Articles from October 2014

DNA-based NanoComputer

DNA-based programmable circuits can be more sophisticated, cheaper and simpler to make. In a new research paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, an international group of scientists announced the most significant breakthrough in a decade toward developing DNA-based electrical circuits. The central technological revolution of the 20th century was the development of computers, leading to the communication and Internet era. The main measure of this evolution is miniaturization: making our machines smaller. A computer with the memory of the average laptop today was the size of a tennis court in the 1970s. Yet while scientists made great strides in reducing of the size of individual computer components through microelectronics, they have been less successful at reducing the distance between transistors, the main element of our computers. These spaces between transistors have been much more challenging and extremely expensive to miniaturize – an obstacle that limits the future development of computers.

molecular electronics2Molecular electronics, which uses molecules as building blocks for the fabrication of electronic components, was seen as the ultimate solution to the miniaturization challenge. Nevertheless, so far no one has been able to demonstrate reliably and quantitatively the flow of electrical current through long DNA molecules.
Now, an international group led by Prof. Danny Porath, the Etta and Paul Schankerman Professor in Molecular Biomedicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reports reproducible and quantitative measurements of electricity flow through long molecules made of four DNA strands, signaling a significant breakthrough towards the development of DNA-based electrical circuits.



Solar Power: Ninety Percent Of Captured Light Converted Into Heat

A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. Their work, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, was published recently in two separate articles in the journal Nano Energy. By contrast, current solar absorber material functions at lower temperatures and needs to be overhauled almost every year for high temperature operations.


We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Jin, along with professor Zhaowei Liu of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering professor Renkun Chen, developed the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material. They are all experts in functional materials engineering.


Google NanoPills To Find Cancer

Detecting cancer could be as easy as popping a pill in the near future. Google’s head of life sciences, Andrew Conrad, took to the stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference to reveal that the tech giant’s secretive Google[x] lab has been working on a wearable device that couples with nanotechnology to detect disease within the body.


We’re passionate about switching from reactive to proactive and we’re trying to provide the tools that make that feasible,” explained Conrad. This is a third project in a series of health initiatives for Google[x]. The team has already developed a smart contact lens that detects glucose levels for diabetics and utensils that help manage hand tremors in Parkinson’s patients.

The plan is to test whether tiny particles coated “magnetized” with antibodies can catch disease in its nascent stages. The tiny particles are essentially programmed to spread throughout the body via pill and then latch on to the abnormal cells. The wearable device then “calls” the nanoparticles back to ask them what’s going on with the body and to find out if the person who swallowed the pill has cancer or other diseases. Think of it as sort of like a mini self-driving car,” Conrad simplified with a clear reference to Google[x]‘s vehicular project. “We can make it park where we want it to.” Conrad went on with the car theme, saying the body is more important than a car and comparing our present healthcare system as something that basically only tries to change our oil after we’ve broken down. “We wouldn’t do that with a car,” he added.


Solar Plant produces twice more Than Nuclear Power Plant

A solar energy project in the Tunisian Sahara aims to generate enough clean energy by 2018 to power two million European homes. Called the TuNur project; developers, including renewable investment company Low Carbon and solar developer Nur Energie, say the site will produce twice as much energy as the average nuclear power plant. But instead of using typical photovoltaic cells that only generate power during the day; they’re using Concentrated Solar Power. Using a vast array of mirrors to concentrate and  reflect the intense Saharan sun to a central tower, water or molten salt is heated to over 500 degrees Celsius. The steamced powers a turbine which in turn generates electricity. This, says Nur Energie‘s CEO Kevin Sara, means the plant will produce electricity even when the sun is down.


solar power plant

 “The technology that you can deploy in the desert is baseload renewable power; that means you can actually replace fossil fuel power plants because we can generate 24-7 using solar power,” says Kevin Sara, CEO of Nur Energie. Transmission lines will take the electricity to the Tunisian coast where a dedicated undersea cable will connect it to the European grid via a hub in northern Italy. Over ten millions euros has already gone into identifying the best location in the Tunisian Sahara to harness the intense solar radiation. “It’s quite large; it’s 10,000 hectares – a hundred square kilometres. But there’s nothing there, it’s just sand and a few bushes.

With energy security a big concern, Sara says the project has the potential to help end Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels using ‘desert power‘. “We believe that this is really opening a new energy corridor. This could be the first of many projects, and we could gradually de-carbonise the European grid using desert power, using this solar energy with storage from the Sahara desert and linked to Europe with high-voltage DC cables which are very, very low in their losses.” Sara added.
Tunisia is seeking to bolster its stability following the 2011 uprising, with lack of jobs and growth contributing to the unrest. The team behind the TuNur project hope the Saharan sunshine will be a shining light not only for renewable energy, but for the future of Tunisia.


