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Building biological molecular machines as an open source path to advanced nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on July 24th, 2014

A popular added event at the February 2014 Foresight Conference was the B.R.AI.N.S Immortalist Audit focusing on what self-described “Life-Extensionists” are doing to cure disease and extend healthy human life, and how attendees could help. Photos from the Conference present a who’s who of principal players in biotechnology-, and life extension-related startups and research organizations. An April 16 B.R.AI.N.S salon on Human Biology and Freedom capped a successful Crowdtilt community fundraising campaign to build a strategic alliance between B.R.AI.N.S., Berkeley BioLabs and Foresight Institute to build an opensource biological parts repository and design and distribute a line of “How-to Build Biological Machines” educational kits.

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Discount to attend SENS Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference

Posted by Jim Lewis on July 11th, 2014

Aubrey de Grey, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer, SENS Research Foundation


Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference

August 21-23, 2014 · Santa Clara, California
Conference brochure (pdf)
Registration details

We are in the midst of a transformation in the way we search for cures to the diseases of aging. The prevalence of age-related diseases is spiraling and the socioeconomic impacts are a constant source of debate. Subsequently, interest in preventing such diseases through novel approaches to drug development is at an all-time high.

The Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference is the latest SENS Research Foundation Conference and will be held on August 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California. Join the growing rejuvenation biotechnology industry and hear the latest scientific and policy developments from leading experts in research, industry, policy, finance and regulatory fields.

25% discount for the longevity research conference from SENS Foundation this Aug. 21-23 in Santa Clara, CA. Early rate Extended Until July 14th.

To Foresight members and friends,

Ever since the longevity research conference series called SENS — Strategies for Engineering Negligible Senescence, chaired by Aubrey de Grey — began in 2003, I’ve longed to attend, but never could, because it’s held at Cambridge University in the UK, putting the cost out of reach.

Now, finally, SENS Foundation has started a conference in the U.S., with the first one this August 21-23 here in Silicon Valley!

To get your costs down further, do two things:

  • Register by July 14 to get the early rate.
  • Use the discount code FORESIGHT25 to get an additional 25% off.

This is a ground-breaking meeting featuring true “rock stars” of longevity research, including George Church, Judith Campisi, Michael West, and 37 others.

To round out the event, there’s a keynote by Ajay Royan of Mithril Capital Management, and even appearances by leaders from the entertainment world: comedian Hal Sparks, actor Edward James Olmos, and Cecilia Noel, the “Latin Tina Turner.”

This promises to be the most informative and engaging longevity research event ever held.  I wouldn’t miss it, so please join Foresight president Paul Melnyk, Gayle Pergamit, Tanya Jones, myself, and other friends this August in Santa Clara.

Hope to see you there!

—Christine

Christine Peterson
Co-Founder, Foresight Institute

The NNI Debate of 2014

Posted by Stephanie C on July 11th, 2014

Credit: NNI at nano.gov

Just when it seemed like debate over the National Nanotechnology Initiative was a thing of the past (see Foresight’s disappointment in 2008 here), disagreements regarding re-authorization and budget cuts are prompting politicians and researchers to take a detailed look at what the program supports and what it is achieving.

Witnesses to the House Research Subcommittee hearing, held this past May, included Timothy Persons of US GAO, who spoke at Foresight’s 2014 Integration Conference (and whose work indicating shortfalls in US manufacturing and policy is highlighted in a recent Nanodot post here), and Lloyd Whitman of CNST who emphasized the great strides made in building collaborative facilities that support decentralization of technological advancement, also a key area of discussion at the Integration Conference.

Some highlights from the hearing appear in the American Institute of Physics online bulletin:

The Research Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on May 20 during which Members examined nanotechnology research and development and discussed the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).   Both parties noted that the House of Representatives had previously passed a reauthorization of this Initiative but that the Senate did not.  There was bi-partisan interest from Members of the subcommittee to again attempt to reauthorize NNI.

Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) opened the hearing by describing the development of nanomaterials and listing many products developed due to nanotechnology. “In 2013, the National Science Foundation (NSF) nanotechnology investment supported 5,000 active projects, over 30 research centers and several infrastructure networks for device development, computation, and education,” noted Bucshon as he highlighted the 150 small businesses that were funded through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs.  Bucshon was displeased at the President’s budget request for NSF directorates that support nanotechnology research, noting the $1.5 million decrease in the FY 2015 budget for those directorates.
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The atomically precise manufacture of quantum dots

Posted by Jim Lewis on July 5th, 2014

This image shows a quantum dot molecule consisting of three 6-atom indium chains. (Image: Stefan Fölsch/PDI)

One of the iconic milestones in the history of nanotechnology was the 1989 feat by Eigler and Schweizer at IBM (published the following April in Nature) of using an STM to arrange 35 xenon atoms on a nickel surface to spell IBM. The demonstration was done at 4 K and the atoms of the nickel crystal acted like an “egg carton” to hold the xenon atoms in place. For these and other reasons, although the symbolic impact of the accomplishment was enormous, it was not obvious that this could lead to practical atomically precise manufacturing. However, the recent accomplishment of using an STM at 5 K to make atomically precise quantum dots may turn out to have near-term practical applications. A hat tip to Nanowerk News for publishing this U.S. Naval Research Laboratory news release “Researchers Create Quantum Dots with Single-Atom Precision“:

A team of physicists from the Paul-Drude-Institut für Festkörperelektronik (PDI) in Berlin, Germany, NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Atsugi, Japan, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has used a scanning tunneling microscope to create quantum dots with identical, deterministic sizes. The perfect reproducibility of these dots opens the door to quantum dot architectures completely free of uncontrolled variations, an important goal for technologies from nanophotonics to quantum information processing as well as for fundamental studies. The complete findings are published in the July 2014 issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology [full text, PDF].

Quantum dots are often regarded as artificial atoms because, like real atoms, they confine their electrons to quantized states with discrete energies. But the analogy breaks down quickly, because while real atoms are identical, quantum dots usually comprise hundreds or thousands of atoms – with unavoidable variations in their size and shape and, consequently, in their properties and behavior. External electrostatic gates can be used to reduce these variations. But the more ambitious goal of creating quantum dots with intrinsically perfect fidelity by completely eliminating statistical variations in their size, shape, and arrangement has long remained elusive.

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Lipid coat protects DNA nanorobot from immune attack

Posted by Jim Lewis on July 5th, 2014

An enveloped virus (left) coats itself with lipid as part of its life cycle. New lipid-coated DNA nanodevices (right) closely resemble those viruses and evade the immune defenses of mice. Credit: Steven Perrault/Harvard's Wyss Institute

In general one would not expect a close correlation between the nanoscience and nanomaterials R&D leading to near-term applications in medicine, energy, computation, and other fields, and the molecular nanotechnology that will eventually lead to productive nanosystems and atomically precise manufacturing. A counter example in which the correlation is looking close is structural DNA nanotechnology. A hat tip to KurzweilAI for showcasing this news release from Harvard’s Wyss Institute “Cloaked DNA nanodevices survive pilot mission“:

It’s a familiar trope in science fiction: In enemy territory, activate your cloaking device. And real-world viruses use similar tactics to make themselves invisible to the immune system. Now scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have mimicked these viral tactics to build the first DNA nanodevices that survive the body’s immune defenses.

The results pave the way for smart DNA nanorobots that could use logic to diagnose cancer earlier and more accurately than doctors can today; target drugs to tumors, or even manufacture drugs on the spot to cripple cancer, the researchers report in the April 22 online issue of ACS Nano [abstract, PDF available].

“We’re mimicking virus functionality to eventually build therapeutics that specifically target cells,” said Wyss Institute Core Faculty member William Shih, Ph.D., the paper’s senior author. Shih is also an Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The same cloaking strategy could also be used to make artificial microscopic containers called protocells that could act as biosensors to detect pathogens in food or toxic chemicals in drinking water.

DNA is well known for carrying genetic information, but Shih and other bioengineers are using it instead as a building material. To do this, they use DNA origami — a method Shih helped extend from 2D to 3D. In this method, scientists take a long strand of DNA and program it to fold into specific shapes, much as a single sheet of paper is folded to create various shapes in the traditional Japanese art.

