Tag Archives: nanoparticles

Cleaning Up Oil Using Magnets

In future, it could be possible to remove oil spills on the surface of the ocean by using magnets. An interdisciplinary group of researchers at the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany, led by Prof. Dr. Marcus Halik has developed functionalised iron oxide particles that can attract any types of hydrocarbons. The magnetic particles and their shells can then be removed from the water relatively simply and in an environmentally-friendly manner and can even be reused after being cleaned.

The researchers have now published their study in the  journal Advanced Functional  Materials. In the study, they describe how functionalised iron oxide particles can be modified with a self-assembled monolayer so that they only adsorb hydrocarbons. This group of chemical substances includes light compounds such as alkanes and aromates but also crude oil, petrol and diesel. Such hydrocarbon molecules surround the very fine particles as if they are being sucked in and reach a volume that can grow to 14 times the size of the core of the particle.

Diagram of the process developed by materials scientists at FAU

A video on the researchers’ website shows how iron oxide powder is applied to liquid oil and the instant transformation into a substance that can be removed by a magnet. Iron oxide is a magnetic substance by nature.

In addition to the multiple reusability of the source material, the large surface to volume ratio provided by nanoparticles and the favourable ratio to the quantity of the hydrocarbons to be adsorbed all contribute to the very high efficiency of the process. In addition, it allows water to be completely cleaned of oil and oil products. Conventional methods, on the other hand, create dispersions or mixtures of substances that enable the hydrocarbons to be more easily digested by bacteria, but remain in the seawater until this process is complete.

Source: https://eam.fau.de/

How To Levitate Objects With Light

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects’ surfaces. Though still theoretical, the work is a step toward developing a spacecraft that could reach the nearest planet outside of our solar system in 20 years, powered and accelerated only by light. The research was done in the laboratory of Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science in Caltech’s Division of Engineering and Applied Science.

Decades ago, the development of so-called optical tweezers enabled scientists to move and manipulate tiny objects, like nanoparticles, using the radiative pressure from a sharply focused beam of laser light. This work formed the basis for the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. However, optical tweezers are only able to manipulate very small objects and only at very short distances. Ognjen Ilic, postdoctoral scholar and the study’s first author, gives an analogy: “One can levitate a ping pong ball using a steady stream of air from a hair dryer. But it wouldn’t work if the ping pong ball were too big, or if it were too far away from the hair dryer, and so on.”

With this new research, objects of many different shapes and sizes—from micrometers to meters—could be manipulated with a light beam. The key is to create specific nanoscale patterns on an object’s surface. This patterning interacts with light in such a way that the object can right itself when perturbed, creating a restoring torque to keep it in the light beam. Thus, rather than requiring highly focused laser beams, the objects’ patterning is designed to “encode” their own stability. The light source can also be millions of miles away.

“We have come up with a method that could levitate macroscopic objects,” says Atwater, who is also the director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. “There is an audaciously interesting application to use this technique as a means for propulsion of a new generation of spacecraft. We’re a long way from actually doing that, but we are in the process of testing out the principles.”

In theory, this spacecraft could be patterned with nanoscale structures and accelerated by an Earth-based laser light. Without needing to carry fuel, the spacecraft could reach very high, even relativistic speeds and possibly travel to other stars.

Atwater also envisions that the technology could be used here on Earth to enable rapid manufacturing of ever-smaller objects, like circuit boards.

A paper describing the research appears online in the journal Nature Photonics.

Source: https://www.caltech.edu/

New Perovskite Solar Cells Increase Efficiency By 17%

Researchers have layered different mineral forms of titanium oxide on top of one another to improve perovskite-type solar cell efficiency by one-sixth. The layered titanium oxide layer was better able to transport electrons from the center of the cell to its electrodes. This novel approach could be used to fabricate even more efficient perovskite-type solar cells in future. While most solar cells are made of silicon, such cells are difficult to manufacture, requiring vacuum chambers and temperatures above 1000 °C. Research efforts have therefore recently focused on a new type of solar cell, based on metal halide perovskites. Perovskite solutions can be inexpensively printed to create more efficient, inexpensive solar cells.

In solar cells perovskites can turn light into electricity—but they have to be sandwiched between a negative and positive electrode. One of these electrodes has to be transparent, however, to allow the sun’s light to reach the perovskites. Not only that, any other materials used to help charges flow from the perovskites to the electrode must also be transparent. Researchers have previously found that thin layers of titanium oxide are both transparent and able to transport electrons to the electrode.