How Bipolar Disorders Affect The Brain

A nano-sized discovery by Northwestern Medicine® scientists helps explain how bipolar disorder affects the brain and could one day lead to new drug therapies to treat the mental illness.

Scientists used a new super-resolution imaging method — the same method recognized with the 2014 Nobel Prize in chemistry — to peer deep into brain tissue from mice with bipolar-like behaviors. In the synapses (where communication between brain cells occurs), they discovered tiny “nanodomain” structures with concentrated levels of ANK3 — the gene most strongly associated with bipolar disorder risk. ANK3 is coding for the protein ankyrin-G.


We knew that ankyrin-G played an important role in bipolar disease, but we didn’t know how,” said Northwestern Medicine scientist Peter Penzes, corresponding author of the paper. “Through this imaging method we found the gene formed in nanodomain structures in the synapses, and we determined that these structures control or regulate the behavior of synapses.”

High-profile cases, including actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and politician Jesse Jackson, Jr., have brought attention to bipolar disorder. The illness causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. About 3 percent of Americans experience bipolar disorder symptoms, and there is no cure. Recent large-scale human genetic studies have shown that genes can contribute to disease risk along with stress and other environmental factors. However, how these risk genes affect the brain is not known.

Penzes is a professor in physiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The results were published Oct. 22 in the journal Neuron.



World’s First Band To Play With 3D Instruments

Students from Lund University‘s Malmo Academy of Music – Sweden – are believed to be the world’s first band to all use 3D printed instruments. The guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and drums were built by Olaf Diegel, professor of product development, who says 3D printing allows musicians to design an instrument to their exact specifications.
3D guitar
The band love their new instruments. Lead guitarist Mikel Morueta Holme is particularly enamoured with his Steam Punk inspired design

Every instrument I make is unique; it’s made specially for the musician. And that’s something you can’t do with traditional manufacturing…..if the musician says ‘I want something more neck-heavy like a Gibson SG‘, we can digitally shift the weight around to give them exactly the balance they want for example. Or if they want to scallop here to fit their arm better. And that’s the beauty of 3D printing, you can just change as you go along, hit print and eleven or twelve hours later you’ve got the next version ready to go,” says Olaf Diegel.

How To Triple The Production Of Biogas

Researchers of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have developed the new BiogàsPlus, a technology which allows increasing the production of biogas by 200% with a controlled introduction of iron oxide nanoparticles to the process of organic waste treatment.

The development of BiogàsPlus was carried out by the ICN2‘s Inorganic Nanoparticle group, led by ICREA researcher Víctor Puntes, and by the Group of Organic Solid Waste Composting of the UAB School of Engineering, directed by Antoni Sánchez. The system is based on the use of iron oxide nanoparticles as an additive which “feeds” the bacteria in charge of breaking down organic matter. This additive substantially increases the production of biogas and at the same time transforms the iron nanoparticles into innocuous salt.

iron Oxyd nanoparticle
We believe we are offering a totally innovative approach to the improvement of biogas production and organic waste treatment, since this is the first nanoparticle application developed with this in mind. In addition, it offers a significant improvement in the decomposition of organic waste when compared to existing technologies”, explains Antoni Sánchez.

According to researchers, today’s biogas production is not very efficient – only 30 to 40 per cent of organic matter is converted into biogas – when compared to other energy sources. “The first tests conducted with BiogàsPlus demonstrated that product increases up to 200% the production of this combustible gas. This translates into a profitable and sustainable solution to the processing of organic waste, thus favouring the use of this renewable source of energy”, affirms Eudald Casals, ICN2 researcher participating in the project.

Paralyzed Man Walks After Cells Transplant

A man who was paralysed from the chest down following a knife attack can now walk using a frame, following a pioneering cell transplantation treatment developed by scientists at UCL and applied by surgeons at Wroclaw University Hospital, Poland. The technique involved using specialist cells from the nose, called olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs), in the spinal cord. These allow the nerve cells that give us a sense of smell to grow back when they are damaged.
paralyzed man walksThe 38-year-old patient, Darek Fidyka, was paralysed after suffering stab wounds to the back in 2010, leaving an 8mm gap in his spinal cord. He described the ability to walk again using a frame as “an incredible feeling”, and added: “when you can’t feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it’s as if you were born again.”
Professor Geoff Raisman fron UCL says: It is immensely gratifying to see that years of research have now led to the development of a safe technique for transplanting cells into the spinal cord. I believe we stand on the threshold of a historic advance and that the continuation of our work will be of major benefit to mankind“.

