Tag Archives: nanotech

New nanotechnology will enable earlier cancer diagnosis

Finding ways to diagnose cancer earlier could potentially save millions of lives, improving the chances of survival for many patients. This is why researchers have developed nanoparticles which amplify tumor signals, making them much easier to detect.

Nanotech to the rescue

The new technology was developed by researchers from MIT and it makes biomarker detection much easier; a biomarker, which is short for biological marker is a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes – in this case, for detecting tumors. The team was led by Sangeeta Bhatia and they have developed nanoparticles that can find a tumor, and when they do, produce thousands of biomarkers, which can then be easily detected in the patient’s urine.

According to them, the biomarker amplification could also be used to monitor disease progression and responsiveness to treatment, explains Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

“There’s a desperate search for biomarkers, for early detection or disease prognosis, or looking at how the body responds to therapy,” says Bhatia, who is also a member of MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Amplying signals

Cancer cells produce many proteins that are not typically produced by healthy cells. However, the main problem in detecting the disease is that most often, the proteins are so diluted in the blood stream that it’s really hard to pinpoint. A recent study from Stanford University researchers found that even using the best existing biomarkers for ovarian cancer, and the best technology to detect them, it would take 8-10 years to detect an ovarian tumor.

“The cell is making biomarkers, but it has limited production capacity,” Bhatia says. “That’s when we had this ‘aha’ moment: What if you could deliver something that could amplify that signal?”

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer. Research Fund.


Nanootech yarn muscle

Super-strong artificial muscles made from nanotech yarn

Scientists at University of Texas Dallas have made artificial muscles capable of supporting 100,000 times their own weight and generate 85 times more mechanical power than natural muscle of the same size. Applications for this kind of technology are quite numerous, ranging from extremely strong and intelligent textiles to high-temperature applications since the fabric has a negative thermal expansion coefficient.

Nanootech yarn muscle

The diameter of this coiled yarn is about twice the width of a human hair. (c) UT Dallas

The artificial muscles were constructed from carbon nanotubes, tiny hallow cylinders made from the same made from the same type of graphite layers found in the core of ordinary pencils. The nanotubes were put together as to constitute a string of yarn. The yarn was infiltrated with simple paraffin wax, commonly found in candles, and then twisted. Because the wax is a “volume changer”, when the composite twisted yarn was heated either electrically or using a flash of light the wax expanded. As such the yarn volume increased, and the yarn length contracted.

“The artificial muscles that we’ve developed can provide large, ultrafast contractions to lift weights that are 200 times heavier than possible for a natural muscle of the same size,” said Dr. Ray Baughman, team leader, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at UT Dallas. “While we are excited about near-term applications possibilities, these artificial muscles are presently unsuitable for directly replacing muscles in the human body.”

Smart fabric made out of nanotech yarn

Muscle contraction – also called actuation – can be ultrafast, occurring in 25-thousandths of a second. Including times for both actuation and reversal of actuation, the researchers demonstrated a contractile power density of 4.2 kW/kg, which is four times the power-to-weight ratio of common internal combustion engines.

“Because of their simplicity and high performance, these yarn muscles could be used for such diverse applications as robots, catheters for minimally invasive surgery, micromotors, mixers for microfluidic circuits, tuneable optical systems, microvalves, positioners and even toys,” said Baughman.

For instance, because of their ultra-fast expansion/contraction to slight temperature changes, the artificial muscles could be employed in smart clothing whose textile porosity could change in order to provide thermal or chemical comfort. The yarn can be easily twisted together, woven, sewn, braided and knotted.

Also the yarn has been found to contract only by 7% when lifting heavy loads at a whooping 2,500 degrees Celsius – that’s 1000 degrees past the melting point of steel, where no other high-work-capacity actuator has been able to survive.

“The remarkable performance of our yarn muscle and our present ability to fabricate kilometer-length yarns suggest the feasibility of early commercialization as small actuators comprising centimeter-scale yarn length,” Baughman said. “The more difficult challenge is in upscaling our single-yarn actuators to large actuators in which hundreds or thousands of individual yarn muscles operate in parallel.”

The findings were reported in the journal Science,


(c) Wyss Institute

Nanorobots made out of DNA seek and kill cancer cells

In what can only be hailed as a breakthrough in the “smart drugs” field, scientists at Harvard University have successfully managed to create nanorobots made out of strands of DNA, folded together by the DNA origami method. These act like drug-carrying recipients, which specifically target various types of cells and deliver complex molecular instructions – like telling cancer cells to self-destruct.

(c) Wyss Institute

(c) Wyss Institute

The shape and structure of the nanobots was critical to their success. The team designed a clam-like device, using DNA modelling software that can compute and complement inputted shapes with the right kinds of DNA strands, of the right helical structure and base pairs, and mix them together.

The DNA clam acts as a container and only opens when it finds its target. To keep its payload unscathed, made out specific molecules with encoded instructions for certain cell surface receptors with which it interacts, the clam is fitted with two locks. Each lock is made out of a DNA strand called an aptamer, specifically designed to recognize a certain molecule. Only when it nears the target, will the aptamer unzip, swinging the claim open, and delivering the payload in the process.

