Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in 2017: The Story So Far January - May

While the actual term ‘nanotechnology’ was not introduced until 1974 by Japanese scientist Norio Taniguchi, the original concept behind this massively developed field of science was introduced by Richard Feynman in his 1959 speech titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.1

In his speech, Feynman discussed that by manipulating the size of a material to be in its smallest form, we are able to learn much more about the phenomena exerted by this material, particularly when presented in complex situations.

Since its initial introduction into the world, the application of nanotechnology has found an ability to revolutionize and improve almost every technology and industry sector of the world today. By converting bulk materials to a nanoscale, this technology has allowed for specific properties such as strength, durability, reactivity, conductance, and several other traits to be tailored towards each project of interest2.

The industries that have found the greatest advantages by manipulating materials into its nanoscale include information technology, homeland security, medicine, energy, food safety, environmental science, transportation and many others.

Many commercial and everyday products now rely on the presence of nanoengineered materials in order to deliver the best possible outcomes following their use, however the application of this technology in advancing scientific fields is also quite impressive.

As researchers around the world are discovering remarkable properties and uses for nanosized particles, scientific meetings such as the international Trends in Nanotechnology meeting, aim at publishing the work that is being done in this revolutionary field. During the week of June 5-9, 2017, researchers from around the world will gather in Dresden, Germany to discuss some of the following hot topics that are going to pave the way in nanotechnology this year:

  • Atoms and molecule computing
  • High spatial resolution spectroscopies under SPM probe
  • Graphene and 2D materials
  • Low dimensional materials (nanowires, clusters, quantum dots, etc)
  • Nanobiotechnologies & Nanomedicine
  • NanoChemistry
  • Nanofabrication tools & nanoscale integration
  • Nanomagnetism and Spintronics
  • Nanomaterials for Energy
  • NanOptics / NanoPhotonics / Plasmonics / Nanophononics
  • Nanostructured and nanoparticle based materials
  • Nanotechnologies for Security & Defense
  • Risks / Toxicity / Regulations3

Find out more about TNT 2017

The application of nanotechnology into the field of photovoltaics is not a new thought, however, the future range of possible nanoapplications in this industry is expected to rise in 2017. Photovoltaics, which describes the ability to generate electricity from light, is a growing market that has faced several challenges due to the high costs associated with the materials required for most solar cells.

While the cost is likely to decrease in the future following the development of thinner wafers and devices capable of exhibiting a higher conversion efficiency, the role of nanotechnology is expected to play an important role in enhancing these properties.

PV Nano Cell has developed an innovative and conductive ink that has found use in solar photovoltaics and other printed electronics applications. The PV Nano Cell SicrysTM product is a single-crystal, nanometric silver, or copper-based, conductive ink, that is capable of delivering the product’s properties at an enhanced performance rate while also reducing the cost required to do so4.

Photovoltaic ink typically takes only about a minute to dry onto a surface at 100 °C, which allows for “roll-to-roll manufacturing” to occur. This type of manufacturing technique describes a sheet of material being spun off one roll, coated, and rolled back onto a new one in a consecutive and rapid manner, which not only increases production time, but has also been found to enhance the efficiency the functioning capability of solar cells5.

The use of graphene has already found an untenable amount of applications over the last few years, and its use in combination with nanotechnology is no different. The term graphene is used to describe a single atom-thick layer of carbon, and its use has found a successfully applications such as batteries, capacitors, mobile devices, fuel cell-powered cars, water purification, solar cell dyes and many others6.

For example, a graphene-based electrode has recently been developed by researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, which has the potential to apply solar technology in future devices such as smart phones, laptops, cars and quite possibly buildings7. Not only does this electrode exhibit a storage capacity that is estimated to be 30 times greater, while also being comprised of a much thinner and flexible material as compared to its predecessors.

Learn more about the PV Nano Cell Sicrys™

The future of nanotechnology is expected to have major impacts on all aspects of the world, and its ability to further improve daily life is limitless. From changing the way in which medicine and diagnostic procedures is given to patients to generating new and increasingly efficient ways to generate electricity, nanotechnology seems to hold the key into the future of the world.

Update, April 21st 2017: Nanopore Sensors for Early Detection of Cancer

One of the most important steps in the cancer treatment process involves early detection of cancer. Apart from being able to recognize the early possible warning signs of cancer, several screening tests are available for healthy patients to identify a disease before any symptoms are present.  Of these early screening detection methods includes the measurement of DNA methylation within blood or tissue samples, as well as certain biological fluids8. DNA methylation describes the addition of a methyl group (CH4) to DNA that is an important regulative process involved in gene expression, cellular development, aging, as well as the development of certain diseases, such as cancer9.

Current acceptable methods of mapping DNA methylation for the detection of cancer involve either the bisulfite treatment of the methylated DNA (mDNA) or a newly developed single-molecule approach. In the bisulfite treatment of methylated DNA (mDNA), sodium bisulfite is applied to mDNA, which allows for the conversion of unmethylated cytosine to deoxyuridine, while methylated cytosine remains unchanged and therefore, readily detectable.

Pacific Biosciences has recently developed a real-time single-molecule sequencing approach that is capable of recognizing methylated nucleotides from fluorescently labeled nucleotides present within a DNA strand. Any change in the fluorescence pulse is therefore represented by the DNA polymerase catalyzing these labeled nucleotides2. While these methods are efficient in their approach, they often require time-consuming and expensive techniques, such as sample preparation and DNA sequencing approaches, the development of fast, low-cost sequencing techniques is of interest9.