The research is published in the journal Cell Transplantation. The UK research team was led by Professor Geoff Raisman, Chair of Neural Regeneration at the UCL Institute of Neurology.

Ebola: Drop Of Blood Tested in Fifteen Minutes

The Comissariat à l’Energie Atomique (CEA), France, has developed a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola. The immediate production phase starts with the assistance of the company VEDALAB, European leader in rapid diagnosis. This test has just received the technical validation of the high security Microbiological Laboratory P4 Jean Mérieux (Inserm), the french entity that has in charge studies of the Ebola strain outbreak in West Africa.

test ebolaCEA has developed a rapid test for the diagnosis of Ebola particularly suited to the current health emergency. Called Ebola eZYSCREEN with a similar size than pregnancy tests, the device will be used in the field, without special equipment, from a drop of blood, plasma or urine. He is able to give an answer in less than 15 minutes for any patient with symptoms of the disease.

Current tests based on genetic testing of the virus, are very sensitive, but require dedicated devices, taking 2:15 to 2:30 and should be performed only in the laboratory. The rapid test has the advantage of an initial diagnosis of patients closer to the affected populations. It aims to facilitate the supply chain and decision necessary to guide people on the ground. It would particularly reduce the number of analyzes to be performed in a dedicated laboratory.

3D Printing: How To Control the Structure of Metal

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have demonstrated an additive manufacturing method to control the structure and properties of metal components with precision unmatched by conventional manufacturing processes. Ryan Dehoff, staff scientist and metal additive manufacturing lead at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, presented the research this week in an invited presentation at the Materials Science & Technology 2014 conference in Pittsburgh.

3D prining metalORNL researchers have demonstrated the ability to precisely control the structure and properties of 3-D printed metal parts during formation. The electron backscatter diffraction image shows variations in crystallographic orientation in a nickel-based component, achieved by controlling the 3-D printing process at the microscale

We can now control local material properties, which will change the future of how we engineer metallic components,” Dehoff said. “This new manufacturing method takes us from reactive design to proactive design. It will help us make parts that are stronger, lighter and function better for more energy-efficient transportation and energy production applications such as cars and wind turbines.”
We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location specific crystal structure orientations in a part.”


The Nanoparticle Perfect Size To Kill Cancer

Nanomedicines consisting of nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery to specific tissues and cells offer new solutions for cancer diagnosis and therapy. Understanding the interdependency of physiochemical properties of nanomedicines, in correlation to their biological responses and functions, is crucial for their further development of as cancer-fighters. Now A research team from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois has determine the optimal particle size for anticancer nanomedicines.

tumorThe nanomedicine (red) with the optimal size shows the highest tumor tissue (blue) retention integrated over time, which is the collective outcome of deep tumor tissue penetration, efficient cancer cell internalization as well as slow tumor clearance
To develop next generation nanomedicines with superior anti-cancer attributes, we must understand the correlation between their physicochemical properties—specifically, particle size—and their interactions with biological systems,” explains Jianjun Cheng, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In a recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cheng and his collaborators systematically evaluated the size-dependent biological profiles of three monodisperse drug-silica nanoconjugates at 20, 50 and 200 nm.


Nano Light Consumes Hundred Times Less Than A LED

Scientists from Tohoku University in Japan have developed a new type of energy-efficient flat light source based on carbon nanotubes with very low power consumption of around 0.1 Watt for every hour‘s operation — about a hundred times lower than that of an LED. Electronics based on carbon, especially carbon nanotubes (CNTs), are emerging as successors to silicon for making semiconductor materials, And they may enable a new generation of brighter, low-power, low-cost lighting devices that could challenge the dominance of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the future and help meet society’s ever-escalating demand for greener bulbs.
nanolightPlane-lighting homogeneity image of a planar light source device through a neutral density filter
Our simple ‘diode’ panel could obtain high brightness efficiency of 60 Lumen per Watt, which holds excellent potential for a lighting device with low power consumption,” said Norihiro Shimoi, the lead researcher and an associate professor of environmental studies at the Tohoku University. “We have found that a cathode with highly crystalline single-walled carbon nanotubes and an anode with the improved phosphor screen in our diode structure obtained no flicker field emission current and good brightness homogeneity,” Shimoi said.