Nanotech Tech Digest - November 2016

Single atom on/off switch set to turn on computing world

Recent findings by Robert Wolkow and team, in collaboration with the Max Plank institute,  show how atomic electricity switches could be made. Wolkow and team have developed the idea of a transistor composed of a few atoms, compared to the smallest on the market today which are thousands of atoms. Transistors, basically on/off switches, are essential to computing. With this nano-transistor computers can become faster, smaller and more efficient. In an interview with Nature, Wolkow claims that his transistor has the potential to be used in green computers, cutting the energy consumption to just 1/1000th  that of current computers.

Energy storage problem gets heated

Storing energy from clean sources is a perennial problem; currently the most utilized method is pumped hydroelectric storage. Now there is a proposal that we could use sugar alcohols, produced in ample amounts as a by-product of the food industry, to store heat within carbon nanotubes. Scientists reporting in ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry C have found that as the diameter of the nanotube decreased the heat transfer potential also decreased, and high density material led to better heat transfer.

Hydrogen battery technology helped by nanotech

Rice University scientists have shown that nanotube pillars of boron oxide which support a graphene superstructure are good at taking up and holding hydrogen. With further research and with prototype experimentation these structures have the potential to be used as hydrogen batteries in light duty cars in the future.

Nano cure to big flu problem

Current medicines are failing to quell the rise in the influenza A virus. This virus’ modus operandi is to attach itself to sialic acid in the lung and then to set about making you ill. So, all the scientists had to do was create a nanoparticle which mimics the sialic acid and the problem would be sorted. And that’s just what they did. The virus is attracted to the nanoparticles which then trap it, eventually the virus is rendered inert by time. Tests on mice have shown that this nanoparticle reduced mortality in mice from 100% to just 25% over a period of 14 days. It is hoped that this tech has potential to stop other virus based illnesses such as Zika, HIV and malaria.

Clear coating reduces reflection

A recent product designed by the Max Plank institute is claimed to have substantially improved the performance of an anti-glare coating by not coating it at all but by playing with the structure of the material itself. What one wants from an optical component is that as much light as possible passes through and as little as possible is returned as glare. Current anti-reflective coatings only work within a narrow wavelength of light, so aren’t great. This new tech works on a broader range of wavelengths, and has great implications for lasers where light loss is a problem. By adopting this approach light loss caused by reflection could be reduced by 13%, according to Zhaoyu Diao, a physicist at the institute.

Nanotech realises alchemists dream

Scientist in the lab at TU Wien (Vienna) have found a way to purify a gold-containing metalorganic material into practically pure gold. Using a technique known as FEBID they separated gold from carbon leaving a deposit of unprecedentedly pure gold. Gold is commonly used in electronics as it is one of the best conductors known. This new discovery which allows for the gold to be purified in situ, has huge implications for electronics (low resistance electrical interconnects), plasmonics, and biomolecule immobilization.

Terahertz band killed the radio wave

Wireless communication is stuck in the radio wave section of the electromagnetic spectrum. Scientists from the Buffalo School of Engineering have suggested moving it into the previously unfamiliar Terahertz area. They have developed a tiny radio – made of graphene and semiconducting material – which would be attached to circuit boards. These radios are capable of short-range, high speed communication of data, meaning that moving files between computers could be exponentially quicker – from hours to seconds. 

Fleet of nanoroadsters use light to move

Driving a multi-molecule vehicle is old news. Driving a single-molecule vehicle is the latest thing. Scientists at Rice University and the University of Graz (Austria) have achieved the movement of a fleet of what they term ‘nano-roadsters’ across a copper surface simply using light as an energy source. Light power is a great advance on the previous wired fuel systems, as it widens the roadsters’ utility. James M Tour, the lead scientist, envisions this tech being used to carry cargo, and even to build structures like a colony of ants. 

Popeye was hooked, now nanotech is getting into spinach

Spinach plants have been decked out with carbon nanotubes which allow them to detect nitroaromatics, a chemical given off by things like landmines. When they detect this, a signal is sent to a handheld device similar to a smartphone. As the chemicals enter the plant through the roots and reach the leaves the plant will emit a fluorescent signal which can then be sensed by infrared cameras. This tech while having uses in the military, and in saving lives, could also be used to inform us of pollution and environmental conditions, as well as being able to maximize yields of rare compounds such as those derived from Madagascan Periwinkle which is used in cancer treatment.


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