China, Global Leader In NanoScience

Mobile phones, computers, cosmetics, bicyclesnanoscience is hiding in so many everyday items, wielding a huge influence on our lives at a microscale level. Scientists and engineers from around the world exchanged new findings and perceptions on nanotechnology at the recent 7th International Conference on Nanoscience and Technology (ChinaNANO 2017) in Beijing last week. China has become a nanotechnology powerhouse, according to a report released at the conference. China’s applied nanoscience research and the industrialization of nanotechnology have been developing steadily, with the number of nano-related patent applications ranking among the top in the world.

According to Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China faces new opportunities for nanoscience research and development as it builds the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology  (NCNST) and globally influential national science centers.

We will strengthen the strategic landscape and top-down design for developing nanoscience, which will contribute greatly to the country’s economy and society,” said Bai.

Nanoscience can be defined as the study of the interaction, composition, properties and manufacturing methods of materials at a nanometer scale. At such tiny scales, the physical, chemical and biological properties of materials are different from those at larger scales — often profoundly so.

For example, alloys that are weak or brittle become strong and ductile; compounds that are chemically inert become powerful catalysts. It is estimated that there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market, including lightweight but sturdy tennis rackets, bicycles, suitcases, automobile parts and rechargeable batteries. Nanomaterials are used in hairdryers or straighteners to make them lighter and more durable. The secret of how sunscreens protect skin from sunburn lies in the nanometer-scale titanium dioxide or zinc oxide they contain.

In 2016, the world’s first one-nanometer transistor was created. It was made from carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulphide, rather than silicon.
Carbon nanotubes or silver nanowires enable touch screens on computers and televisions to be flexible, said Zhu Xing, chief scientist (CNST). Nanotechnology is also having an increasing impact on healthcare, with progress in drug delivery, biomaterials, imaging, diagnostics, active implants and other therapeutic applications. The biggest current concern is the health threats of nanoparticles, which can easily enter body via airways or skin. Construction workers exposed to nanopollutants face increased health risks.

The report was co-produced by Springer Nature, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) and the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).


How To Keep Warm In Extreme Cold Weather

Some of the winter weather gear worn by the US Army was designed 30 years ago. It’s heavy and can cause overheating during exertion, while also not doing a very good job of keeping the extremities from going numb.


That’s problematic if soldiers have to operate weapons as soon as they land,” said Paola D’Angelo, a research bioengineer at the US Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts. “So we want to pursue this fundamental research to see if we can modify hand wear for that extreme cold weather.”

Scientists are developing smart fabrics that heat up when powered and can capture sweat. The work, which was presented at the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, is based on research from Stanford University in California. A team embedded a network of very fine silver nanowires in cotton, and was able to heat the fabric by applying power to the wires. D’Angelo and her colleagues are working to extend the approach to other fabrics more suitable for military uniforms, including polyester and a cotton/nylon blend. By applying three volts – the output of a typical watch battery – to a one-inch square of fabric, they were able to raise its temperature by almost 40 degrees C. The researchers are also incorporating a layer of hydrogel particles made of polyethylene glycol that will absorb sweat and stop the other layers of the fabric from getting wet.

Once we have optimised the coating, we can start looking at scaling up,” said D’Angelo. The fabric has been tested with up to three washes and still works the same as unwashed fabric for most of the textiles being tested.


Robots That Feel And Touch Like Humans

Smart synthetic skins have the potential to allow robots to touch and sense what’s around them, but keeping them powered up and highly sensitive at low cost has been a challenge. Now scientists report in the journal ACS Nano a self-powered, transparent smart skin that is simpler and less costly than many other versions that have been developed.

mother robot

Endowing robots and prosthetics with a human-like sense of touch could dramatically advance these technologies. Toward this goal, scientists have come up with various smart skins to layer onto devices. But boosting their sensitivity has involved increasing the numbers of electrodes, depending on the size of the skin. This leads to a rise in costs. Other systems require external batteries and wires to operate, which adds to their bulk. Haixia Zhang and colleagues wanted to find a more practical solution.

The researchers created a smart skin out of ultra-thin plastic films and just four electrodes made from silver nanowires. Other prototypes contain up to 36 electrodes. Additionally, one component harvests mechanical energy — for example, from the movement of a prosthetic hand’s fingers — and turns it into an electric current.