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Photos from 2014 Foresight Technical Conference

Posted by Jim Lewis on June 24th, 2014

Courtesy of Joshua Lee at SunyataStudios.com

A collection of photos from the 2014 Foresight Technical Conference that highlighted the integration of nanosystems across a range of advanced technologies is now available. In addition to the speakers listed on the conference schedule, the photos present a who’s who of principal players in space-, biotechnology-, and life extension-related startups and research organizations. The photos are provided courtesy of Joshua Lee at SunyataStudios.com. The entire collection of 2014 Integration Conference photos, in a range of sizes up to 7360 x 4912 pixels, is available for viewing and purchase here.
—James Lewis, PhD

Robust triangular RNA brick adds to RNA nanotechnology toolkit

Posted by Jim Lewis on June 24th, 2014

Credit the Guo lab, University of Kentucky. An RNA triangle resistant to boiling assembles into a hexamer that assembles into a honeycomb-like array.

As we have frequently pointed out (for example), RNA has several properties different from those of its close cousin DNA that provide unique opportunities for RNA nanotechnology. One disadvantage of RNA nanostructures is that they are relatively easy to dissociate. RNA nanotechnology pioneer Peixuan Guo has now used rational design to further improve the stability of the unusually stable pRNA-3WJ3 motif to create new RNA triangular nanoparticles. A hat tip to Nanowerk for reprinting this University of Kentucky news release “RNA shows potential as boiling-resistant anionic polymer material for nanoarchitectures“:

A team of nanotechnology researchers at the University of Kentucky has discovered new methods to build heat resistant nanostructures and arrays using RNA.

The research, led by Peixuan Guo, professor and William Farish Endowed Chair in Nanobiotechnology at the UK College of Pharmacy and Markey Cancer Center, is reported in an article titled “RNA as a Boiling-Resistant Anionic Polymer Material To Build Robust Structures with Defined Shape and Stoichiometry,” coauthored by Emil F. Khisamutdinov and Daniel L. Jasinski.

The article, [appearing in] the journal ACS Nano, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS), was selected as an ACS “Editors’ Choice” and … is available for free download as a PDF through open access at http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/nn5006254.

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Novel properties for nanotechnology rebar-graphene reinforced with carbon nanotubes

Posted by Jim Lewis on June 9th, 2014

Nanotubes with added carbon side chains are spin coated onto a substrate and heated to form rebar graphene in a process invented at Rice University. The rebars add strength and electrical connectivity to the transparent, flexible sheet that could replace more expensive materials in displays and solar cells. (Credit: Tour Group/Rice University)

In keeping with the theme of February’s “The Integration Conference”, integration of two different types of nanostructure promises greatly improved functional devices. In research described at KurzweilAI.net from 2008 Feynman Prize winner James Tour’s group, a composite of carbon nanotubes and graphene has improved mechanical and electronic properties, and may provide an inexpensive substitute for a rare and expensive material. From a Rice University news release written by Mike Williams “Rebar technique strengthens case for graphene“:

Carbon nanotubes are reinforcing bars that make two-dimensional graphene much easier to handle in a new hybrid material grown by researchers at Rice University.

The Rice lab of chemist James Tour set nanotubes into graphene in a way that not only mimics how steel rebar is used in concrete but also preserves and even improves the electrical and mechanical qualities of both.

The technique should make large, flexible, conductive and transparent sheets of graphene much easier to manipulate, which should be of interest to electronics manufacturers, Tour said. He suggested the new hybrid could, upon stacking in a few layers, be a cost-effective replacement for expensive indium tin oxide (ITO) now used in displays and solar cells.

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DNA nanotechnology replicates enzyme cascade

Posted by Jim Lewis on June 4th, 2014

Photo by: Jason Drees, Biodesign Institute at ASU

Five years ago this blog pointed to progress in using DNA scaffolding to organize functional modules for use in the modular molecular composite nanosystems (MMCNs) route to atomically precise productive nanosystems. In another advance along this pathway to atomically precise manufacturing, researchers have arranged two enzymes on a DNA scaffold to replicate the organization of an enzyme cascade inside a cell, passing a substrate molecule from one enzyme to the next. From Arizona State University “DNA nanotechnology opens future to biomedical applications with 3-D artificial enzyme“:

Using molecules of DNA like an architectural scaffold, Arizona State University scientists, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Michigan, have developed a 3-D artificial enzyme cascade that mimics an important biochemical pathway that could prove important for future biomedical and energy applications.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology [abstract]. Led by ASU professor Hao Yan, the research team included ASU Biodesign Institute researchers Jinglin Fu, Yuhe Yang, Minghui Liu, Professor Yan Liu and professor Neal Woodbury, along with colleagues professor Nils Walter and postdoctoral fellow Alexander Johnson-Buck at the University of Michigan.

