Back in March Nanowerk Spotlight reported on work by Sandia researchers who developed a range of novel platinum nanostructures with potential applications in fuel and solar cells (see: Novel platinum nanostructures). Through the use of liposomal templating and a photocatalytic seeding strategy the Sandia team produced a variety of novel dendritic platinum nanostructures such as flat dendritic nanosheets and various foam nanostructures (nanospheres and monoliths). In an intriguing follow-up report on the growth of hollow platinum nanocages, they now show for the first time a one-to-one correspondence between the porphyrin photocatalyst molecules and the seed particles that go on to grow the dendrites. This indicates that the whole process might be used for nanotagging biological molecules and other structures that have been labeled with a photocatalytic porphyrin.
All major powers are making efforts to research and develop nanotechnology- based materials and systems for military use. Asian and European countries, with the exception of Sweden (Swedish Defence Nanotechnology Programme), do not run dedicated programs for defense nanotechnology research. Rather, they integrate several nanotechnology- related projects within their traditional defense-research structures, e.g., as materials research, electronic devices research, or bio-chemical protection research. Not so the U.S. military. Stressing continued technological superiority as its main strategic advantage, it is determined to exploit nanotechnology for future military use and it certainly wants to be No. 1 in this area. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is a major investor, spending well over 30% of all federal investment dollars in nanotechnology. Of the $352m spent on nanotech by the DoD in 2005, $1m, or roughly 0.25%, went into research dealing with potential health and environmental risks. In 2006, estimated DoD nanotechnology expenditures will be $436m - but the risk-related research stays at $1m.
Nanoshells are a novel class of optically tunable nanoparticles that consist of alternating dielectric and metal layers. They have been shown to have tunable absorption frequencies that are dependent on the ratio of their inner and outer radii. Therefore nanoshells can potentially be used as contrast agents for multi-label molecular imaging, provided that the shell thicknesses are tuned to specific ratios. When used as contrast agents, nanoshells of small dimensions offer advantages in terms of delivery to target sites in living tissues, bioconjugation, steric hindrance, and binding kinetics. Besides their improved tissue penetration, smaller nanoshells generate a strong surface plasmon resonance and may exhibit absorption peaks in the visible?near-infrared spectrum. Sub-100 nm nanoshells also provide large surface areas to volume ratios for chemical functionalization that can be used to link multiple diagnostic (e.g. radioisotopic or magnetic) and therapeutic (e.g. anticancer) agents. Researchers at Northwestern University have come up with a relatively easy way to synthesize sub-100 nm nanoparticles that give rise to tunable peaks.
Building construction and operation is estimated to be a trillion dollar per year industry worldwide. And it is one that is ripe for the innovations offered by nanotechnology and nanomaterials. Already, dozens of building materials incorporate nanotechnology, from self-cleaning windows to flexible solar panels to wi-fi blocking paint. Many more are in development, including self-healing concrete, materials to block ultraviolet and infrared radiation, smog-eating coatings and light-emitting walls and ceilings. Nanotech is also starting to make the smart home a reality. Nanotech-enabled sensors are available today to monitor temperature, humidity, and airborne toxins. The nanosensor market is expected to reach $17.2 billion by 2012. Soon, inexpensive sensors will be available to monitor vibration, decay and other performance concerns in building components from structural members to appliances. Nanotechnology is also rapidly improving the batteries and wireless components used in these sensors. In the not-too-distant future, sensors will be ubiquitous in buildings, gathering data about the environment and building users. Building components will be intelligent and interactive. Nanosensors and nano building materials raise questions for building designers, builders, owners and users. What will the consequences be as buildings become increasingly intelligent and nanomaterials become an everyday part of the buildings that surround us?
Back in 2001, Swedish researchers developed techniques for creating complex two- and three-dimensional networks of nanotubes and micrometer-sized containers from liquid crystalline lipid bilayer materials based on the propensity in liposomes to undergo complex shape-transitions under mechanical excitations. The membrane composition and container contents can be controlled allowing chemical programming of networks in studies of enzyme kinetics, reaction-diffusion phenomena, and single-biomolecule detection. Materials contained in the networks can be routed among containers. Thus, networks of nanotubes and vesicles serve as a platform to build nanofluidic devices operating with single molecules and particles and offer new opportunities to study chemistry in confined biomimetic compartments. The networks can furthermore be used to build nanoscale chemical laboratories for applications in analytical devices as well as to construct computational and complex sensor systems that can also be integrated to living cells. In recent work, the researchers have now demonstrated that these nanotube-container networks can be constructed directly from plasma membranes of cultured cells.
Conventional diagnostic imaging is mainly based on morphological contrast that is a result of different general tissue characteristics. Molecular imaging is a new approach for detecting diseases much earlier, visualizing biological processes at the cellular and molecular level in living organisms, and detecting changes in biochemistry. Corresponding molecular markers appear in quite low concentrations. Hence, the imaging technique must be very sensitive. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has some significant advantages in terms of using non-ionizing radiation (in contrast to x-rays) and giving high resolution tomographies for any arbitrary position and orientation. However, conventional MRI suffers from inherent low sensitivity. A new method, using xenon as the signal source, was developed by researchers in California and will make MRI an important technique in molecular imaging, offering a huge potential for specific detection of disease markers. The new technique allows detection of signals from molecules present at 10,000 times lower concentrations than conventional MRI techniques. Called HYPER-CEST, for hyperpolarized xenon chemical exchange saturation transfer, this new technique could become a valuable tool for medical diagnosis, including the early detection of cancer.
The interest in research on magnetic nanocapsules has increased considerably since it was found that their intermediate states between bulk and atomic materials may present different magnetic behaviors from their correspondent bulk counterparts. This difference offers an opportunity for researchers to develop many important technical applications such as magnetic refrigerators, magnetic recording, or magnetic fluids. As the principal contributor of the novel properties, various magnetic cores of nanocapsules, including rare earths and their carbides, have been researched extensively over the past two decades. In addition, cores of magnetic rare-earth intermetallic compounds are becoming a major research focus. However, there have been considerable difficulties in preventing oxidation of the particles of rare-earth elements and compounds. Researchers in PR China have now succeeded in synthesizing a new type of intermetallic nanocapsule that can be applied in cyrogenic magnetic refrigerator devices.
R+D activities in nanotechnology in Canada are spearheaded by the federal government, provincial governments, as well as universities and national institutes. At the federal level, 9 institutes of the National Research Council (NRC), are conducting R+D in nanotechnology, while the major concentration of both research and industry can be found in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Most of these provinces have already established or will establish province-wide consortiums to promote economic development through nanotechnology. Currently, there are between 50 to 200 companies engaged in nanotechnology-related businesses, with numbers varied depending upon the definition of 'nanotechnology'.