Now, a Japan-based research team centered at Kanazawa University has carried out a more detailed study into perovskite solar cells using electron transport layers made of anatase and brookite, which are different mineral forms of titanium oxide. They compared the impact of using either pure anatase or brookite or combination layers (anatase on top of brookite or brookite on top of anatase). The anatase layers were fabricated by spraying solutions onto glass coated with a transparent electrode that was heated to 450 °C. Meanwhile, the researchers used water-soluble brookite nanoparticles to create the brookite layers, as water-soluble inks are more environmentally friendly than conventional inks. These nanoparticles have been yielded poor results in the past; however, the team predicted that combination layers would solve the issues previously encountered when using the nanoparticles.

By layering brookite on top of anatase we were able to improve solar cell efficiency by up to 16.82%,” study coauthor Koji Tomita says.

These results open up a new way to optimize perovskite solar cells, namely via the controlled stacking and manipulation of the different mineral forms of titanium oxide.

The team’s study was recently published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

Source: https://www.kanazawa-u.ac.jp/

Sharpen Molecular Scissors And Expand The Gene Editing Toolbox

Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) scientists have figured out a better way to deliver a DNA editing tool to shorten the presence of the editor proteins in the cells in what they describe as a “hit and run” approach.

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) technology is used to alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. CRISPR/Cas9 is an enzyme that is used like a pair of scissors to cut two strands of DNA at a specific location to add, remove or repair bits of DNA. But CRISPR/Cas9 is not 100 percent accurate and could potentially cut unexpected locations, causing unwanted results.

One of the major challenges of CRISPR/Cas9 mRNA technologies is the possibility of off-targets which may cause tumors or mutations,” said Baisong Lu, Ph.D, assistant professor of regenerative medicine at WFIRM and one of the lead authors of the paper. Although other types of lentivirus-like bionanoparticles (LVLPs) have been described for delivering proteins or mRNAs, Lu said, “the LVLP we developed has unique features which will make it a useful tool in the expanding genome editing toolbox.

To address the inaccuracy issue, WFIRM researchers asked the question: Is there a way to efficiently deliver Cas9 activity but achieve transient expression of genome editing proteins? They tested various strategies and then took the best properties of two widely used delivery vehicles – lentivirus vector and nanoparticles – and combined them, creating a system that efficiently packages Cas9 mRNA into LVLPs, enabling transient expression and highly efficient editing.

Lentiviral vector is a widely used gene delivery vehicle in research labs and is already widely used for delivering the CRISPR/Cas9 mRNA technology for efficient genome editing. Nanoparticles are also being used but they are not as efficient in delivery of CRISPR/Cas9.

By combining the transient expression feature of nanoparticle-delivery strategies while retaining the transduction efficiency of lentiviral vectors, we have created a system that may be used for packaging various editor protein mRNA for genome editing in a ‘hit and run’ manner,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., director of WFIRM and co-lead author of the paper. “This system will not only improve safety but also avoid possible immune response to the editor proteins, which could improve in vivo gene editing efficiency which will be useful in research and clinical applications.

The WFIRM team published its findings in a paper published recently in the journal  Nucleic Acids Research.

Source: https://school.wakehealth.edu/


Artificial Skin Opens SuperHuman Perception

A new type of sensor could lead to artificial skin that someday helps burn victimsfeel’ and safeguards the rest of us, University of Connecticut (UConn)  researchers suggest in a paper in Advanced Materials.

Our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, heat, cold, and vibration is a critical safety function that most people take for granted. But burn victims, those with prosthetic limbs, and others who have lost skin sensitivity for one reason or another, can’t take it for granted, and often injure themselves unintentionally. Chemists Islam Mosa from UConn, and James Rusling from UConn and UConn Health, along with University of Toronto engineer Abdelsalam Ahmed, wanted to create a sensor that can mimic the sensing properties of skin. Such a sensor would need to be able to detect pressure, temperature, and vibration. But perhaps it could do other things too, the researchers thought.

It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” said Mosa.

Mosa and his colleagues created such a sensor with a silicone tube wrapped in a copper wire and filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide just one billionth of a meter long, called nanoparticles. The nanoparticles rub around the inside of the silicone tube and create an electric current. The copper wire surrounding the silicone tube picks up the current as a signal. When this tube is bumped by something experiencing pressure, the nanoparticles move and the electric signal changes. Sound waves also create waves in the nanoparticle fluid, and the electric signal changes in a different way than when the tube is bumped.

