Foresight Nanotech Institute Weekly News Digest: February 14, 2007
Headline: Windows Vista: potential negative impact on nanotechnology
John Walker brings to our attention an apparently distressing set of concerns regarding the new version of Windows, known as Vista, written up by Peter Gutman as "A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection."
As nano continues to progress from materials to devices to complex nanosystems, it will increasingly require both design and, eventually, operation via computers. If this article is correct, we've just made a big step backwards in the reliability of both today's and tomorrow's computers, thanks to Microsoft and its content protection scheme. This will decrease nanosafety in the long run. If anyone has any suggestions on what to do about this, Foresight would like to hear them.
In this issue:
Headline: Nanotechnology is part of the fight against Alzheimer's
For a number of years, researchers have been working to alleviate neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease through gene therapy. In this type of treatment, a gene's DNA is delivered to the neurons in individual cells, allowing them to produce their own therapeutic proteins. One problem with [current efforts to use viruses to deliver therapeutic genes to the patient's target cells] is that the human body has developed a very effective immune system that protects it from viral infections. Thanks to advances in nanotechnological fabrication techniques, the development of nonviral nanocarriers for gene delivery has become possible. This is attractive due to the potential for improved safety, reduced ability to provoke an immune response, ease of manufacturing and scale up, and the ability to accommodate larger DNA molecules compared to virus-based delivery tools.
Headline: Medicine of the future: cell-like nanofactories inside the body
Rather than delivering external drugs into the body, [some scientists] conceptualize "pseudo-cell" nanofactories that work with raw ingredients already in the body to manufacture the proper amount of drug in-situ under the control of a molecular biosensor.
"This approach draws its inspiration from the ability of the human body to self-medicate by actively adapting molecular production in response to its intrinsic biochemistry," Philip R. LeDuc explains to Nanowerk. "This new approach proposes that molecular machinery could, in principle, be introduced into the body to convert pre-existing materials into therapeutic compounds, or to change molecules that a patient is unable to process, owing to some medical condition, into other compounds that the body can process."
Nature Nanotechnology abstract
Foresight note: These authors report a general method by which molecular capsules can be polymerized into a hollow spherical nanoparticle, with a surface that can be easily modified to bind to target cells, after which the contents of the spherical nanoparticle could be released inside the target cell.
Headline: Navigable nanotransport
Direct synthesis of hollow nanoscopic spheres with tailored surfaces
To accurately transport pharmaceutical agents to their specific target organs or cell types, you need a good carrier: nanoscopic capsules with surface elements that can "recognize" the target in question could do the trick.
To date, all methods for the production of such tiny capsules require preorganized structures or "molds" to shape hollow spheres and most methods require a lengthy, tedious synthetic or purification procedure. Korean researchers led by Kimoon Kim have now developed a very simple novel approach for the direct production of polymeric nanocapsules. As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, this method is generally applicable to any monomers as long as they have a flat core and multiple polymerizable groups at the periphery. Additionally, if building block[s] are chosen that are able to bind specific (bio)molecules very tightly, the surface of the capsule can be easily decorated with species that are recognized by cells, showing the transporter the way to reach its goal, such as a tumor cell.
Foresight note: These scientists used dendrimers to enter living cells and label specific proteins. They hope to improve not only diagnosis in patients, but also understanding of the biochemical mechanisms related to heart disease and cancer.
Headline: Scientists use nanoparticle to discover disease-causing proteins
A complex molecule and snake venom may provide researchers with a more reliable method of diagnosing human diseases and developing new drugs.
Purdue University researchers bound a complex nanomolecule, called a dendrimer, with a glowing identification tag that was delivered to specific proteins in living venom cells from a rattlesnake. The scientists want to find a better way to ascertain the presence, concentration and function of proteins involved in disease processes. They also hope the new method will facilitate better, more efficient diagnosis in living cells and patients.
Foresight note: This article describes research to identify abnormal electrical signals in the heart, caused for example by blocked arteries, by injecting sugar-coated iron oxide particles about 50 nm across.
Headline: Nanoparticles detect high cholesterol
Researchers in Taiwan have developed an efficient method for the early detection of hypercholesteremia. The technique, which has been tested on rabbits, involves using injected magnetic nanoparticles when performing SQUID-based magnetocardiography.
Applied Physics Letters abstract
Headline: Molecular 'fishing' technique paves way for advanced hand-held sensing devices
A new molecular "fishing" technique developed by researchers at Duke University and Duke's Pratt School of Engineering lays the groundwork for future advances in hand-held sensing devices.
Hand-held devices used for medical testing or environmental and food-safety monitoring could quickly and precisely measure concentrations of virtually any chemical substance, including blood proteins, toxic pollutants and dangerous biological agents, in a test solution, according to the researchers.
Headline: Telescoping nanotubes offer new option for nonvolatile memory
In the midst of a widespread and potentially highly lucrative search for next-generation nonvolatile memory, scientists from the University of California have put to use an interesting characteristic of carbon nanotubes. When one hollow nanotube is inserted into a second (slightly larger) nanotube, scientists can achieve a rapid telescoping motion that can be applied to binary or triple digit memory for future molecular-scale computers.
"Research and development on molecular-scale memory and electronics, including data storage and computing devices, are extremely vibrant in the worldwide research communities," scientist Qing Jiang told PhysOrg.com. "One of the widely perceived advantages is revolutionary advancements in density and speed, compared to the current silicon technology."
