Nanotechnology Spacecraft

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is proposing a nanotechnology spacecraft that can travel at a fifth of the speed of light. At that speed, it could reach the nearest star in 20 years and send back images of a suspected “Second Earth” within 5 years. That means if we launched it today, we would have our first look at an Earth-like planet within 25 years.

Hawking proposed a nano-spacecraft, termed “Star Chip,” at the Starmus Festival IV: Life And The Universe, Trondheim, Norway, June 18 – 23, 2017. Hawking told attendees that every time intelligent life evolves it annihilates itself with “war, disease and weapons of mass destruction.” He asserted this as the primary reason why advanced civilizations from another part of the Universe are not contacting Earth and the primary reason we need to leave the Earth. His advocates we colonize a “Second Earth.”

Scientific evidence appears to support Hawking’s claim. The SETI Institute has been listening for evidence of extraterrestrial radio signals, a sign of advanced extraterrestrial life, since 1984. To date, their efforts have been futile. SETI claims, rightly, that the universe is vast, and they are listening to only small sectors, which is much like finding a needle in a haystack.


Solar Energy Transforms Salt Water Into Fresh Drinking Water

A federally funded research effort to revolutionize water treatment has yielded an off-grid technology that uses energy from sunlight alone to turn salt water into fresh drinking water. The desalination system, which uses a combination of membrane distillation technology and light-harvesting nanophotonics, is the first major innovation from the Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), a multi-institutional engineering research center based at Rice University.

NEWT’s “nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation” technology, or NESMD, combines tried-and-true water treatment methods with cutting-edge nanotechnology that converts sunlight to heat. More than 18,000 desalination plants operate in 150 countries, but NEWT’s desalination technology is unlike any other used today.

Direct solar desalination could be a game changer for some of the estimated 1 billion people who lack access to clean drinking water,” said Rice scientist and water treatment expert Qilin Li, a corresponding author on the study. “This off-grid technology is capable of providing sufficient clean water for family use in a compact footprint, and it can be scaled up to provide water for larger communities.”

The technology is described online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


A Single Drop Of Blood To Test Agressive Prostate Cancer

A new diagnostic developed by Alberta scientists will allow men to bypass painful biopsies to test for aggressive prostate cancer. The test incorporates a unique nanotechnology platform to make the diagnostic using only a single drop of blood, and is significantly more accurate than current screening methods.

The Extracellular Vesicle Fingerprint Predictive Score (EV-FPS) test uses machine learning to combine information from millions of cancer cell nanoparticles in the blood to recognize the unique fingerprint of aggressive cancer. The diagnostic, developed by members of the Alberta Prostate Cancer Research Initiative (APCaRI), was evaluated in a group of 377 Albertan men who were referred to their urologist with suspected prostate cancer. It was found that EV-FPS correctly identified men with aggressive prostate cancer 40 percent more accurately than the most common test—Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test—in wide use today.

Higher sensitivity means that our test will miss fewer aggressive cancers,” said John Lewis, the Alberta Cancer Foundation‘s Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair of Prostate Cancer Research at the University of Alberta. “For this kind of test you want the sensitivity to be as high as possible because you don’t want to miss a single cancer that should be treated.”

According to the team, current tests such as the PSA and digital rectal exam (DRE) often lead to unneeded biopsies. Lewis says more than 50 per cent of men who undergo biopsy do not have prostate cancer, yet suffer the pain and side effects of the procedure such as infection or sepsis. Less than 20 per cent of men who receive a are diagnosed with the aggressive form of prostate cancer that could most benefit from treatment.

It’s estimated that successful implementation of the EV-FPS test could eventually eliminate up to 600-thousand unnecessary biopsies, 24-thousand hospitalizations and up to 50 per cent of unnecessary treatments for prostate each year in North America alone. Beyond cost savings to the health care system, the researchers say the diagnostic test will have a dramatic impact on the health care experience and quality of life for men and their families.