A recent study produced by researchers from the Uniersity of Illinois have developed an advanced technique to detect DNA methylation through the use of nanopore sensors. Once a specific methyl-CpG nucleotide binding domain protein (MBD1) was applied to DNA, the application of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations created a vertical ionic current to present across the nanopore9. This simulation method not only accurately detected the presence of methylated DNA strands, but also exhibited no overlapping in the methylations pattern, ensuring its accuracy and precision for future clinical applications.

Update, April 28th 2017: Single-Nanometer Scale Electron Beam Lithography

Electron beam lithography is a popular nanopatterning technique that utilizes a highly focused and tight beam of electrons to carve specific features into the surface of a substrate.

To investigate the potential electrical, thermal and optical properties of a material as the size of it decreases, a team of researchers from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory have incorporated EBL with a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM).10

While most EBL instruments are limited in their ability to size materials below 10-20 nm, the incorporation of the STEM provided a highly focused electron beam to defeat the typical limits of the EBL instrument. Within the STEM, the researchers installed a pattern generator that moves the electron beam over a sample in order to draw patterns that are retrieved from computer software. This highly specialized imaging and drawing tool not only greatly increases the resolution of the produced nanomaterial, but also allows for a complete control of the patterned material to be achievable for features as small as a single nanometer.

To test this device, the Brookhaven researchers patterned thin films of polymer poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) with one nanometer-sized individual features. Their results showed that the instrument can reduce the total feature size from 5nm to 1.7 nm, which is a nearly 200% reduction compared with conventional patterning methods. Similarly, the pattern density showed a dramatic increase from 0.4 to 0.8 trillion dots per square centimeter.

Researchers are hopeful that this technique could lead to exciting engineering possibilities that could enable individual atoms to be manipulated for almost any application. Future investigation on how other materials can be patterned at this one-nanometer dimension are in the works, and the team is hoping to specifically target the electronic and optical properties of these materials to further understand how their miniscule pattern size can have a substantial impact on their final product’s properties.

Update, May 2nd 2017: Nanodiamond Contrast Agents for MRI

Recent advancements in the field of nanotechnology, particularly in its biological applications, have had a focus on the use of nanodiamonds (ND) as a means of enhanced drug delivery and imaging. Measuring approximately 5 nanometers (nm) in size, NDs are non-toxic materials whose exemplary surface area and relating properties provide several advantages for drug delivery and imaging purposes11.

Previous attempts to incorporate NDs into contrast agents for MRI have faced difficulty in vivo in overcoming the natural nuclear spin of the 13C nuclei that is present at the carbon lattice present in the ND structure12. In principle, dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP) of the 13C nuclei should enable MRI contrast to detect the magnification from the ND agent; the nuclei relax back to their normal thermal polarization rates before any agent could function for proper imaging.

To address this challenge, researchers from the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital have coated the surface of NDs with a paramagnetic gadolinium (III) agent to create a complex that allows for conventional T1-weighted MRI imaging12.

By incorporating the nuclear Overhauser effect to the 13C nuclei, which specifically targets and magnetically excites the nucleus to alter the equilibrium of the ND, the researchers were not only able to overcome their former challenge in maintaining hyperpolarization, but were also able to allow for ND imaging to maintain its contrast for long-term biological imaging purposes13.

In organs such as the brain, liver and lymph nodes, the team of investigators believes that this type of contrast agent could be useful as a biological marker to track the nanoparticle accumulation in these areas.

References

  1. “History of Nanotechnology” - Try Nano
  2. “Benefits and Applications” - National Nanotechnology Initiative
  3. “TNT2017” Trends in Nanotechnology, Phantoms Foundation
  4. “PV Nano Cell Secures DTC Eligibility Effective January 19, 2017” - P.V. Nano Cell, Ltd. Press Release
  5. “Photovoltaic Ink Could Lead to Easy Solar Panel Manufacture” - Ars Technica
  6. “Graphene: It's Applications and Uses” - Understanding Nano
  7. “Bio-Inspired Energy Storage: A New Light for Solar Power” - RMIT University Newsroom
  8. “DNA Methylation and Cancer Diagnosis.” - Delpu, Yannick, Cordelier, Pierre, Cho, William C., Tossiani, Jerome, Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2013, DOI:10.3390/ijms140715029
  9. "Detection and Mapping of DNA Methylation with 2D Material Nanopores" - Qiu, Hu, Aditya Sarathy, Klaus Schulten, and Jean-Pierre Leburton, Npj 2D Materials and Applications, 2017, DOI:10.1038/s41699-017-0005-7
  10. “Aberration-Corrected Electron Beam Lithography at the One Nanometer Length Scale” – V. Manfrinato, A. Stein, et al. Nano Letters. (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b00514
  11. “Nanodiamonds for Drug Delivery Applications” – Drexel University Nanomaterials Group
  12. “Nanodiamond-enhanced MRI via in situ hyperpolarization” D. Waddington, M. Sarracanie, et al. Nature Communications. 2017. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15118
  13. “Nuclear Overhauser Effect” – The NMR Lab
  14. Image Credit: Shutterstock/DmitriyRybin

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