Tag: nanotechnology

Nanogenerator Takes Us One Step Closer to Power-Generating Clothing

By Jennifer Welsh | November 10, 2010 1:41 pm

piezo_x220Devices that use the wasted mechanical energy from clothing movements or even a heartbeat seem far out, if not just a bit creepy, but new advances in nanogenerators are making such energy-scavenging electronics possible.

Now researchers at Georgia Tech have made the first nanowire-based generators that can harvest sufficient mechanical energy to power small devices, including light-emitting diodes and a liquid-crystal display. [Technology Review]

The new generators use materials that have a particularly odd property: They collect a charge and drive a current when flexed (this is called piezoelectricity). The problem in using these materials for energy-harvesting applications has been that the materials that were sufficiently efficient at driving a current were too rigid, and those that were flexible enough weren’t very efficient.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

Scientists Create "Artificial Electronic Skin" From Nanowire Mesh

By Andrew Moseman | September 13, 2010 9:54 am

eskinFrom “When the Robots Sing ‘Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch-Me,’ the E-Skin Is Working,” on the DISCOVER blog Science Not Fiction:

That’s right, e-skin. A group of scientists at UC-Berkeley devised a flexible mesh using nanowires to create a substance that reacts to pressure, and, as their paper in Nature Materials said, “effectively functions as an artificial electronic skin.” In the same issue, a team from Stanford University announced it had devised a kind of skin so sensitive, it can detect the weight of a bluebottle fly.  All of which means for one shining issue, a scientific journal was a skin mag.

Read the rest of this post (with video).

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Image: UC Berkeley


Self-Assembling, Self-Repairing Solar Cells Pass Endurance Test

By Joseph Calamia | September 8, 2010 1:00 pm

selfassembsolarcellFaced with the sun’s damaging rays, new biological solar cells can repair themselves, regaining their maximum efficiency when some competitors might fade. In their current form these biological solar cells, made with a bacterium’s photosynthesis hub and carbon nanotubes, only reach a small fraction of the efficiency seen in the best traditional solar cells. But their ability to reinvent themselves by shedding damaged proteins and reassembling to regain their maximum efficiency could be a useful feature for future solar cells.

The researchers, who published their work in Nature Chemistry, used a bacterium’s natural light collection center to generate solar power, used proteins and lipids to make supporting disc forms, and employed conducting carbon nanotubes to channel away electric current. This set of materials chemically clumps together, making the cells self-assembling.

The spontaneous assembly occurs thanks to the chemical properties of the ingredients and their tendency to combine in the most energetically comfortable positions. The scaffolding protein wraps around the lipid, forming a little disc with the photosynthetic reaction center perched on top.  These discs line up along the carbon nanotube, which has pores that electrons from the reaction center can pass through. [Science News]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Nanowire-Coated Cotton Cleans Water by Zapping Bacteria to Death

By Joseph Calamia | September 7, 2010 2:21 pm

nanofilt_wires_newsIllness-inducing bacteria, meet nano-engineered cotton–and a quick death. Researchers have created a new “filter” that zaps bacteria with electric fields to clean drinking water. They say their system may find use in developing countries since it requires only a small amount of voltage (a couple of car batteries, a stationary bike, or a solar panel could do the job) and cleans water an estimated 80,000 times faster than traditional devices.

Instead of trapping bacteria in small pores like many slow-going traditional filters, the cotton and silver nanowire combo uses small electric currents running through the nanowires to kill the bacteria outright. In a paper to appear in the journal Nano Letters researchers say that 20 volts and 2.5 inches worth of the material killed 98 percent of Escherichia coli in the water they tested in their lab setup.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

MIT Invents a Swarm of Sea-Skimming, Oil-Collecting Robots

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2010 10:25 am

swarmbotEarlier this week, DISCOVER brought you oil-cleaning bacteria. Today, we bring you oil-cleaning bots.

This weekend in watery Venice, Italy, MIT scientists will demonstrate a creation called Seaswarm, a fleet of autonomous swimming bots intended to skim the water’s surface; each bot would drag a sort of mesh net to collect the crude sitting there. According to their creators, the machines will be able to find oil on their own and talk to one another to compute the most efficient way to tidy it up.

The Seaswarm robots, which were developed by a team from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, look like a treadmill conveyor belt that’s been attached to an ice cooler. The conveyor belt piece of the system floats on the surface of the ocean. As it turns, the belt propels the robot forward and lifts oil off the water with the help of a nanomaterial that’s engineered to attract oil and repel water [CNN].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

A Nano-Wiretap: Scientists Use Nanowires to Spy on a Cell's Inner Life

By Joseph Calamia | August 12, 2010 6:05 pm

Meet the cyborg cell. By attaching probes with nano-hairpin connectors to living cells, researchers have measured electrical currents from inside. They hope the probes will provide a useful way to monitor cells’ health.

A team at Harvard University conducted the study, which appears in Science. Though other probes can measure the currents in electrical impulse-producing cells–such as beating heart cells–none have given researchers the precision of measuring from inside. The probes designed in this study allowed researchers to successfully measure the electric pulses from cultured chicken heart cells’ beating.