Compared to elevated total PSA alone, the EV-FPS test can more accurately predict the result of prostate biopsy in previously unscreened men,” said Adrian Fairey, urologist at the Northern Alberta Urology Centre and member of APCaRI. “This information can be used by clinicians to determine which men should be advised to undergo immediate prostate biopsy and which men should be advised to defer and continue screening.”


Powerful Anti-Aging Cream Using Nanotechnology

Wrinkle-smoothing hyaluronic acid can now be introduced into the skin without injections, thanks to an Israeli research team that spent years developing a nanotechnology for this purpose. Facial wrinkles, lines and sagging result from the body’s gradual loss of its ability to produce hyaluronic acid. In the past, treatments of hyaluronic acid couldn’t get into the skin’s deepest layers except by injection or in a powder form that must be mixed with water and therefore loses its potency.

That problem was solved by a research team headed by Prof. Rachel Lubart and Prof. Aharon Gedanken from the departments of chemistry and physics and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA). The Israeli scientists achieved this breakthrough by micronizingbreaking down its particles to the size of a micronhyaluronic acid. Based on this development, Israeli cosmetic pharmaceuticals pioneer Hava Zingboim has created Prophecy, the first-ever cream formula that allows hyaluronic acid to penetrate into the deeper skin layers.

Once they reach nano size, the hyaluronic acid molecules are transferred into the formula, which enables them to remain nano-sized throughout the process. The effect of the micronized hyaluronic acid applied to the skin is identical to the effect achieved when injecting hyaluronic acid into the skin, with the benefits of enhanced skin texture and a younger look.
According to a university statement, this is the only technology in the world capable of creating small molecules that remain small even when applied to the skin.


Startup Promises Immortality Through AI, Nanotechnology, and Cloning

One of the things humans have plotted for centuries is escaping death, with little to show for it, until now. One startup called Humai has a plan to make immortality a reality. The CEO, Josh Bocanegra says when the time comes and all the necessary advancements are in place, we’ll be able to freeze your brain, create a new, artificial body, repair any damage to your brain, and transfer it into your new body. This process could then be repeated in perpetuityHUMAI stands for: Human Resurrection through Artificial Intelligence. The technology to accomplish this isn’t here now, but on the horizon. Bocanegra says they’ll reach this Promethean feat within 30 years. 2045 is currently their target date. So how do they plan to do it?

We’re using artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes and information about how your body functions from the inside-out. This data will be coded into multiple sensor technologies, which will be built into an artificial body with the brain of a deceased human, explains the website.


Harvest: How To Increase The Production By Up To 40%

Nanolabs, a company specialised in nanotechnology, has been able to increase the production of melons by up to 40% on a farm in Almeria (Spain), thanks to the installation of ASAR systems in the irrigation system of the farm.
In 2015, 30,000 kilos were harvested, while in the same period of 2016, this figure increased to 50,000 kilos; a 40% growth.
To achieve this, Nanolabs applies nanotechnology through its ASAR solution, which acts physically on water, emitting a quantum of energy that stimulates hydrogen bonds. As a result, these become more active, which translates into a better transport of nutrients to the crops and a significant improvement in the use of the nutrients present in the substrate. The increase in production has not been the only benefit of the project; it has also made it possible to improve the quality of the fruit and has reduced both the consumption of water for irrigation and the use of fertilisers and phytosanitary products by 20%.
For Javier Llanes, CEO of Nanolabs, “the dramatic increase in the melon production is just one example of the great benefits that nanotechnology can bring to the agricultural sector. At Nanolabs, we apply technology to promote sustainability and we work on innovative projects with impressive results in both production improvement and savings in water consumption.”


Nanostructured High-Strength LightWeight Concrete

Scientists from the Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) in Russia, have created several types of building blocks based on nanostructured high-strength lightweight concrete, reinforced with skew-angular composite coarse grids. The development has unique characteristics, enabling the increase of load-carrying capability by more than 200% and decrease in specific density of the construction by 80%. In addition, among the advantages, are resistance to corrosion, aggressive environments and excessive frost resistance.

