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Nanoscience at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 17:36

 Olympic Flag rings
Olympic Flag rings: Olympic Flag ringsCourtesy Drawn by User:Pumbaa80; Original author: Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937)

New materials seem to make an appearance at every Olympic Games, and this 2014 Winter Games is no exception. Materials and equipment can be a major factors in Olympic competitor's success or failure, and teams are always looking to get any advantage they can.

NBC's "Science of Sports" video series profiles a wide range of science and engineering topics related to this year's Winter Games ranging from the science of snow to advances in new materials.

The video, "Stability and Vibration Damping in Alpine Skiing"
describes how engineers are redesigning skis using nano materials to increase flexibility and stability. A University of Nevada, Reno mechanical engineering associate professor Kam Leang describes how he and his team are using nanocomposite materials to reduce unwanted vibration in high performance skis.

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Diamond nano-particles discovered in the flame of a candle

Fri, 01/17/2014 - 18:04

Candle Flame
Candle FlameCourtesy Arivumathi via Wikimedia Commons

Scientist Wuzong Zhou, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, has found millions of diamond nano-particles in the flickering light of a simple candle.

Professor Zhou was able to extract particles from the center of a flame – and found to his surprise that a candle flame contains all four known forms of carbon, including tiny diamond particles.

Past studies have shown that hydrocarbon molecules are burned at the bottom of the flame and carbon dioxide released at the top, but it was not know that tiny diamond particles were formed in the center of the flame.

The nano particles of diamonds are burned away very quickly and converted to carbon dioxide.
Dr. Zhou believes that his research might leads towards a better understanding of diamonds which could eventually lead to cheaper, cleaner manufacturing of diamonds, especially for industrial uses.

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What is nano about Thanksgiving? Iridescent turkey feathers!

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 18:41

 Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey: Wild TurkeyCourtesy Malcolm - Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in Fort Worth Zoo

Some turkey feathers look iridescent due to nano-sized structures within the feathers rather than pigment.

Iridescence due to nano-sized structures can also be easily seen in peacock feathers and Blue Morpho butterfly wings.

More about iridescence in nature:

  • Butterfly Blues video
    Mr. O talks about iridescence and Blue Morpho butterflies in another "O Wow" moment at the Children's Museum of Houston.

  • Zoom into a Blue Morpho Butterfly video
    Zoom into the natural nanostructures that manipulate light on a Blue Morpho Butterfly!

    See video

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    Nanogrid could break down oil from spills

    Tue, 11/19/2013 - 13:29

    Nanogrid structures at the nanoparticle level
    Nanogrid structures at the nanoparticle levelCourtesy Perena Gouma, CNSD, SUNY Stony Brook

    Oil spills are notoriously difficult to clean up, but nanotechnology may help make cleanup easier in the future.

    Nanoscientists have developed a "nanogrid," a large net consisting of metal grids made of a copper tungsten oxide, that, when activated by sunlight, can break down oil from a spill, leaving only biodegradable compounds behind.

    The grids resemble non-woven mats of miniaturized ceramic fishing nets are made with a self-assembly process.

    Because they work well both in water and air, the grids may also be used for other types of cleanup as well.

    More about this topic:

  • Nanogrid research
  • Dr. Perena Gouma's Center for Nanomaterials and Sensor Development:
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    Nanotechnology could help reduce water pollution from fabric dyes

    Tue, 11/19/2013 - 13:04

     Blue Jeans closeup
    Blue Jeans closeup.jpg: Blue Jeans closeupCourtesy Wikimedia Commons - author: Mark Michaelis

    During the textile manufacturing process, excess dyes are sometimes discharged as wastewater resulting in water pollution downstream. In recent years, particular attention has focused on water pollution in China resulting from indigo dyes used to create the distinctive blue color of denim blue jeans.

    Some nanoscientists are looking at ways to help remove potentially harmful dyes chemicals from water.

    Scientists at Colombia’s Universidad Industrial de Santander and Cornell University have come up with a cheap and simple process using natural fibers embedded with nano particles to quickly remove dye from water.

    The research takes advantage of nano-sized cavities found in cellulose; plant fibers can be immersed in a solution of sodium permanganate and then treated with ultrasound causing manganese oxide molecules grow in the tiny cellulose cavities. The treated fibers are able to quickly break down and remove the dye from the water.