During the past few years, scientists have investigated the telescoping motion of nanotubes for nano applications, opening up the possibility for data storage. Now, Jiang and Jeong Won Kang have designed a device that could provide both nonvolatile RAM and terabit solid-state storage based on these telescoping nanotubes. The scientists also analyzed their design's dynamic characteristics using molecular dynamics simulations to narrow down the best possible design.
Headline: MIT 'optics on a chip' may revolutionize telecom, computing
In work that could lead to completely new devices, systems and applications in computing and telecommunications, MIT researchers are bringing the long-sought goal of "optics on a chip" one step closer to market.
In the January 2007 inaugural issue of the journal Nature Photonics, the team reports a novel way to integrate photonic circuitry on a silicon chip. Adding the power and speed of light waves to traditional electronics could achieve system performance inconceivable by electronic means alone.
Nature Photonics abstract
Do you believe that nanotechnology will give society the ability tackle the hard challenges facing humanity? What's your priority for nanotechnology: cancer treatments and longevity therapies, sustainable energy, clean water, a restored environment, space development, or "zero waste" manufacturing?
If you would like to help influence the direction of this powerful technology, please consider becoming a member of Foresight Nanotech Institute. With your support, Foresight will continue to educate the general public on beneficial nanotechnology and what it will mean to our society.
SmallTimes NanoCon International
Attracting hundreds of decision makers from around the world, Small Times NanoCon International is your premier source for business alliances, information exchange and commercial strategy.
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS
Researchers at Delft University of Technology used a High Resolution Electron Microscope to observe in real-time the collective transportation of gold atoms in a thin layer. This research illustrates the rapid progress that is currently being made by real-time nano-microscopy. Within 5 years this research area should be able to take the step from the laboratory to realistic conditions, and this will open up a wealth of possibilities for industry and the medical world.
Physical Review Letters abstract
Headline: "Tighter controls" for nanotechnology
News source: Nanotechweb.org
A report from the United Nations (UN) has called for tighter regulation on nanotechnology, which is already being used to develop drugs, cosmetics and other commercial products. In its annual report of the global environment, the UN's Environment Programme (UNEP) said that "swift action" was needed by policy makers to properly evaluate nanotechnology.
Although nanotechnology could transform electronics, energy industries and medicine, more research is needed to identify environmental, health and socio-economic hazards says UNEP in the 87-page report.
UNEP is calling for global test protocols and greater cooperation between private and public-sector industries, and between developing and industrialized nations. It also wants public education to raise awareness about nanotechnology, and provide information about its potential risks and benefits.
CNSI Frontiers in NanoSystems Conference 2007
Technological Enhancement of Humans?
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) have widespread and profound interactions with the broader society, and yet STEM activities draw from a relatively narrow slice of that society. Within the United States, neither practicing STEM professionals nor those making policies or setting agendas for STEM represent the broad diversity of American society. Likewise, STEM activities — centered in the developed world — do not represent the full diversity of the global community in their planning, practice, or outcomes.
As new STEM opportunities emerge, they bring with them an opportunity to shape their planning, practice, and outcomes in novel ways. This opportunity now exists with the potential for human performance enhancement through research in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science.
Foresight note: For the first time, optical tweezers are small enough to manipulate molecular building blocks, a step toward building complex products with atomic precision.
Headline: Thermal tweezers make their debut
Random Brownian forces could be used to trap and manipulate nanoparticles on surfaces in the presence of laser radiation, according to calculations by optical physicists in Australia. This is a surprising result since Brownian forces are usually detrimental for optically trapping particles smaller than 100 nm. The "thermal tweezers" could be used in nanofabrication techniques with nanoscale resolution, as well as in imaging and re-writable surface memory elements.
... optically manipulating particles smaller than around 100 nm is difficult because of dominating random Brownian forces that are greater than the "gradient trapping" force induced by the non-uniform optical field. Now, Dmitri Gramotnev and colleagues at the Queensland University of Technology have calculated that Brownian forces could, in fact, be used to effectively trap and manipulate such particles and atoms on surfaces in the presence of strong temperature modulation.
Applied Physics Letters abstract
We continue our tradition of citing a special story that strikes the Editor as especially cool, but which doesn't fit within the usual editorial categories of the News Digest.
The novel way in which these researchers managed to isolate individual DNA molecules and then align them for analysis deserves notice.
News source: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS
Pity the molecular biologist.
The object of fascination for most is the DNA molecule. But in solution, DNA, the genetic material that hold the detailed instructions for virtually all life, is a twisted knot, looking more like a battered ball of yarn than the famous double helix. To study it, scientists generally are forced to work with collections of molecules floating in solution, and there is no easy way to precisely single out individual molecules for study.
Now, however, scientists have developed a quick, inexpensive and efficient method to extract single DNA molecules and position them in nanoscale troughs or "slits," where they can be easily analyzed and sequenced.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA abstract
News source: Nanodot
Public attitudes toward nanotechnology are being tracked closely — perhaps more closely than for any previous set of newly-arriving technologies. The surveys vary a bit, but here's one by Prof. Steven Currall of University College London that fits my informal observations:
"One core finding of our research revealed that current public sentiment towards nanotechnology is relatively neutral. It was perceived to be riskier and less beneficial than other technologies, such as solar power and vaccinations, but more beneficial and less risky than pesticides, chemical disinfectants, and alcoholic drinks, for example."
"In essence, the public engages in a tradeoff of risks and benefits. The perceived level of risks depends on the extent of benefits and vice-versa. The upshot is that when deciding whether or not to use a product, consumers are quite sophisticated in weighing risks and benefits."
This makes sense. Many consumer products now in use have risks as well as benefits, and somehow we muddle through.
— Nanodot post by Christine Peterson
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