Researchers in the field of DNA nanotechnology, taking advantage of the binding properties of the chemical building blocks of DNA, twist and self-assemble DNA into ever-more imaginative 2- and 3-dimensional structures for medical, electronic and energy applications.

In the latest breakthrough, the research team took up the challenge of mimicking enzymes outside the friendly confines of the cell. …

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Expanded DNA alphabet provides more options for nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 14th, 2014

Floyd E. Romesberg, associate professor at Scripps Research (Credit: The Scripps Research Institute)

Long-time readers of Nanodot may remember the section of Chapter 15 of Nanosystems in which Drexler explores options for producing easier to design proteins for the protein engineering path toward atomically precise manufacturing by incorporating specially chosen amino acids in addition to the 20 genetically encoded amino acids. Back in 1992 the only option for incorporating unnatural amino acids into proteins was Merrifield solid phase peptide synthesis, using the methods of organic chemistry rather than biological systems. However, this becomes problematic and expensive for longer chains. Consequently, finding ways to expand the repertoire of biologically encoded amino acids would be quite useful. One way to accomplish this goal would be to expand the DNA ‘alphabet’ from two to three base pairs (that is, from four to six ‘letters’). We noted progress in this direction back in February of 2008 when Floyd Romesberg, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California created two artificial DNA letters that were accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme. In September of 2011 we noted a different approach taken by a team at the Salk Institute that keeps the current DNA alphabet but alters one three-letter word to mean an unnatural amino acid, increasing the amino acid repertoire by one. We noted in June of 2012 that continued work by Romesberg had revealed how the new base pair was efficiently replicated in the test tube by a natural enzyme. In a major advance, Romesberg and his collaborators have engineered a living organism to stably propagate the expanded genetic alphabet. The research was published in Nature [abstract] and was nicely described in a news article in Science by Robert F. Service “Designer Microbes Expand Life’s Genetic Alphabet“:

From bacteria to basketball players, all life as we know it encodes genetic information using two pairs of DNA letters. Not anymore. Now, along with the double helix’s two natural pairs—A bound to T and G bound to C—a bacterium growing in a California lab can incorporate and copy a third, artificial pair of letters. For now, the artificial bases—call them X and Y—don’t code for anything, unlike natural DNA base pairs, which in various combinations code for the 20 different amino acids that make up proteins. But the newly expanded genetic code opens the door for synthetic biologists to create microbes capable of building their proteins out of as many as 172 different amino acids, both natural and artificial—a potential boon to drug and materials developers. …

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Nanotechnology to provide efficient, inexpensive water desalination

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 12th, 2014

Credit: O’Hern, S. C. et al./Nano Letters

Another area in which incremental nanotechnology is poised to make a major contribution to human welfare through increasing control of the atomic structure of bulk materials is Supplying Clean Water Globally. Two recent reports use slightly different chemistries to achieve similar results: water desalination and purification.

KurzweilAI describes research in which gallium ions and oxidative etching were used to create sub-nanometer diameter holes in single layer graphene membranes “Selective nanopores in graphene dramatically improve desalination and purification“:

A team of researchers at MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in Saudi Arabia succeeded in creating subnanoscale pores in a sheet of graphene, a development that could lead to ultrathin filters for improved desalination or water purification. Their findings are published in the journal Nano Letters. [abstract]

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Nanotechnology to provide better solar cells, optical devices

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 9th, 2014

Electron microscope picture of wurtzite GaAs/AlGaAs core-shell nanowires. Credit: Dr. Dheeraj Dasa and Prof. Helge Weman, NTNU

