Nobel Prize Nanotechnologist Launches His Own Anti-Aging Cosmetic Line

In 2016, J. Fraser Stoddart won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his part in designing a molecular machine. Now as chief technology officer and cofounder of nanotechnology firm PanaceaNano, he has introduced the “Noble” line of antiaging cosmetics, including a $524 formula described as an “anti-wrinkle repair” night cream. The firm says the cream contains Nobel Prize-winning “organic nano-cubes” loaded with ingredients that reverse skin damage and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Other prize-winning chemists have founded companies, but Stoddart’s backing of the antiaging cosmetic line takes the promotion of a new company by an award-winning scientist to the next level.

The nano-cubes are made of carbohydrate molecules known as cyclodextrins. The cubes, of various sizes and shapes, release ingredients such as vitamins and peptides onto the skin “at predefined times with molecular precision,” according to the Noble skin care website. PanaceaNano cofounder Youssry Botros, former nanotechnology research director at Intel, contends that the metering technology makes the product line “far superior to comparable products in the market today.” However, the nanocubes aren’t molecular machines, for which Stoddart won his Nobel prize.

While acknowledging the product line trades on his Nobel prize, Stoddart points out that “we’re not spelling our product name, Noble, the way the Swedish Nobel Foundation does.Ethicist Michael Kalichman has a different perspective. Use of the word Noble, even though spelled differently than the prize, is “unseemly but not illegal,” he says. Kalichman, who is director of the Research Ethics Program at the University of California, San Diego, adds, “If his goal is to make money, this may work. But if his goal is to retain credibility and pursue other more laudable goals, maybe he should stay focused on those goals.”

Botros says PanaceaNano is also developing nanotechnology materials for markets including hydrogen storage, flexible batteries, and molecular memory based on technology from Stoddart’s lab and licensed from Northwestern University. But PanaceaNano chose to make its first commercial product a line of cosmetics because of the high margins and the ease of market entry.


All Carbon Spin Transistor Is Quicker And Smaller

A researcher with the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas has designed a novel computing system made solely from carbon that might one day replace the silicon transistors that power today’s electronic devices.

The concept brings together an assortment of existing nanoscale technologies and combines them in a new way,” said Dr. Joseph S. Friedman, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UT Dallas who conducted much of the research while he was a doctoral student at Northwestern University.

The resulting all-carbon spin logic proposal, published by lead author Friedman and several collaborators in the June 5 edition of the online journal Nature Communications, is a computing system that Friedman believes could be made smaller than silicon transistors, with increased performance.

Today’s electronic devices are powered by transistors, which are tiny silicon structures that rely on negatively charged electrons moving through the silicon, forming an electric current. Transistors behave like switches, turning current on and off.

In addition to carrying a charge, electrons have another property called spin, which relates to their magnetic properties. In recent years, engineers have been investigating ways to exploit the spin characteristics of electrons to create a new class of transistors and devices called “spintronics.”

Friedman’s all-carbon, spintronic switch functions as a logic gate that relies on a basic tenet of electromagnetics: As an electric current moves through a wire, it creates a magnetic field that wraps around the wire. In addition, a magnetic field near a two-dimensional ribbon of carbon — called a graphene nanoribbon — affects the current flowing through the ribbon. In traditional, silicon-based computers, transistors cannot exploit this phenomenon. Instead, they are connected to one another by wires. The output from one transistor is connected by a wire to the input for the next transistor, and so on in a cascading fashion.


Pain Relief Spot Identified In Brain

Scientists have identified for the first time the region in the brain responsible for the “placebo effect” in pain relief, when a fake treatment actually results in substantial reduction of pain, according to new research from Northwestern Medicine and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).


The yellow and red sections of this brain image shows the unique brain region — the mid frontal gyrus — which Northwestern scientists discovered is responsible for placebo response in pain relief

Pinpointing the sweet spot of the pain killing placebo effect could result in the design of more personalized medicine for the 100 million Americans with chronic pain. The fMRI technology developed for the study has the potential to usher in an era of individualized pain therapy by enabling targeted pain medication based on how an individual’s brain responds to a drug.

Given the enormous societal toll of chronic pain, being able to predict placebo responders in a chronic pain population could both help the design of personalized medicine and enhance the success of clinical trials,” said Marwan Baliki, research scientist at RIC and an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The finding also will lead to more precise and accurate clinical trials for pain medications by eliminating individuals with high placebo response before trials.

The study was published Oct. 27, 2016, in PLOS Biology.


How To Stay Dry Underwater For Months

Imagine staying dry underwater for months. Now Northwestern University engineers have examined a wide variety of surfaces that can do just that — and, better yet, they know why. The research team is the first to identify the ideal “roughness” needed in the texture of a surface to keep it dry for a long period of time when submerged in water. The valleys in the surface roughness typically need to be less than one micron in width, the researchers found. That’s really small — less than one millionth of a meter — but these nanoscopic valleys have macroscopic impact. Understanding how the surfaces deflect water so well means the valuable feature could be reproduced in other materials on a mass scale, potentially saving billions of dollars in a variety of industries, from antifouling surfaces for shipping to pipe coatings resulting in lower drag. That’s science and engineering, not serendipity, at work for the benefit of the economy.