The scientists involved in research were Shawn Douglas, Ph.D., a Wyss Technology Development (Harvard University) Fellow, and Ido Bachelet, Ph.D., a former Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow who is now an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Nano-Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

To demo their creation, Douglas and Bachelet encoded antibody fragments with self-termination instructions for two types of cancer cells – leukemia and lymphoma. Since the two cancer cells communicate differently, they require specific instructions of their own, so the researchers were sure to have the messages written in different antibody combinations.

Smart DNA robots –  miracle drugs of the future?

The nanorobot for leukemia had its locks open in response to molecules expressed on the cancer cells surface, and was loaded with a single molecules which kills cells by disrupting their growth cycles. Millions of such bots were released into a mixture of both healthy and cancerous human blood cells. Only three days afterwards, half of all the cancer cells were destroyed, while absolutely no healthy cells were affected at all. The researchers claim  had they increased the number of payloads into the system, then every leukemia cell would’ve been cleansed.

What’s important to note about this particular system, whose design was heavily influenced by our own natural immune system, is that the active molecules designed to attack a specific cell can be harbored into containers featuring two types of locks. Just like the body’s immune system, the DNA origami nanobots will thus be able to hone in on specific cells in distress, bind to them, and transmit comprehensible signals to them to self-destruct. “It would require that two different signals have to be present to open it, increasing its specificity,” says Douglas.

“This work represents a major breakthrough in the field of nanobiotechnology as it demonstrates the ability to leverage recent advances in the field of DNA origami pioneered by researchers around the world, including the Wyss Institute’s own William Shih, to meet a real-world challenge, namely killing cancer cells with high specificity,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director, Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. “This focus on 9translating technologies from the laboratory into transformative products and therapies is what the Wyss Institute is all about.”

By all standards, this can only be considered a remarkable research, with potentially incredible consequences in medicine. Thoughts, please?


The world’s smallest “wedding rings” are made from DNA

DNA nanotechnology is one of the most exciting branches of nanotechnologies, especially because it uses the ability of natural DNA strains to self assembly. Prof. Alexander Heckel and his doctoral student Thorsten Schmidt of Goethe University set out with exactly that thought in mind when they created two DNA rings with the size of only 18 nanometers and interlock like two links in a chain. Schmidt, who got married when he was working on these rings stated that they may very well be the smallest wedding rings in the world.

Aside from being awesomely cool, the rings are extremely important from a scientific point of view as well. They represent a milestone in nanotechnology, not fixed formations, but can be freely pivotable, which makes them perfect for being integrated in a machinery; but that is still far away.

“We still have a long way to go before DNA structures such as the catenan can be used in everyday items,” says Prof Alexander Heckel, “but structures of DNA can, in the near future, be used to arrange and study proteins or other molecules that are too small for a direct manipulation, by means of auto-organization.” This way, DNA nano-architectures could become a versatile tool for the nanometer world, to which access is difficult.

Catenan, refers to the structure, from the Latin word “catena”, which means chain. In order to get an idea about the size of these rings, it would take about 4000 of them to achieve the diameter of a human hair. All I can say is I wish Prof. Schmidt all the best in his marriage, as well as in his research !

Your heartbeat will charge your phone in 5 years

Batteries ? Ha, no way, batteries are so last century. Nanogenerators, that’s the future. At least that’s what Apple believes. Nanogenerators powered by nothing more than your heartbeat could replace the classic battery in no more than five years, according to researchers working on the matter.

In a world ruled by 4G smartphones, touchscreens, portable computers, finding way to keep everything charged is a nightmare, and causes problems for pretty much everybody. But what if we could find the needed power without doing nothing at all ?

Dr. Zhong Lin Wang and his team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed tiny nanogenerators that rely on very small movements to generate power – enough power to charge a phone, for example.

“This development represents a milestone toward producing portable electronics that can be powered by body movements without the use of batteries or electrical outlets.”

Wang’s new device is thousands of times more powerful than previous generations. “If we can sustain the rate of improvement, the nanogenerator may find a broad range of other applications that require more power,” he said. “Our nanogenerators are poised to change lives in the future,” Wang said. “Their potential is only limited by one’s imaginatio


These nanogenerators work using zinc oxide nanowires, which generate electric current when strained or flexed, which means that if they are sensible enough, they can generate current with the smallest kind of movement – walking, breathing, even rolling your eyes, not to mention the wind. Wang expects nanogenerators to be in stores in about five years.

The ‘No small matter’ giveaway


I’ve been running ZME Science for more than 2 years now, and the support you’ve shown has been increasingly amazing! However, much to my shame, I’ve rarely thanked you like you deserve it. I rarely have time to write as much as I want, I make grammar mistakes (non English speaker, btw), and I often reply to emails after a day or two. Still, I love you guys, and I try to give back as much as I can.

We’re gonna start doing a lot of giveaways and posters and … stuff (don’t wanna give you more details just yet), and this is the start. The day before yesterday I wrote about a great book I read, called ‘No small matter: Science on the nanoscale‘, and the publishers have been kind enough to offer 2 books for a giveaway. So, here’s how it goes.

