Lithium-ion batteries seem to be everywhere these days. They power most of the electronic devices we carry around with us - cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, digital cameras and so on. They get their name from the lithium ion that moves from the anode to the cathode during discharge and from the cathode to the anode during recharging. Due to their good energy-to-weight ratios, lithium batteries are some of the most energetic rechargeable batteries available today. In terms of weight and size, batteries have become one of the limiting factors in the continuous process of developing smaller and higher performance electronic devices. To meet the demand for batteries having higher energy density and improved cycle characteristics, researchers have been making tremendous efforts to develop new electrode materials or design new structures of electrode materials. Demonstrating the benefits of directed nanostructure-design of electrode materials, Chinese scientists have prepared tin nanoparticles encapsulated in elastic hollow carbon spheres. This tin-based nanocomposite exhibits a very high specific capacity, excellent cycling performance, and therefore shows great potential as anode materials in lithium-ion batteries.
The controversy over the use of nanoparticles in everyday cosmetics has been going on for a while now. At best, the evidence is inconclusive - it is too early to say whether there is a risk or not. Regulators have no specific research findings to act on. Cosmetic firms of course claim that their products are safe and comply with all the relevant laws and regulations. On the other hand, they fight tooth and nail to have to label their products containing synthetic nanoparticles. The cosmetic industry's stance is even more perplexing given the common sense approach that regulators are taking.
Liquid crystal displays (LCD) have become an integral part of our everyday life. LCDs are everywhere, on your digital watches, cameras, iPods, laptop computers, television screens or car navigation displays. LCDs get their name from the special liquid crystal solution that is contained between two thin glass plates inside the display. Recent research findings suggest that embedding doped metal nanoparticles (MNP) in liquid crystal materials increases the performance of certain display devices. So far, however, the main problem with this approach has been that the inclusion of nanoparticles destabilizes the LC material. Researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing metal nanoparticle embedded stable liquid crystals in a single step, without using any external reducing and stabilizing agents. As a bottom-up strategy, this work is a further step towards synthesizing three-dimensional macro structures using small nanoparticles as building blocks, and an elegant method in fabricating soft organic architectures; particularly when it is combined with electronic, magnetic or photonic properties of inorganic materials.
Imagine a toothpaste that not only seeks out but actually repairs damage to tooth enamel. For those who dread their annual visit to the dentist, this may sound like science fiction. For people in Japan, it is a reality. Using nanoparticles, Japan's Sangi Company, Ltd., has sold more than 50 million tubes - and continues to expand its line of products containing nanoparticles. Scientists have learned to synthesize hydroxyapatite, a key component of tooth enamel, as nanosized crystals. When nano-hydroxyapatite is used in toothpaste, it forms a protective film on tooth enamel, and even restores the surface in damaged areas. Availability of similar products that claim to actually repair cavities is just around the corner. Unlikely as it seems at first blush, the $200 billion global cosmetics industry is one of the major players in the emerging field of nanotechnology. According to the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change at Lancaster University in Britain, the cosmetics industry already holds the largest number of patents for nanoparticles - and be it toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo, hair conditioner, lipstick, eye shadow, after shave, moisturizer or deodorant, the industry is leading the way.
Zinc oxide (ZnO) is considered a workhorse of technological development exhibiting excellent electrical, optical, and chemical properties with a broad range of applications as semiconductors, in optical devices, piezoelectric devices, surface acoustic wave devices, sensors, transparent electrodes, solar cells, antibacterial activity etc. Thin films or nanoscale coating of ZnO nanoparticles on suitable substrates are viewed with great interest for their potential applications as substrates for functional coating, printing, UV inks, e-print, optical communication (security-papers), protection, barriers, portable energy, sensors, photocatalytic wallpaper with antibacterial activity etc. Various methods like chemical, thermal, spin coating, spray pyrolysis, pulsed laser deposition have been used for thin film formation but they are limited to solid supports such as metal, metal oxides, glass or other thermally stable substrates. Coating of ZnO nanoparticles on thermolabile surfaces is scarce and coating on paper was yet to be reported. Paper as a substrate is an economic alternative for technological applications having desired portability and flexibility. Researchers from the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan found a way of coating paper with ZnO nanoparticles using ultrasound.
With the advent of nanoscience and technology, a new area has developed in the area of textile finishing called "Nanofinishing". Growing awareness of health and hygiene has increased the demand for bioactive or antimicrobial and UV-protecting textiles. Coating the surface of textiles and clothing with nanoparticles is an approach to the production of highly active surfaces to have UV blocking, antimicrobial, flame retardant, water repellant and self-cleaning properties. While antimicrobial properties are exerted by nano-silver, UV blocking, self-cleaning and flame-retardant properties are imparted by nano-metal oxide coatings. Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles embedded in polymer matrices like soluble starch are a good example of functional nanostructures with potential for applications such as UV-protection ability in textiles and sunscreens, and antibacterial finishes in medical textiles and inner wears.
The discussion about the health scare caused by the Magic-Nano sealing spray (which, as it turned out, was neither magic nor nano - see this article) has barely ebbed when questions about another nano consumer product arise. This time, it is not a health scare but rather the opposite - alleged health benefits of nanoparticles.
The use of nanoparticles in sunscreens is one of the most common uses of nanotechnology in consumer products. Well over 300 sunscreens on the market today contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide nanoparticles.