Dry underwater

The trick is to use rough surfaces of the right chemistry and size to promote vapor formation, which we can use to our advantage,” said Neelesh A. Patankar, a professor of mechanical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, who led the research. “When the valleys are less than one micron wide, pockets of water vapor or gas accumulate in them by underwater evaporation or effervescence, just like a drop of water evaporates without having to boil it. These gas pockets deflect water, keeping the surface dry,” he said.

In a study published today (Aug. 18) by the journal Scientific Reports, Patankar and his co-authors explain and demonstrate the nanoscale mechanics behind the phenomenon of staying dry underwater.


Solar Panels: Perovskites Better Than Silicon

In the solar power research community, a new class of materials called perovskites is causing quite a buzz, as scientists search for technology that has a better “energy payback time” than the silicon-based solar panels currently dominating the market. Now, a new study by scientists at Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory reports that perovskite modules are better than any commercially available solar technology when products are compared on the basis of energy payback time.

Solar panels are an investment — not only in terms of money, but also energy. It takes energy to mine, process and purify raw materials, and then to manufacture and install the final product. Energy payback time considers the energy that went into creating the product and is a more comprehensive way to compare solar technology than conversion efficiency. The research team reports the energy payback time for solar panel technology made with perovskites could be as quick as two to three months, easily beating silicon-based panels, which typically need about two years to return the energy investment.

perovskite solar panel

People see 11 percent efficiency and assume it’s a better product than something that’s 9 percent efficient,” said Fengqi You, corresponding author on the study and assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “But that’s not necessarily true. One needs to take a broad perspective when evaluating solar technology.”

In what’s called a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment, You and his colleagues traced a product from the mining of its raw materials until its retirement in a landfill. They determined the ecological impacts of making a solar panel and calculated how long it would take to recover the energy invested.

The findings have been published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science .


Printing 3-D Graphene For Tissue Engineering

Ever since single-layer graphene burst onto the science scene in 2004, the possibilities for the promising material have seemed nearly endless. With its high electrical conductivity, ability to store energy, and ultra-strong and lightweight structure, graphene has potential for many applications in electronics, energy, the environment, and even medicine.

Now a team of Northwestern University researchers has found a way to print three-dimensional structures with graphene nanoflakes. The fast and efficient method could open up new opportunities for using graphene printed scaffolds regenerative engineering and other electronic or medical applications.
Led by Ramille Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and of surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine, and her postdoctoral fellow Adam Jakus, the team developed a novel graphene-based ink that can be used to print large, robust 3-D structures.

People have tried to print graphene before,” Shah said. “But it’s been a mostly polymer composite with graphene making up less than 20 percent of the volume.

With a volume so meager, those inks are unable to maintain many of graphene’s celebrated properties. But adding higher volumes of graphene flakes to the mix in these ink systems typically results in printed structures too brittle and fragile to manipulate. Shah’s ink is the best of both worlds. At 60-70 percent graphene, it preserves the material’s unique properties, including its electrical conductivity. And it’s flexible and robust enough to print robust macroscopic structures. The ink’s secret lies in its formulation: the graphene flakes are mixed with a biocompatible elastomer and quickly evaporating solvents

It’s a liquid ink,” Shah explained. “After the ink is extruded, one of the solvents in the system evaporates right away, causing the structure to solidify nearly instantly. The presence of the other solvents and the interaction with the specific polymer binder chosen also has a significant contribution to its resulting flexibility and properties. Because it holds its shape, we are able to build larger, well-defined objects.
An expert in biomaterials, Shah said 3-D printed graphene scaffolds could play a role in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine as well as in electronic devices. Her team populated one of the scaffolds with stem cells to surprising results. Not only did the cells survive, they divided, proliferated, and morphed into neuron-like cells.


How To Heal Diabetic Skin Wounds

A new high-tech but simple ointment applied to the skin may one day help diabetic patients heal stubborn and painful ulcers on their feet, Northwestern University researchers report.

Scientist and dermatologist Amy S. Paller and chemist Chad A. Mirkin are the first to develop a topical gene regulation technology that speeds the healing of ulcers in diabetic animals. They combined spherical nucleic acids (SNAs, which are nanoscale globular forms of RNA) with a common commercial moisturizer to create a way to topically knock down a gene known to interfere with wound healing.