While we work for the eventual development of a nanotechnology that transforms human life via atomically precise manufacturing, the partial control of the configuration of atoms in important materials that is afforded by current nanotechnology promises great near-term advantages. A decade ago, Foresight focused on progress in nanotechnology to meet six major challenges faced by humanity. Although we haven’t said as much the past several years about these challenges (except for #3, Improving Health and Longevity), recent progress promises great contributions to the other challenges as well. Challenge #1, Providing Renewable Clean Energy, appears soon to profit from advances in controlling the atomic configuration of gallium arsenide nanowires. Patrick Cox’s Tech Digest reports on “Building a Better Solar Cell One Atom at a Time“. Citing work by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology working with IBM engineers to grow gallium arsenide nanowires on graphene, he concludes:

… With a better understanding of how, atom by atom, a panel’s composition could be manipulated to achieve maximum output, solar-panel technology of the future promises to become lighter and more portable, as well as easier to manufacture and maintain. …

A hat tip to ScienceDaily for providing more details by reprinting news published by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology “Better Solar Cells, Better LED Light And Vast Optical Possibilities“:

Changes at the atom level in nanowires offer vast possibilities for improvement of solar cells and LED light. NTNU-researchers have discovered that by tuning a small strain on single nanowires they can become more effective in LEDs and solar cells.

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A bird's-eye view of half a century of nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 7th, 2014

The Foresight Institute was founded on the vision of nanotechnology put forward by Eric Drexler in his 1986 popular science work Engines of Creation, and clarified in his 1992 technical study Nanosystems. For the flavor of thinking about nanotechnology around 1987, see here and here. We’ve mentioned Drexler’s new book Radical Abundance here on Nanodot several times during the past year, for example here. Over at The Freeman, Phil Bowermaster discusses Radical Abundance in the context of the conversation about nanotechnology over the past 28 years — “The Reluctant Visionary“:

In 1959, Richard Feynman delivered a lecture with the provocative title “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Speaking at a meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech, the Nobel-laureate-to-be speculated about the possibility of manipulating matter at the atomic level via exquisitely small machines. Would it be possible, Feynman asked, for such machinery to configure atoms themselves, producing atomically precise outputs? Might we one day have billions of submicroscopic factories working in parallel to produce anything and everything we need?

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To fight inflammation nanoparticles turn 'naughty' neutrophils into 'nice' neutrophils

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 1st, 2014

Bottom right shows green-labeled neutrophils with red-labeled nanoparticles inside, which appear yellow. Credit University of Illinois at Chicago

A core advantage of nanomedicine is that appropriately designed nanoparticles can be targeted to deliver drugs to a very specific subset of cells in the body. An elegant example of specificity targets immune cells called neutrophils that are actively involved in damaging vascular inflammation while sparing neutrophils in circulation that are needed for other functions. A hat tip to Science Daily for reprinting this University of Illinois at Chicago news release written by Sharon Parmet “Nanoparticles target anti-inflammatory drugs where needed“:

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a system for precisely delivering anti-inflammatory drugs to immune cells gone out of control, while sparing their well-behaved counterparts. Their findings were published online Feb. 23 in Nature Nanotechnology [abstract].

The system uses nanoparticles made of tiny bits of protein designed to bind to unique receptors found only on neutrophils, a type of immune cell engaged in detrimental acute and chronic inflammatory responses.

In a normal immune response, neutrophils circulating in the blood respond to signals given off by injured or damaged blood vessels and begin to accumulate at the injury, where they engulf bacteria or debris from injured tissue that might cause infection. In chronic inflammation, neutrophils can pile up at the site of injury, sticking to the blood vessel walls and to each other and contributing to tissue damage.

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Novel nanoparticle efficiently silences gene expression in liver cells

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 29th, 2014

MIT engineers designed nanoparticles that can deliver short strands of RNA (green) into cells (nuclei are stained blue). Image credit: Gaurav Sahay, Yizhou Dong, and Omid Veiseh

One of the most promising weapons in the arsenal of today’s nanomedicine is to use specially designed nanoparticles to deliver siRNA to specific cells to exploit the power of RNA interference to silence the expression of specific genes. We have cited here progress in using various types of nanoparticles with some success in animal models of different diseases. A novel approach that combines systematic chemical modification of lipopeptides with inspiration provided by natural cholesterol-carrying particles appears close to clinical trials. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this MIT news release written by Anne Trafton “Better RNA interference, inspired by nature“:

Inspired by tiny particles that carry cholesterol through the body, MIT chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that can deliver snippets of genetic material that turn off disease-causing genes.

