Start your engines

The impact of nanotechnology on all parts of our lives is growing. And people are worried about how things might change. There are all sorts of rules for things like professional cycling and automobile racing. Mostly stuff like what you can make bicycles and race cares out of. Weight is really important because the less something weighs the easier it is to move around. So it isn't surprising that lots of meetings will be held to talk about this. One at Cranfield University will focus on what race cars are made of and how that might important for the rules about racing. Carbon nanotubes are strong and lightweight. So putting them into all sorts of stuff like the chasis of a car can help make race cars faster.  But along the way many are interested in making sure there are rules to keep them safe.

Just like Mother Nature

Sea urchins that could be a new kind of solar cell
Sometimes the answer lies with a very simple observation. In this case scientists in Switzerland have looked for solar cell designs by peering into the oceans. Sea urchins have a a very high surface area because they are rough. If you look closely the roughness is a very regular structure that is repeating. Using sea urchins as a design these scientists made similar structures from polystyrene and used them to mold nanowires. The array of wires are able to efficiently absorb sunlight more efficiently.

Forget about the TV, remote control the worm

Every want to have a little critter that you could direct like a remote control car?  Scientists at the University of Buffalo have put tiny nanoparticles into the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans because nobody wants to pronounce "Caenorhabditis").  These particles can heat up different parts of the worm and cause them to recoil.  The localized heating opens channels that permit calcium to flow into the cells and that causes the worms to react.

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Don't blow your gasket

But if you do, there is a product to fix that. The people at CRC who make a lot of different products to fix your car have a new product to fix gaskets. Normally if you blow a gasket in a car engine you have to take everything apart and replace the gasket. This stuff apparently eliminates that problem "Using Nanotechnology, this product fills in cracks and crevices other products can't, making a stronger, more solid bond that's permanently hardened to the surface area." Nanooze hasn't tried this but hey nanotechnology saves the day (again).

How smart are your drawers?

Smart phones, smart refrigerators, how about smart underwear? Researchers at University of California-San Diego have been making boxer shorts with tiny sensors that can measure biomarkers that are found in sweat. Biomarkers like glucose, lactic acid are all important things to measure. The sensors are made of tiny flexible electrodes that are tucked under the waist band and they can measure stress or performance levels. This is important for athletes or soldiers or perhaps even you?.  The researchers are working with their colleagues at Clarkson University, no word if they are available in colors or just plain white.

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Nano tattoo

Scientists at MIT have developed a tattoo that can measure the amount of sugar in your blood.  Read more about it in the upcoming issue of Nanooze due out in July 2010.

calling Nemo

Communicating underwater is tough since sound waves travel differently in water than in air. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have discovered that sheets of carbon nanotubes can act as speakers 100x more effectively than they predicted. The carbon nanotubes are very hydrophobic (meaning they don't like water) so there is a very thin layer of air which helps transmit sound. Maybe in the future you can call up a fish for dinner.
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It's different up there

So nano is different but so is space. Space or more likely microgravity changes a lot of things in addition to drinking and eating and walking around. Scientists have done a lot of experiments in space looking at how cells behave. With more sophisticated tools to study the molecular changes scientists are now discovering just how different things in space are for terrestrial biology. The latest work is using stem cells, those interesting cells in your body that have the ability to form different tissues and bone. They are really important for a lot of therapies to cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes and other stuff. Taking a bit of mouse stem cells into space, scientists discovered that about 64% of the proteins that these cells made in space weren't there when the same cells were grown on the Earth. That is a nanometer kind of change since most proteins are a few nanometers across.  Stem cells are around 10,000 nanometers in size.  One of the scientists, Elizabeth Blaber talked about this work in Houston, Texas at the astrobiology conference. She is a young scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia working in a field she calls bioastronautics.  Going from Australia to Texas (about 14 trillion nanometers) isn't quite like going into space but a neat opportunity for a young scientist.


Getting a shot, a vaccination or something that your doctor uses a needle to give you can hurt. But does it have to hurt? Maybe not according to scientists in Australia.  For a few years now they have been working on something they call the nanopatch.  It has a lot of very small projections (like needles) that help to deliver the vaccine to a special group of cells that helps you develop immunity.  These tiny projections are coated with the vaccine and the patch is applied to your skin.  So far they have tested it on mice but sometime in the near future they should be testing it on humans.  It takes a lot of time for any kind of new medicine or device to be approved for use in humans. That is because there is a lot of safety testing that needs to happen and then proof that it really does work.  It is sometimes frustrating because a great discovery in the lab takes a few years to make it into the clinic.  Even nanotechnology can't make that happen any faster.

Sensing things around us

For a while there has been talk about distributed sensors. Planting tiny sensors all around to get an idea about what might be going on. Going on with the Earth, maybe predicting earthquakes and things like that. Why distributed? Because this way you don't take a chance on planing one sensor and then picking the wrong spot. HP has taken a step toward distributed sensing by developing the CeNSE network and they are using it to help find oil. These tiny microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) can detect vibrations. Now they are pretty big but someday scientists hope to make them the size of a pin head.  If you install a few million or billion you can get an idea of what is going on over a large area. The challenge is powering them and then collecting all of the data. But someday they will be installed in everything like buildings, bridges, roads and tell us all about how these things are doing and sensing lots of different things.