All you have to do is join the ZME Science page on facebook (here), which I just started minutes ago. Then I’ll randomly select two winners and send them the books. Simple as that. Also, you’ll get to take part in discussions with people who have the same interest and you, contribute to noble causes, stay tuned with more information and also tell me what you like (and, of course, dislike) about the site. Good luck mates, and see you on facebook !

NOTE: contest ends on December 19th.

“No small matter: Science on the nanoscale” review


Nanotechnology is perhaps the field with the most spectacular development over the past years, but it can be really hard to understand what’s going on at that scale, mostly because we can’t see it (doh!), but also because the laws that apply there are slightly different.

No small matter:  Science on the nanoscale is the work of George M. Whitesides, the man with the highest H index of all living chemists and Felice C. Frankel, winner of the Photographic Society of America’s 2009 Progress Medal, and it has to be said, it’s awesome. Before I get into talking more about the book, I want to say that this is not a paid review, and everything I write is my honest opinion.

The book is written mostly for those who are just getting into nanotechnology or have a basic grasp of what’s going on there, but everybody has something to take from it, regardless of their interests and current knowledge; it probably fits best with undergrads, though. But, if you wanted to know what happens at a molecular level when you play the violin, take a pregnancy test or lit a candle (and way more), this is what you need to read.

A small revolution is remaking the world. The only problem is, we can’t see it. This is the book’s catchphrase, but it’s a bit too simple if you ask me. The virtual voyage the authors have prepared for the readers is just breathtaking, filled with detailed pictures of seemingly invisible objects, such as nanotubes, viruses, etc., proving what photography and high power microscopes can do when working together.

Basically it provides an overview of where nanotechnology is now, looking at what it has been and what it will probably be, as well as the advantages and dangers that this microscopic (or submicroscopic) world brings. In layman’s terms, you can call it an introduction in the science of the little; and what an introduction it is! What really convinced me of the value of the book is that aside from it’s educational part (which is explained logically, in detail, but kept simple) was it’s interesting part. I often found myself reading one page after another and forgetting to look at the pictures, even though they were really great. This happened because the information is presented in a clear, explosive and informal manner, allowing readers to grasp the basic core of nanotechnology.

“The textbook is well-written and concise, allowing readers with little or no prior knowledge about nanotechnology and nanoscience to understand and appreciate the concepts easily.”
Tan Lay Theng
Republic Polytechnic, Singapore

The simplicity is definitely something worth admiring, because an area as complex as nanotech involves many fields (physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, etc) and binds them together. All in all, this is definitely something worth reading, whether you’re a science enthusiast or not, regardless of your age.

Get it via Amazon

‘Holy Grail’ Of Nanoscience achieved ?!

nanoparticlesResearchers at at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have achieved something that many people call the Holy Grail of Nanoscience; this in fact reffers to the fact that they have used for the first time DNA to guide the creation of three-dimensional, ordered, crystalline structures of nanoparticles (particles with dimensions measured in billionths of a meter). What makes this so important is the fact that it’s essential to producing functional materials that take advantage of the unique properties that may exist at the nanoscale – for example, enhanced magnetism, improved catalytic activity, or new optical properties.

“From previous research, we know that highly selective DNA binding can be used to program nanoparticle interactions,” said Oleg Gang, a scientist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), who led the interdisciplinary research team, which includes Dmytro Nykypanchuk and Mathew Maye of the CFN, and Daniel van der Lelie of the Biology Department. “But while theory has intriguingly predicted that DNA can guide nanoparticles to form ordered, 3-D phases, no one has accomplished this experimentally, until now.”

Their work relies on the attractive forces between complementary strands of DNA; first, the scientists attach to nanoparticles hair-like extensions of DNA with specific “recognition sequences” of complementary bases. Then they mix the DNA-covered particles in solution. When the recognition sequences find one another in solution, they bind together to link the nanoparticles.

“This work is the first step to demonstrate that it is possible to obtain ordered structures. But it opens so many avenues for researchers, and this is why it is so exciting,” Gang says.

Novel Nanostructure Response Opens Possibilities For Electrical Devices

Nanotech could be applied in just about everything. With time scientists find out ways to apply it to various fields; building small, efficient electronics could be very useful in further use of nanotechnology.

A University of Arkansas physicist and her colleagues have examined the response of the nanostructures polarization to electric fields which is known as the dielectric susceptibilities of nanostructures and found very interesting and useful but seemingly contradictory properties that mean we could be able to design such things. They discovered that the dielectric response has three different aspects, unlike in the bulk level. These include the change of polarization with respect to the external field, called external susceptibility, and the change in polarization with respect to the internal field, called internal susceptibility. Both of these are characteristic of the shape of the material – that is, the susceptibility is dependent upon whether the object is a nanorod, a nanodot, or a nanofilm. The third aspect – called intrinsic susceptibility – is a characteristic of the material.

“It’s important to know what happens from many angles,” she said. “These characteristics may have useful applications, but right now we have more of a fundamental interest in them.”.

They found out that the highest external dielectric response occurred for electrodes that are around 90 percent efficient. This shows a point at which it is the most easily manipulated by an external electric field.