This approach, known as RNA interference (RNAi), holds great promise for treating cancer and other diseases. However, delivering enough RNA to treat the diseased tissue, while avoiding side effects in the rest of the body, has proven difficult.

The new MIT particles, which encase short strands of RNA within a sphere of fatty molecules and proteins, silence target genes in the liver more efficiently than any previous delivery system, the researchers found in a study of mice.

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Physicists suppress 'stiction' force that bedevils microscale machinery

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 19th, 2014

Credit: Intravaia et al.

Whether or not MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology has use as a development path toward productive nanosystems, or atomically precise manufacturing (see for example this series of posts on the Feynman Path by J. Storrs Hall), the problem of stiction in microscale mechanical systems has been used as a canard to criticize proposals for mechanical molecular machine systems. (For why this criticism is unfounded, see section 6.3.7 of Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines.) Nevertheless, MEMS is in its own right a very useful technology so it is gratifying to see that a solution to the stiction problem may be in sight. A hat tip to Dale Amon for pointing to this physics archive blog article “US Nuclear Weapons Laboratory Discovers How to Suppress the Casimir Force“:

The Casimir effect causes microscopic machines to stick fast. Now physicists have successfully tested a way to suppress this force

The Casimir effect is a strange and mysterious force that operates on the tiniest scales. It pushes together small metal objects when they are separated by a tiny distance.

That’s a problem because engineers are increasingly interested in building tiny machines with parts that move against each other on precisely the scale. For some years now, they’ve been thwarted by a problem called stiction in which the tiny cogs, gears and other parts in these machines stick together so tightly that the device stops working.

The culprit in these strange stiction events is often the Casimir effect. But since it is poorly understood, physicists and engineers have never known how to prevent it.

That looks set to change thanks to the work of Francesco Intravaia at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a few pals who have discovered a way to reduce this force and showed that it works for the first time. …

The research paper “Strong Casimir force reduction through metallic surface nanostructuring” is available at arxiv.org. The authors conclude that despite their successes achieved here, a full numerical analysis of the complexities of stiction in MEMS “remains an open problem.” Fortunately we already know that this does not have to be problem in a properly designed molecular machine system, even if implemented with diamondoid parts fashioned as nanoscale versions of macroscale machine parts.
—James Lewis, PhD

US government report highlights flaws in US nanotechnology effort

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 1st, 2014

Credit: GAO adapted from Executive Office of the President

Here at Nanodot we often report on basic research that may lie on the path to atomically precise manufacturing, and we also frequently report on nanoscale science and technology research that promises near-term revolutionary developments in medicine, computation, energy and other application areas, but we seldom have anything to say about the transition from research to commercial production. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) is worried about this same lack, and has identified an important nanotechnology policy gap. Last month Business Insider Australia reported “A New Report Warns That America May Lose The Nanotechnology Race“:

VACUUM TUBES, semiconductors and the internet have changed how we live; now nanotechnology promises a similar revolution. Nanocoatings that make it impossible for liquid to even touch a treated surface are transforming material science. Carbon nanotubes can help artificial muscles behave like the real thing, while nanoscale drug delivery can target cancer cells with deadly accuracy. Concrete infused with nanofibres can be self-sensing, enabling roads and bridges to be monitored remotely for structural weakness or traffic volumes. …

It is this breadth of nanotechnology’s potential that makes it vital to America’s future competitiveness. Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, believes that American dominance in the field has enormous economic potential and the ability to create new jobs: “it’s a game-changer that could transform and improve Americans’ daily lives in ways we can’t foresee,” he says.