Seeing is believing

It was more than 50 years ago that scientists first figured out that DNA was a double helix. Figured out using some indirect measurements like the way X-rays bounced off of DNA and other things like that. Can we see DNA? Sure now with some pretty powerful microscopes. And just recently some scientists in Japan took a look at double stranded DNA and could tell the difference between that and single stranded DNA. The work could have a big impact on things like DNA sequencing.
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Build your own (not so nano but fun) bot

Everyone wants to be an evil scientist and create their own little nanobot. Well that is hard but building something cool and entertaining with a few parts isn't. The bristle bot is a self-propelled little thing that scoots along the floor. It isn't hard to build and you can find the parts in a lot of different places. The motor is the same one that you find in a cell phone that can vibrate (we don't recommend tearing into a cell phone, especially one that works). This activity was developed by Windell Oskay at Evil Mad Scientist. Check him out.

Keeping 'em honest

A warning from the International Cycling Union, no nanotech at the Olympic games in London 2012. "At London in 2012 we can guarantee there will be no-one using bikes, equipment and not even clothing (that is illegal) - because we are aware of developments in nanotechnology that can aid athletes in ways that would be outside the rules." said Pat McQuaid, chief of the UCI. Maybe we need to sponsor a nanotech olympics and give out nano gold medals.

One hair at a time

Little machines, so small they can enter your body and zoom around fixing stuff.  The great scifi classic 'Fantastic Voyage' was all about that, shrinking not just a space ship but all of the folks inside and then zooming around the blood stream.  While that will never happen, building tools so small that they can work inside the body without cutting big holes in you is an important area.  Scientists are building all sorts of devices that will hold and cut and mend small parts in your body.  The big challenge is building them and then powering them.  One way to provide power is to use polymers that respond to heating or some external chemicals.  The polymer changes its shape and causes the parts that the polymer is attached to---in this case the arms of a gripper---to close.  These tiny grippers might be used to grab cancer cells and then bring back samples for analysis.  For more information:

Power up while you boggie

It takes energy to move.  Move to the kitchen, to school, to the couch.  And there is a lot of energy that can be captured from these movements.  Maybe you have a pair of those sneakers with the lights?  They capture the energy from walking and uses it to power a few tiny light bulbs.  Now scientists are trying to take it to the next level by developing more sophisticated nanodevices and make them cheaper.  They use these things called piezoelectric crystals.  Piezoelectric things have been around since the mid-18th century but these new ones are printed and they can be printed onto flexible materials that are also biocompatible.  So maybe you don't want them stitched to the bottom of your feet but perhaps they can be stuck onto a lot of different things making energy for all sorts of devices. No more need to change the battery unless you become a couch potato.
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Lab on a stamp

Lab on a chip, how common. How about lab on a stamp. Scientists at Harvard are experimenting with paper as a material for making tiny sensors. Paper is cheap and it turns out it can do a lot of things like separating different molecules. You've probably done some experiments looking at the way colors separate using paper like the one used to make coffee filters. Now add in some inks that are hydrophobic and can be used to direct liquids to different parts of the paper sensor and you are going a long way to make sensors that can test for different diseases. These cheap sensors will have a lot of use in developing countries.

Nanooze the exhibit opens at EPCOT, Walt Disney World

So it started as a web site, next a magazine and now an exhibit. On February 22, 'Take a Nanooze Break' opened at EPCOT Walt Disney World in Florida. The interactive exhibit has a number of opportunities for guests to explore the nanoworld and get a feel for things that are too small to see.  The exhibit is on long term display located in Innoventions where new science and technology is showcased.  You can sit and listen to stories about nanotechnology, play with a simple to use hand-held microscope, take molecules for a spin and zoom into the nanometer scale structure of a number of different common objects.

Tiny layer of glass

Nanotechnology is all about making things small----and thin. So sometimes the magic is not making it tiny but making it incredibly thin, only a few atoms or molecules thick. The big thing about making thin things is making sure that even though it is thin, it is uniform, meaning no holes. And that is hard. Imagine spreading peanut butter just a few molecules thick? Tough. Now scientists have figured out how to make layers of glass only a few molecules thick. Glass is made of silicon dioxide and is pretty impermeable. A layer 15 to 30 molecules thick (about 1/500 the width of a hair) prevents bacteria from penetrating and so you could make a bacteria proof coating. It is also impermeable to water meaning it doesn't stain.  What is neat is that glass at that thickness is transparent (well that is not surprising) but it is also flexible! Meaning you could coat lots of different things. Maybe you wouldn't want to eat it but it is might be useful for stain resistance or to make things really slick like the front end of a high speed train.

Plants do it already

Plants are able to generate energy using photosynthesis. It is kind of the same general idea as what solar cells do except instead of generating electricity, plants generate chemical energy and store it for later use. Scientists have taken tobacco and by genetic engineering started to assemble the pieces that would be needed to make plants into solar energy generators.  Still a long way away from their ultimate goal, the idea of using plants is neat and could be a more ecofriendly way of producing solar power.  Some time you might be able to plant your own solar cells and power that iPod.
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Your brain as a mold.

You see them all the time. On bread left around for a while, between your toes. Molds. Dumb fuzzy things. Well not really. Scientists in Japan have taken tiny bits of food and made a map that was just like Japan. Then they took a blob of mold and put it in one place and watched the mold grow. It grew out looking for the food and creating a network that looked kind of like a communications or a transportation network. All without a central brain.  Want to read all about it;327/5964/419