Type 2 diabetes and its enormous associated costs are on the rise in the United States. More than one-fifth of the 27 million type 2 diabetics in the country have chronic, non-healing skin wounds, and many undergo amputation. The Northwestern discovery offers a possible solution to this serious problem.
Finding a new way to effectively heal these resistant diabetic wounds is very exciting,” said Dr. Paller, director of Northwestern’s Skin Disease Research Center. “But, in addition, this study further proved that SNAs — in nothing but common moisturizer — can penetrate the skin barrier, a challenge that other therapies have been unable to conquer.


“Indolent” Or Deadly Prostate Cancer ?

A Northwestern University-led study in the emerging field of nanocytology could one day help men make better decisions about whether or not to undergo aggressive prostate cancer treatments.

Technology developed by Northwestern University researchers may help solve that quandary by allowing physicians to identify which nascent cancers are likely to escalate into potentially life-threatening malignancies and which ones will remainindolent,” or non-aggressive.

The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test was once the recommended screening tool for detecting prostate cancer, but there is now disagreement over the use of this test because it can’t predict which men with elevated PSA levels will actually develop an aggressive form of the disease.
prostate cancer
If we can predict a prognosis with our technology, then men will know if their cancer is dangerous and if they should seek treatment,” said Vadim Backman, senior author of the study. “Right now there is no perfect tool to predict a prognosis for prostate cancer. Our research is preliminary, but it is promising and proves that the concept works.”

Backman is a professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The study, which includes researchers from Northwestern, NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) and Boston Medical Center, was published online in PLOS ONE.

Ligament Rupture Healed By Nanotechnology

Connecting the femur to the tibia, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture is one of the most devastating injuries in sports. No other injury has sidelined more athletes for a season or even the rest of a career. And ACL sprains and tears affect more people than just the pros. According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than geries are performed annually in the United States, totaling up to more than 250,000 ACL surgeries are performed annually in the United States, totaling up to more than $500 million in health care costs each year.

Not only is the ACL inelastic and prone to popping, it is incapable of healing itself, causing surgeons to rely on autografts for reconstruction. Most common is the bone-patellar tendon-bone (BPTB) graft, in which the surgeon removes part of the patellar tendon to replace the damaged ACL.
BPTB autografts have a high incidence of knee pain and discomfort that does not go away,” said Guillermo Ameer, professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and professor of surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “By saving the patient’s patellar tendon and using an off-the-shelf product, one may have a better chance of preserving the natural biomechanics of the knee.


How To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Early

No methods currently exist for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects one out of nine people over the age of 65. Now, an interdisciplinary team of Northwestern University scientists and engineers has developed a noninvasive MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) approach that can detect the disease in a living animal. And it can do so at the earliest stages of the disease, well before typical Alzheimer’s symptoms appear.

Led by neuroscientist William L. Klein and materials scientist Vinayak P. Dravid, the research team developed an MRI probe that pairs a magnetic nanostructure (MNS) with an antibody that seeks out the amyloid beta brain toxins responsible for onset of the disease. The accumulated toxins, because of the associated magnetic nanostructures, show up as dark areas in MRI scans of the brain. This ability to detect the molecular toxins may one day enable scientists to both spot trouble early and better design drugs or therapies to combat and monitor the disease. And, while not the focus of the study, early evidence suggests the MRI probe improves memory, too, by binding to the toxins to render them “handcuffed” to do further damage.
Fluorescent amyloid beta oligomers (green), bound to cultured hippocampal neurons, were detected with greater than 90 percent accuracy by the magnetic nanostructure probe (red)
We have a new brain imaging method that can detect the toxin that leads to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Klein, who first identified the amyloid beta oligomer in 1998. He is a professor of neurobiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Using MRI, we can see the toxins attached to neurons in the brain,” Klein said. “We expect to use this tool to detect this disease early and to help identify drugs that can effectively eliminate the toxin and improve health.

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.



Carbon NanoTubes Solar Cells Twice More Efficient

Lighter, more flexible, and cheaper than conventional solar-cell materials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have long shown promise for photovoltaics. But research stalled when CNTs proved to be inefficient, converting far less sunlight into power than other methods.

Now a research team led by Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University, has created a new type of CNT solar cell that is twice as efficient as its predecessors. It is also the first CNT solar cell to have its performance certified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

solar cells
The field had been hovering around 1 percent efficiency for about a decade; it had really plateaued,.” Hersam said. “But we’ve been able to increase it to over 3 percent. It’s a significant jump
The problem is that each nanotube chirality only absorbs a narrow range of optical wavelengths,” Hersam said. “If you make a solar cell out of a single chirality carbon nanotube, you basically throw away most of the solar light.”

Hersam’s team made a mixture of polychiral, or multiple chirality, semiconducting nanotubes. This maximized the amount of photocurrent produced by absorbing a broader range of solar-spectrum wavelengths. The cells significantly absorbed near-infrared wavelengths, a range that has been inaccessible to many leading thin-film technologies.
The research is described in the article “Polychiral Semiconducting Carbon Nanotube-Fullerene Solar Cells” in the August 7 issue of Nano Letters.