    More about this topic:

  • Cornell University study on fibers and dyes visit:
  • GreenPeace report "Toxic Threads" visit:
  • Popular Science article on indigo dye and water pollutionvisit:
  • China's famed Pearl River under denim threat
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    Carbon nanotubes on a spider silk structure may be able to conduct electricity

    Mon, 09/30/2013 - 10:49

    Spider Web
    Spider WebCourtesy Wikimedia - en:User:Fir0002
    Eden Steven, a physicist at Florida State University is developing ways to possibly conduct electricity using spider webs and carbon nanotubes.

    A carbon nanotube is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon that’s been rolled into a tube. A nanotube’s diameter is at least 10,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair. Carbon nanotubes are strong and have been found to conduct electricity and heat.

    Florida State University reports Steven used just a drop of water to attach powdery carbon nanotubes onto spider silk. He gathered the spider silk himself, using a stick to gather webs outside his lab.

    The experiment has drawn much national attention. “It turns out that this high-grade, remarkable material has many functions,” Steven said of the silk coated in carbon nanotubes. “It can be used as a humidity sensor, a strain sensor, an actuator (a device that acts as an artificial muscle, for lifting weights and more) and as an electrical wire.”

    Steven wanted to investigate eco-friendly materials and was especially interested in materials that could deal with humidity without complicated treatments and chemical additives.

    “Understanding the compatibility between spider silk and conducting materials is essential to advance the use of spider silk in electronic applications,” Steven wrote in the online research journal Nature Communications. “Spider silk is tough, but becomes soft when exposed to water. … The nanotubes adhere uniformly and bond to the silk fiber surface to produce tough, custom-shaped, flexible and electrically conducting fibers after drying and contraction.”

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    Water is the Optimal Lubricant for Nanomachines

    Tue, 09/03/2013 - 11:30

    Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachines
    Water proves to be the best solvent for nanomachinesCourtesy Welome Images
    Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have found that nanomachines work more efficiently when water is added as a "lubricant". Nanomachines are structures just one molecule in size (a few dozen atoms or so) that do work. When researchers added a small amount of water to the solvent that surrounded the nanomachines, the machines moved much faster.

    Discovering how to optimize these tiny machines is important for the development of things like molecular computers and surfaces that can change properties.

    Preventing Heart Attacks, One Nanobot At A Time

    Thu, 08/29/2013 - 10:53

    Researchers are developing nanobots that can destroy plaque build-up in arteries. These nanobots have a magnetic core, which allows physicians to track their position in the bloodstream in real-time. The physicians can then control the bots' movements and plaque destruction via a remote monitor, like an MRI.

    This means that, in the future, plaque build-up could be removed without surgery, or other invasive medical procedures. Pretty cool!

    See video

    E-skin enables a new form of human-machine interfacing

    Wed, 07/31/2013 - 09:11

    Using semiconductor nanowire transistors, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have created a flexible sensor that lights up when touched. The harder it's pressed the brighter the lights. It's paper-thin, flexible nature could allow it to be laminated to any surface, which is quite different from the rigid touchscreens we find on iPhones, computer screens, and ATMs, for example. This new technology could be used to give robots a finer sense of touch, create a wallpaper that doubles as a touchscreen, or laminate dashboards to allow drivers to change electronic controls by waving their hand.

    See video

    Implantable sensors

    Mon, 07/29/2013 - 12:18

     A protective coating allows this sensor to be implanted in the body in order to detect the presence of proteins that mark the first signs of organ rejection.
    Silicon circuit: A protective coating allows this sensor to be implanted in the body in order to detect the presence of proteins that mark the first signs of organ rejection.Courtesy Paul Berger
    Researchers from Ohio State University have developed a coating that allows small sensors to function even when in contact with blood, bodily fluids, or living tissue. Currently, the electrical signals in silicon-based, implantable sensors are disrupted by the electrolytes in the body, resulting in unreliable readings. This new, ultra-thin coating blocks the electrolytes and allows the sensors to continue functioning accurately within the body. These coated sensors are first slated to be used to detect early stages of organ transplant rejection, but could have a lot of other possible applications in the future.

    Cleaning up emissions using nanotechnology

    Tue, 07/23/2013 - 12:14

    Researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a new nanomaterial that could help reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants. This new material acts like a sponge and “soaks up” the carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere by trapping the CO2 molecules in tiny nano-sized pores. This new material is potentially much more energy efficient than other, current methods of separating out CO2 from power plant emissions.

    The Future of Medicine

    Thu, 07/11/2013 - 09:55

    Nanoscale science holds a lot of promise for the medical world (among many other fields). The idea of introducing teeny-tiny particles into the body that can seek and destroy harmful bacteria, without damaging the living tissue around it, is an exciting prospect! Nanobotmodels Company has created an artistic representation of what it might look like to have these teeny nanobots attack an infectious disease - in this case, tetanus.

