actually starts as a liquid but ends up a solid mass. Thus, the new all solid-state solar cell is inherently stable.

"The Grätzel cell is like having the concept for the light bulb but not having the tungsten wire or carbon material," said Kanatzidis, of the need to replace the troublesome liquid. "We created a robust novel material that makes the Grätzel cell concept work better. Our material is solid, not liquid, so it should not leak or corrode."


Microscopic Machines

Mass production of nanoscale components for the next generation of computers is now possible.  Researchers in Ireland have developed a new technology using materials called bulk metallic glasses to produce high-precision molds for making tiny plastic components. The components, with detailed microscopically patterned surfaces could be used in the next generation of computer memory devices and microscale testing kits and chemical reactors.

"Our technology is a new process for mass producing high-value polymer components, on the micrometer and nanometer-scale," explains Gilchrist. "This is a process by which high-volume quantities of plastic components can be mass produced with one hundred times more precision, for costs that are at least ten times cheaper than currently possible."

In their article published in the latest edition of Materials Today, Michael Gilchrist, David Browne and colleagues at University College Dublin explain how bulk metallic glasses (BMGs) were discovered about thirty years ago. These materials are a type of metal alloy, but instead of having a regular, crystalline structure like an everyday metal such as iron or an alloy like bronze, the material's atoms are arranged haphazardly. This disordered, or amorphous atomic structure is similar to the amorphous structure of the silicon and oxygen atoms in the glass we use for windows and drinking vessels.


Cancer: Nanoparticules Do Better Than Chemotherapy

Alliance researchers, Robert Langer, Sc.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Omid Farokhzad, M.D., (Harvard Medical School), with a team of researchers from BIND Biosciences demonstrated the ability of a nanomedicine to target a receptor found on cancer cells and accumulate at tumor sites. The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, indicates the treatment is safe in mice and is capable of shrinking patient tumors.

The nanoparticles feature a homing molecule that allows them to specifically attack cancer cells, and are the first such targeted particles to enter human clinical studies. Originally developed by researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the particles are designed to carry the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, used to treat lung, prostate and breast cancers, among others The particles were also shown to be safe and effective: Many of the patients’ tumors shrank as a result of the treatment, even when they received lower doses than those usually administered. 


6 Tbits USB Key

The development of a new combination of polymers associating sugars with oil-based  macromolecules makes it possible to design ultra-thin films capable of self-organization with a 5-nanometer resolution. This opens up new horizons for increasing the capacity of hard discs and the speed of microprocessors. The result of a French-American collaboration spearheaded by the Centre de Recherches sur les Macromolécules Végétales (CNRS- Paris, France),  this work has led to the filing of two patents. This new class of thin films based on hybrid copolymers could give rise to numerous applications in flexible eclectronics, in areas as diverse as nanolithography, biosensors and photovoltaic cells.

This new generation of material is made from an abundant, renewable and biodegradable resource: sugar. Scientists envisage numerous applications in flexible electronics:  miniaturization of circuit lithography, six-fold increase in information storage capacity (flash memories – USB keys – no longer limited to 1 Tbit of data but 6 Tbit), enhanced performance of photovoltaic cells, biosensors,


Water makes hydrogen diffuse 10.000 trillions times faster

Hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis reactions have huge applications in many key industrial sectors, including the petrochemical, pharmaceutical, food and agricultural industries. "In the petrochemical industry, for example, upgrading of oil to gasoline, and in making various biomass-derived products, you need to hydrogenate molecules — to add hydrogen — and all this happens through catalytic transformations," says Professor Manos  Mavrikakis. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Through an interaction with hydrogen atoms (green), a water molecule (magenta and blue) moves rapidly across a metal oxide surface. This atomic-scale speed leads to more efficient chemical reactions. 

In a recent research, Mavrikakis and Professor Besenbacher from the University of Aarhus, Denmark drew on their respective theoretical and experimental expertise to study metal oxides, a class of materials often used as catalysts or catalyst supports. They found that the presence of even the most minute amounts of water — on the order of those in an outer-space vacuum — can accelerate the diffusion of hydrogen atoms on iron oxide by 16 orders of magnitude at room temperature. In other words, water makes hydrogen diffuse 10,000 trillion times faster on metal oxides than it would have diffused in the absence of water. Without water, heat is needed to speed up that motion.

Led by Manos Mavrikakis, the Paul A. Elfers professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Flemming Besenbacher, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, the team published its findings in the May 18 issue of the journal Science

Everlasting Electric Car Batteries

 A team led by materials scientist Yi Cui of Stanford and SLAC has found a solution: a cleverly designed double-walled  that lasts more than 6,000 cycles, far more than needed by  or mobile electronicsLithium-ion batteries are widely used to power devices from electric vehicles to portable electronics because they can store a relatively large amount of energy in a relatively lightweight package. 

The  works by controlling the flow of  ions through a fluid electrolyte between its two terminals, called the  and cathode. “This is a very exciting development toward our goal of creating smaller, lighter and longer-lasting batteries than are available today,” Cui said. 


Ultrapowerful Solar Cells

Ultrapowerful microscopes, computers and solar cells could result from the research on "hyperbolic metamaterials". Scientists from Purdue University have shown how to create the metamaterials without the traditional silver or gold previously required,Using the metals is impractical for industry because of high cost and incompatibility with semiconductor manufacturing processes. The metals also do not transmit light efficiently, causing much of it to be lost. The Purdue researchers replaced the metals with an "aluminum-doped zinc oxide," or AZO.

"This means we can have a completely new material platform for creating optical metamaterials, which offers important advantages," said Alexandra Boltasseva, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering."Alternative plasmonic materials such as AZO overcome the bottleneck created by conventional metals in the design of optical metamaterials and enable more efficient devices," Boltasseva adds : "We anticipate that the development of these new plasmonic materials and nanostructured material composites will lead to tremendous progress in the technology of optical metamaterials, enabling the full-scale development of this technology and uncovering many new physical phenomena."