Researchers calculated that the service life of the building structures, made with the use of this reinforcement system, will increase at least 2-3 times in comparison with its modern analogs.

Such system allows to ensure the structure integrity even in conditions of seismic activity, since the load is distributed throughout the structure as a whole, and not by individual reinforcement bars. The invention can be used in the construction of bridges and pedestrian crossings, non-metallic ships, low-rise residential buildings” says Alexander Rassokhin, graduate student at SPbPU. Andrey Ponomarev, Professor of the Institute of Civil Engineering is the co-inventor of the new  construction technology.

The fundamentals of the research have been described in an article “Hybrid wood-polymer composites in civil engineering” at the Magazine of Civil Engineering.


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 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.


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.

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.


Nano-Implant Could Restore Sight

A team of engineers at the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego)  and La Jolla-based startup Nanovision Biosciences Inc. have developed the nanotechnology and wireless electronics for a new type of retinal prosthesis that brings research a step closer to restoring the ability of neurons in the retina to respond to light. The researchers demonstrated this response to light in a rat retina interfacing with a prototype of the device in vitro. The technology could help tens of millions of people worldwide suffering from neurodegenerative diseases that affect eyesight, including macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and loss of vision due to diabetes.

Despite tremendous advances in the development of retinal prostheses over the past two decades, the performance of devices currently on the market to help the blind regain functional vision is still severely limited—well under the acuity threshold of 20/200 that defines legal blindness.

cortical neuronsPrimary cortical neurons cultured on the surface of an array of optoelectronic nanowires. Note the extensive neurite outgrowth and network formation

We want to create a new class of devices with drastically improved capabilities to help people with impaired vision,” said Gabriel A. Silva, one of the senior authors of the work and professor in bioengineering and ophthalmology at UC San Diego. Silva also is one of the original founders of Nanovision.

Power is delivered wirelessly, from outside the body to the implant, through an inductive powering telemetry system developed by a team led by Cauwenberghs.

The device is highly energy efficient because it minimizes energy losses in wireless power and data transmission and in the stimulation process, recycling electrostatic energy circulating within the inductive resonant tank, and between capacitance on the electrodes and the resonant tank. Up to 90 percent of the energy transmitted is actually delivered and used for stimulation, which means less RF wireless power emitting radiation in the transmission, and less heating of the surrounding tissue from dissipated power. For proof-of-concept, the researchers inserted the wirelessly powered nanowire array beneath a transgenic rat retina with rhodopsin P23H knock-in retinal degeneration.

The findings are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Neural Engineering.



Efficient, Fast, Large-scale 3-D Manufacturing

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have developed a unique, 3-D manufacturing method that for the first time rapidly creates and precisely controls a material’s architecture from the nanoscale to centimeters – with results that closely mimic the intricate architecture of natural materials like wood and bone.

3D manufacturing Hex-Scaffold-web-

This is a groundbreaking advance in the 3-D architecturing of materials at nano- to macroscales with applications in batteries, lightweight ultrastrong materials, catalytic converters, supercapacitors and biological scaffolds,” said Rahul Panat, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, who led the research. “This technique can fill a lot of critical gaps for the realization of these technologies.”

The WSU research team used a 3-D printing method to create foglike microdroplets that contain nanoparticles of silver and to deposit them at specific locations. As the liquid in the fog evaporated, the nanoparticles remained, creating delicate structures. The tiny structures, which look similar to Tinkertoy constructions, are porous, have an extremely large surface area and are very strong.

The researchers would like to use such nanoscale and porous metal structures for a number of industrial applications; for instance, the team is developing finely detailed, porous anodes and cathodes for batteries rather than the solid structures that are now used. This advance could transform the industry by significantly increasing battery speed and capacity and allowing the use of new and higher energy materials.

They report on their work in the journal  Science Advances  and have filed for a patent.