    Word of warning: the music in this video is a little over-the-top, but the actual simulation is pretty cool.

    See video

    Nanotechnology Through History

    Fri, 06/21/2013 - 09:56

     Carbon nanotubes are great for making beautiful cave art......and space elevators.
    Smudgy Potential: Carbon nanotubes are great for making beautiful cave art......and space elevators.Courtesy Prof saxx
    An interesting look at the progression of nanotechnology - from our early ancestors using nanoparticles completely unwittingly, to scientists and researchers today being able to manipulate them to create a desired outcome. The tiny particles have always been here, we've just recently been able to start taking advantage of their unique properties.

    Smart Bandages

    Mon, 04/15/2013 - 09:43

    Not your grandma's bandage
    Not your grandma's bandageCourtesy Ivy Dawned
    Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a wound dressing that can detect infection. In the presence of disease-causing pathogenic bacteria, tiny nanocapsules release dye that fluoresces under UV light. Currently, these wound dressings are being used for pediatric burn victims, whose immature immune systems make them particularly susceptible to infection.

    The Bee's Knees

    Fri, 03/15/2013 - 09:43

    HIV Killer
    HIV KillerCourtesy Bob Peterson
    Are bees the key to stopping the spread of HIV?!

    Fun With Carbon Nanotubes

    Fri, 02/22/2013 - 11:52

    Carbon Nanotubes
    Carbon NanotubesCourtesy Mstroeck
    Ah, the potential uses of carbon nanotubes. You could make bullet-stopping combat jackets, stronger cement, stronger and lighter sports equipment, a space elevator, or.......a cupid. A student from Brigham Young University made a teeny cupid using carbon nanotubes. Though this cupid may not impact society the way a space elevator would, it's still pretty amazing how researchers are able to create things using such tiny building blocks.

    Nano Art

    Fri, 02/15/2013 - 11:40
    Carbon Galaxy: www.mrs.orgCourtesy Materials Research Society Science-as-Art Competition and Vilas Pol, Michael Tackeray, Dean Miller and Michele Nelson, Argonne National Laboratory
    Every year, scientists attending the Materials Research Society conference can enter in the Science as Art competition. The images they submit are created by manipulating teeny-tiny particles. There's a great video about this competition as well.

    I think the prize for the winners is 5 minutes away from the scanning electron micrograph.

    Smelling Cancer

    Thu, 01/24/2013 - 11:06

     Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.
    Sniffing Out Cancer: Amherst chemists develop a way to "smell" cancer cells.Courtesy Jeremie63
    Chemists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a way to quickly and accurately detect and identify metastatic cancer cells in living tissue, in much the same way that your nose can detect and identify certain odors.

    The smell of a rose, for example, is a unique pattern of molecules, which activates a certain set of receptors in your nose. When these specific receptors are triggered, your brain immediately recognizes it as a rose.

    Similarly, each type of cancer has a unique pattern to the proteins that make up its cells. The Amherst chemists just needed a "nose" to recognize these patterns. What they came up with was an array of gold nanoparticle sensors, coupled with green fluorescent proteins (GFP). The researchers took healthy tissue and tumor samples from mice, and trained the nanoparticle-GFP sensors to recognize the bad cells, and for the GFP to fluoresce in the presence of metastatic tissues.

    This method is really sensitive to subtle differences, it's quick (can detect cancer cells within minutes), it can differentiate between types of cancers, and is minimally invasive. The researchers haven't tested this method on human tissue samples yet, but it holds some exciting potential.

    DIY Nano!

    Fri, 01/11/2013 - 10:30

     Forget those super-sterile clean rooms.  The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!
    Nano at home!: Forget those super-sterile clean rooms. The DIY Nano app lets you explore nanoscale science in the comfort of your own home!Courtesy NISE Network
    When things get really really small (nanoscale small), they behave completely differently! For example, gold at the nanoscale can look purple, orange, or red; static electricity has a greater effect on nanoparticles than gravity; and aluminum (the stuff your benign soda cans are made of) is explosive at the nanoscale!

    If you want to experience some of these nanoscale phenomena first-hand, check out, or download the DIY Nano app. The website and the app were both created by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net for short), and have videos and activity guides, complete with instructions and material lists, so you can do some nano experiments at home! The app was a Parents' Choice award winner for 2012, and was featured in Wired Magazine's review of apps. Definitely worth a look!

    Have fun exploring nanoscale properties!