One of the team’s challenges was getting the wires to kink into the hairpin shape–a difficult maneuver using traditional nanowire-making techniques. They noted if they stopped the wire as it formed, they could force it to bend.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

Spitzer Telescope Finds Buckyballs… in Spaaace!

By Joseph Calamia | July 22, 2010 5:08 pm

Looking at a planetary nebula 6,500 light years away, scientists recognized an old friend: the buckyball. The large, soccer ball-shaped molecule–made from bonding 60 carbon atoms together–was first seen in a lab in 1985. In a paper published today in Science, scientists confirm the first known extraterrestrial existence of the rare carbon balls.


The buckyballs’ planetary nebula, called TC 1, surrounds a white dwarf star. Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a team led by Jan Cami of the University of Western Ontario observed traces of the the 60-atom balls and their 70-atom cousins while looking at light coming from the white dwarf.

When light hits molecules and atoms, they will vibrate in specific, measurable ways–a field of science known as spectroscopy. One of Cami’s colleagues, who was studying Tc 1, found some unfamiliar fingerprints in the nebula’s infrared light. Cami recognized them as carbon’s 60-atom configuration and its favored 70-atom carbon partner. [Discovery News]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Space

Making Super-Powered Solar Panels Via Quantum Dots

By Joseph Calamia | June 21, 2010 5:29 pm

qd-solar-text.thumbnailA new type of solar cell using “quantum dots” may double the theoretical efficiency of current solar cells–allowing a panel to convert around 60 percent of the sun’s energy that it laps up into electricity. The research on these new cells appeared Friday in Science.

Current silicon-based solar cells lose about 80 percent of the sun’s energy they take in. It’s an inherent flaw: even working at their theoretical ideal, these cells would still lose 70 percent.

We can blame the sun’s diversely energized photons for this inefficiency. Silicon cells can only purposefully harvest photons with just the right amount energy. When they strike the cell, photons with just enough juice will prod an electron into motion (and create an electric current). An overly energized photon will excite the electrons to no purpose; the electrons will just quickly give off that photon’s energy as heat.

In two steps, this project, funded in part by the Department of Energy, salvages these “hot electrons.”

“There are a few steps needed to create what I call this ‘ultimate solar cell,'” says [Xiaoyang] Zhu, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Materials Chemistry. “First, the cooling rate of hot electrons needs to be slowed down. Second, we need to be able to grab those hot electrons and use them quickly before they lose all of their energy.” [University of Texas at Austin]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Huge Mirrors, DNA Robots, & Brain Communication Win 2010 Kavli Prizes

By Andrew Moseman | June 4, 2010 2:33 pm

Show them the money: The winners of the Kavli Prizes have been announced, and the eight scientists will split a total of $3 million in prize money.

No, these aren’t the Nobels. The Kavlis are a relatively new award created to award scientists whose fields don’t get much recognition in Stockholm:

These are only the second ever recipients of Kavli Prizes, the biennial awards launched in 2008 by Fred Kavli. Recipients in the fields of astrophysics, neuroscience and nanoscience each receive a scroll, a gold medal and (perhaps most importantly) a share of the $1 million pot for each discipline [Nature].

30-meter-telescope1. Astrophysics

The prize recognized three men—Jerry Nelson, Roger Angel, and Raymond Wilson—not for finding new phenomena deep in the cosmos, but for engineering the telescopes to make those searches possible. Nelson and Angel are renowned for their prowess in casting the mirrors for the largest telescopes on Earth; Nelson’s work will go into the Thirty Meter Telescope, for which Mauna Kea in Hawaii was just chosen as the preferred location.

Dr. Wilson pioneered the use of a technology known as active optics, in which computer-controlled supports correct the shapes of telescope mirrors to cancel the distortions caused by gravity, wind and temperature, allowing astronomers to build mirrors that are thinner and lighter [The New York Times].

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Scientists Craft Tiny Transistor Powered by Your Own Cellular Fuel

By Andrew Moseman | May 14, 2010 10:09 am

IonPumpThe structure of Aleksandr Noy’s new transistor is unimpressively simple: just a carbon nanotube connecting two metal electrodes. But what makes it special is what he and his team use to control it: adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel from our own cells. The project, published in a study in Nano Letters, achieves a key step in unifying man and machine.

The way it works: An insulator coats the ends of the nanotube, but not the middle—it’s left exposed.

The entire device is then coated again, this time with a lipid bi-layer similar to those that form the membranes surrounding our body’s cells [New Scientist].

Finally, the team poured a solution of ATP plus potassium and sodium across the transistor. That created an electric current, one that was stronger the more ATP they poured.

The magic is in the lipid bi-layer, which contains an ATP-sensitive protein that serves as a kind of ion pump when ATP is present. The lipid hydrolyses ATP molecules, with each occurence causing three sodium ions to move one way through the lipid and two potassium ions to move the other way, netting one charge across the bi-layer to the nanotube [Popular Science].

Noy claims to have created “the first example of a truly integrated bioelectronic system,” New Scientist says. And as simple as the transistor is, the idea behind it—harnessing the energy already in our bodies to power electronics—will be one of the keys to creating battery-free devices that monitor our cells, connect to our brains, or do things we won’t think of until we’ve (finally!) got nanodevices hooked up to our brains.

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Image: Aleksandr Noy et. al.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

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