The researchers found that magnetic fields alter the signal too, in a way distinct from pressure or sound waves. Even a person moving around while carrying the sensor changes the electrical current, and the team found they could distinguish between the electrical signals caused by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.

Metal skin might sound like a superhero power, but this skin wouldn’t make the wearer Colossus from the X-men. Rather, Mosa and his colleagues hope it could help burn victimsfeelagain, and perhaps act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields. Because the rubber exterior is completely sealed and waterproof, it could also serve as a wearable monitor to alert parents if their child fell into deep water in a pool, for example.

Source: https://today.uconn.edu/


Cheap Nano-Catalysts For Better Fuel Cells

Researchers at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology (DGIST) in Korea have developed nano-catalysts that can reduce the overall cost of clean energy fuel cells, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

Polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) transform the chemical energy produced during a reaction between hydrogen fuel and oxygen into electrical energy. While PEMFCs are a promising source of clean energy that is self-contained and mobile – much like the alkaline fuel cells used on the US Space Shuttle – they currently rely on expensive materials. Also, the substances used for catalysing these chemical reactions degrade, raising concerns about reusability and viability.

DGIST energy materials scientist Sangaraju Shanmugam and his team have developed active and durable catalysts for PEMFCs that can reduce the overall manufacturing costs. The catalysts were nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods with ceria and cobalt nanoparticles on their surfaces; essentially carbon nanorods containing nitrogen, cobalt and ceria. Ceria (CeO2), a combination of cerium and oxygen, is a cheap and environmentally friendly semiconducting material that has excellent oxygen reduction abilities.

The fibres were made using a technique known as electrospinning, in which a high voltage is applied to a liquid droplet, forming a charged liquid jet that then dries midflight into uniform, nanosized particles. The researchers’ analyses confirmed that the ceria and cobalt particles were uniformly distributed in the carbon nanorods and that the catalysts showed enhanced electricity-producing capacity.

The ceria-supported cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorod catalyst was found to be more active and durable than cobalt-only nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods and platinum/carbon. They were explored in two important types of chemical reactions for energy conversion and storage: oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution reactions.

The researchers conclude that ceria could be considered among the most promising materials for use with cobalt on nitrogen-doped carbon nanorods to produce stable catalysts with enhanced electrochemical activity in PEMFCs and related devices.

Source: https://www.dgist.ac.kr/

Better Treat Salmonella Than Face Cancer

An interdisciplinary team of three Virginia Tech faculty members affiliated with the Macromolecules Innovation Institute has created a drug delivery system that could radically expand cancer treatment options. The conventional cancer treatment method of injecting nanoparticle drugs into the bloodstream results in low efficacy. Due to the complexities of the human body, very few of those nanoparticles actually reach the cancer site, and once there, there’s limited delivery across the cancer tissue.

The new system created at Virginia Tech is known as Nanoscale Bacteria-Enabled Autonomous Drug Delivery System (NanoBEADS). Researchers have developed a process to chemically attach nanoparticles of anti-cancer drugs onto attenuated bacteria cells, which they have shown to be more effective than the passive delivery of injections at reaching cancer sites.

NanoBEADS has produced results in both in vitro (in tumor spheroids) and in vivo (in living mice) models showing up to 100-fold improvements in the distribution and retention of nanoparticles in cancerous tissues.This is a product of Bahareh Behkam, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Collaborators on this interdisciplinary team are Rick Davis, professor of chemical engineering, and Coy Allen, assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

You can make the most amazing drugs, but if you cannot deliver it where it needs to go, it cannot be very effective,” Behkam said. “By improving the delivery, you can enhance efficacy.

Humans have noticed, even as far back as Ancient Egypt, that cancer went into remission if the patient also contracted an infection like salmonella. Neither are ideal, but humans can treat salmonella infections more effectively than cancer.

In modern times, Allen said the idea of treating cancer with infections traces back to the late 1800s and has evolved into immunotherapy, in which doctors try to activate the immune system to attack cancerous cells. Of course, salmonella is harmful to humans, but a weakened version could in theory provide the benefits of immunotherapy without the harmful effects of salmonella infection. The concept is similar to humans receiving a weakened flu virus in a vaccine to build immunity.

The work, which combines expertise in mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, and veterinary medicine, was recently detailed in Advanced Science.