On any measure — patents, private and government-sector investment, academic activity — America has so far been a leader in nanotechnology research and, to a lesser extent, development. …

So why is the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that works for Congress and scrutinises how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, now fretting that America may lose the nanotechnology race? In a new report on nanotechnology manufacturing (or nanomanufacturing) released today and prepared for Congressman Smith’s committee, the GAO finds flaws in America’s approach to many things nano. …

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Programmable nanoprocessors integrated into a nanowire nanocomputer

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 30th, 2014

Credit: Yao et al. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA

Three years ago we noted “the world’s first programmable nanoprocessor” achieved by a collaboration between Harvard and MITRE [also, see further details here]. This year the same interdisciplinary team has taken further key steps toward a functioning nanoelectronic computer based on integrating several of the tiles that they first reported three years ago. A hat tip to KurzweilAI for reprinting this news release from MITRE “MITRE-Harvard Team’s Ultra-tiny Nanocomputer May Point the Way to Further Miniaturization in Industry“:

An interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers from The MITRE Corporation and Harvard University has taken key steps toward ultra-small electronic computer systems that push beyond the imminent end of Moore’s Law, which states that the device density and overall processing power for computers will double every two to three years. In a paper … in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [abstract; full text PDF courtesy of the Lieber Research Group], the team describes how they designed and assembled, from the bottom up, a functioning, ultra-tiny control computer that is the densest nanoelectronic system ever built.

The ultra-small, ultra-low-power control processor—termed a nanoelectronic finite-state machine or “nanoFSM”—is smaller than a human nerve cell. It is composed of hundreds of nanowire transistors, each of which is a switch about ten-thousand times thinner than a human hair. The nanowire transistors use very little power because they are “nonvolatile.” That is, the switches remember whether they are on or off, even when no power is supplied to them.

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Bigger, stiffer, roomier molecular cages from structural DNA nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 29th, 2014

The five cage-shaped DNA polyhedra here have struts stabilizing their legs, and this innovation allowed a Wyss Institute team to build by far the largest and sturdiest DNA cages yet. The largest, a hexagonal prism (right), is one-tenth the size of an average bacterium. Credit: Yonggang Ke/Harvard's Wyss Institute

The use of structural DNA nanotechnology to build atomically precise scaffolds for positioning systems of molecular machines and other nanoscale functional elements [see, for example "Advancing nanotechnology by organizing functional components on addressable DNA scaffolds"] took a large step forward with the recent demonstration of the ability to build large, rigid three-dimensional DNA cages. The key innovation was the use of DNA origami to make struts to stabilize corners. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this news release from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute “Roomy cages built from DNA“:

Move over, nanotechnologists, and make room for the biggest of the small. Scientists at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute have built a set of self-assembling DNA cages one-tenth as wide as a bacterium. The structures are some of the largest and most complex structures ever constructed solely from DNA, they report today’s online edition of Science [abstract].

Moreover, the scientists visualized them using a DNA-based super-resolution microscopy method — and obtained the first sharp 3D optical images of intact synthetic DNA nanostructures in solution.

In the future, scientists could potentially coat the DNA cages to enclose their contents, packaging drugs for delivery to tissues. And, like a roomy closet, the cage could be modified with chemical hooks that could be used to hang other components such as proteins or gold nanoparticles. This could help scientists build a variety of technologies, including tiny power plants, miniscule factories that produce specialty chemicals, or high-sensitivity photonic sensors that diagnose disease by detecting molecules produced by abnormal tissue.

“I see exciting possibilities for this technology,” said Peng Yin, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and Assistant Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of the paper.

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Chemists provide new tool for nanotechnology-modifying the right carbon atom

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 27th, 2014

Credit: The Yu Lab, The Scripps Research Institute

Advancements targeted to improving medical care continue to provide tools that could advance development of high throughput atomically precise manufacturing. In the latest example, chemists have developed a method to add a functional group to a specific carbon atom several atoms away from a given atom. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this news release from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) “Building New Drugs Just Got Easier“:

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a method for modifying organic molecules that significantly expands the possibilities for developing new pharmaceuticals and improving old ones.

“This is a technology that can be applied directly to many medicinally relevant compounds,” said Jin-Quan Yu, a professor in TSRI’s Department of Chemistry and the senior author of the new report, which appears in Nature March 13, 2014. [abstract]

The innovation makes it easier to modify existing organic compounds by attaching biologically active “functional group” to drug molecules. A typical small-molecule drug derives its activity from such functional groups, which are bound to a relatively simple backbone structure consisting chiefly of carbon atoms.

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