Source: https://vtnews.vt.edu/

Plastic Waste Desintegrates Into Nanoparticles

There is a considerable risk that plastic waste in the environment releases nano-sized particles known as nanoplastics, according to a new study from Lund University in Sweden. The researchers studied what happened when takeaway coffee cup lids, for example, were subjected to mechanical breakdown, in an effort to mimic the degradation that happens to plastic in the ocean.The majority of all marine debris is plastic. Calculations have shown that ten per cent of all plastic produced globally ends up in the sea. This plastic waste is subjected to both chemical and mechanical degradation. The sun’s UV rays contribute to the degradation, as do waves, which cause plastic waste to grind against stones on the water’s edge, against the sea floor or against other debris.

Is there a risk that this plastic waste disintegrates to the extent that nanoplastics are released? The research community is divided on whether the degradation process stops at slightly larger plastic fragmentsmicroplastics – or actually continues and creates even smaller particles. The researchers behind the study have now investigated this issue by subjecting plastic material to mechanical degradation under experimental conditions.

We have been able to show that the mechanical effect on the plastic causes the disintegration of plastic down to nano-sized plastic fragments,” says Tommy Cedervall, chemistry researcher at Lund University.

The emphasis of a number of other recent studies from the research community has been on microplastics and their increased distribution among organisms. There are now intense attempts to also identify nanoplastics in the environment. Last year, in an earlier study from Lund University, researchers showed that nano-sized plastic particles can enter the brains of fish and that this causes brain damage which probably disturbs fish behaviour.

It’s important to begin mapping what happens to disintegrated plastic in nature, concludes Tommy Cedervall.

Source: https://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/

Megalibrary To Boost Discovery of New Materials

Different eras of civilization are defined by the discovery of new materials, as new materials drive new capabilities. And yet, identifying the best material for a given application—catalysts, light-harvesting structures, biodiagnostic labels, pharmaceuticals and electronic devices—is traditionally a slow and daunting task. The options are nearly infinite, particularly at the nanoscale (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) where material propertiesoptical, structural, electrical, mechanical and chemical—can significantly change, even at a fixed composition.

A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) supports the efficacy of a potentially revolutionary new tool developed at Northwestern University to rapidly test millions (even billions) of nanoparticles to determine the best for a specific use.

Laser-induced heating of nanoparticles on micropillars for carbon nanotube growth

When utilizing traditional methods to identify new materials, we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible,” said Northwestern’s Chad A. Mirkin, the study’s corresponding author and a world leader in nanotechnology research and its applications. “This research provides proof-of-concept—that this powerful approach to discovery science works.”

The novel tool utilizes a combinatorial library, or megalibrary, of nanoparticles in a very controlled way. (A combinatorial library is a collection of systematically varied structures encoded at specific sites on a surface). The libraries are created using Mirkin’s Polymer Pen Lithography (PPL) technique, which relies on arrays (sets of data elements) with hundreds of thousands of pyramidal tips to deposit individual polymerdots” of various sizes and composition, each loaded with different metal salts of interest, onto a surface. Once heated, these dots are reduced to metal atoms forming a single nanoparticle at fixed composition and size.

By going small, we create two advantages in high throughput materials discovery,” said Mirkin, the executive director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN). “First, we can pack millions of features into square-centimeter areas, creating a path for making the largest and most complex libraries, to date. Second, by working at the sub-100 nanometer-length scale, size can become a library parameter, and much of the action, for example, in the field of catalysis, is on this length scale.”

Source: https://news.northwestern.edu/

How To Manipulate And Move Cells With Light

Wits physicists demonstrate a new device for manipulating and moving tiny objects with light. When you shine a beam of light on your hand, you don’t feel much, except for a little bit of heat generated by the beam. When you shine that same light into a world that is measured on the nano– or micro scale, the light becomes a powerful manipulating tool that you can use to move objects around – trapped securely in the light.

Researchers from the Structured Light group from the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, have found a way to use the full beam of a laser light, to control and manipulate minute objects such as single cells in a human body, tiny particles in small volume chemistry, or working on future on-chip devices. While the specific technique, called holographic optical trapping and tweezing, is not new, the Wits Researchers found a way to optimally use the full force of the light – including vector light that was previously unavailable for this application. This forms the first vector holographic trap.


Previously holographic traps were limited to particular classes of light (scalar light), so it is very exciting that we can reveal a holistic device that covers all classes of light, including replicating all previous trapping devices,” explains Professor Andrew Forbes, team leader of the collaboration and Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics where he heads up the Wits Structured Light Laboratory.

What we have done is that we have demonstrated the first vector holographic optical trapping and tweezing system. The device allows micrometer sized particles, such as biological cells, to be captured and manipulated only with light.”

Source: https://www.wits.ac.za/