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Blog » Nanotechnology


21st April 2014

Transparent solar-powered windows made possible by quantum dot breakthrough

The superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied to solar energy, helping to more efficiently harvest sunlight.


solar powered windows quantum dot technology


A house window that doubles as a solar panel could be on the horizon, thanks to recent work by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers in collaboration with scientists from the University of Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB), Italy. Their project demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.

Quantum dots are ultra-small nanocrystals of semiconductor matter that are synthesized with nearly atomic precision. Their emission colour can be tuned by simply varying their dimensions. Colour tunability is combined with high emission efficiencies approaching 100%. These properties have recently become the basis of a new technology – quantum dot displays – employed, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire e-reader.

A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a photon management device, representing a slab of transparent material that contains highly efficient emitters such as dye molecules or quantum dots. Sunlight absorbed in the slab is re-radiated at longer wavelengths and guided towards the slab edge equipped with a solar cell.


luminescent solar concentrator
Quantum dot LSC devices under ultraviolet illumination.


Lead researcher Victor Klimov explained: “The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna – which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell – and this increases its power output.”

“LSCs are especially attractive because, in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy generation units,” said his colleague, Sergio Brovelli.

To implement their concept, Los Alamos researchers created a series of cadmium selenide/cadmium sulfide (CdSe/CdS) quantum dots, which were then incorporated by the Italian team into large slabs of transparent polymer. The particles are tiny, only about 10 nanometres (nm) across. For comparison, human hairs are typically 50,000 nm wide.

Spectroscopic measurements indicated virtually no losses to re-absorption on distances of tens of centimetres. Tests using simulated solar radiation demonstrated high photon harvesting efficiencies of around 10% per absorbed photon – achievable in nearly transparent samples – perfectly suited for utilisation as photovoltaic windows.

These findings are published in Nature Photonics. According to a report earlier this year, the quantum dot and quantum dot display (QLED) markets are expected to see a 42-fold growth in the next five years, reaching $6.4 billion by 2019.


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17th April 2014

Researchers discover groundbreaking method to commercialise graphene for electronics

Graphene has the potential to usher in a new era of next generation electronic devices, including flexible displays and wearable technology.




Samsung Electronics have announced a breakthrough synthesis method to speed the commercialisation of graphene, a unique material ideally suited for electronic devices. Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), in partnership with Sungkyunkwan University, became the first in the world to develop this new method.

“This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history,” said the laboratory leaders at SAIT’s Lab. “We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialisation of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology.”

Graphene has 100 times greater electron mobility than silicon, the most widely used material in semiconductors today. It is more durable than steel and has high heat conductibility as well as flexibility, which makes it the perfect material for use in flexible displays, wearables and other next generation electronic devices.


graphene electronic newspaper

Through its partnership with Sungkyungkwan University’s School of Advanced Materials Science and Engineering, SAIT uncovered a new method of growing large area, single crystal wafer scale graphene. Engineers around the world have invested heavily in research for the commercialisation of graphene, but have faced many obstacles due to the challenges associated with it. In the past, researchers have found that multi-crystal synthesis – the process of synthesising small graphene particles to produce large-area graphene – deteriorated the electric and mechanical properties of the material, limiting its application range.

The new method developed by SAIT and Sungkyunkwan University synthesises large-area graphene into a single crystal on a semiconductor, maintaining its electric and mechanical properties. The new method repeatedly synthesises single crystal graphene on the current semiconductor wafer scale.


Over the past several decades, the growth of the semiconductor industry has been driven by the ability to grow the area of a silicon wafer, while steadily decreasing the process node. In order to commercialise graphene to displace the industry’s reliance on silicon, it is vital to develop a new method to grow a single crystal graphene into a large area.

The research results are published in Science Magazine and ScienceExpress, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.


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14th April 2014

A battery that charges in seconds

Nanotechnology startup company, StoreDot, has unveiled a ground-breaking battery capable of charging your smartphone and other devices in under 30 seconds.



At Microsoft’s Think Next symposium in Tel Aviv, StoreDot demonstrated the prototype of its ultra-fast-charge battery for the first time. This company specialises in technology that is inspired by natural processes. They have produced "nanodots" derived from bio-organic material that, due to their size, have both increased electrode capacitance and electrolyte performance. These nanodots – described as "stable, robust spheres" – have a diameter of just 2.1 nanometres and are made of chemically synthesized peptide molecules, short chains of amino acids that form the building blocks of proteins.

StoreDot’s bio-organic devices, which include smartphone displays, provide much more efficient power consumption, and are eco-friendly. While other nanodot and quantum-dot technologies currently in use are heavy metal based, and therefore toxic, StoreDot's are biocompatible and superior to all previous discoveries in the field. Using their method, the company is hoping to synthesize new nanomaterials for use in a wide variety of applications. Nano-crystals in memory chips, for example, could triple the speed of traditional flash memory, while image sensors could be five times more sensitive.

Furthermore, the nanodots are relatively inexpensive, as they originate naturally, and utilise a basic biological mechanism of self-assembly. They can be made from a vast range of bio-organic raw materials that are readily available and environmentally friendly.

The battery seen in the video above remains in the prototype stage, with a rather bulky form factor. However, the CEO of Storedot, Doron Myersdorf, says he is confident that a smaller version can be developed and on the market by 2017.

“The fast-charge battery is the result of our focus on commercialising the materials we have discovered," he explained. "We’re particularly pleased that this innovative nanotechnology, inspired by nature, not only changes the rules of mobile device capabilities, but is also environmentally-friendly.”


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8th March 2014

FREE eBook: '3D Printing: Rise of the 3rd Industrial Revolution'

Black Dog Consulting have just announced the publication of 3D Printing: Rise of the 3rd Industrial Revolution. This eBook, co-authored by Aaron Council and Michael Petch, is available as a free download for a limited time.


free ebook 3d printing


Aaron Council is founder and CEO of the popular Gyges3D.com online community. He has published a series of books that explore 3D printing across social, political and economic landscapes and seeks to promote discussion about the importance of this evolving technology. Michael Petch is the founder of Black Dog Consulting, which provides strategic advice, media solutions and start-up services for a range of companies operating in the new technology sphere, including crypto-currency, 3D printing and innovative mobile app developers.

3D Printing: Rise of the 3rd Industrial Revolution explores what is arguably the single most important technology to arrive in recent years. Going beyond the headline-grabbing stories of 3D printed guns, this new book graphically illustrates how 3D printing will change the world. The authors thoroughly examine the history, the current market and the future.

Themes explored include how 3D printing is used in next-generation games consoles, such as the Xbox One, and how a robot can be created by combining these technologies. A discussion on the impact of 3D printing on medicine and healthcare is covered in depth – including how 3D printing will allow drugs to be downloaded from the Internet and printed using common household materials.


3d printer
Credit: Nanoscribe GmbH


The philosophy behind 3D printing is examined in clear English and the authors point out how 3D printing is likely to change the current economic system for the better. The importance of the technology for the future of society and how it will create jobs in both the U.S. and the developing world is given a detailed chapter. The political and social implications – such as a reduction in materialism and even an end to conflict – are also explored.

"Reality is stranger than science fiction," the authors say. "3D printing will create future spaceships and create robots to manufacture off-world colonies in orbit and on new planets."

3D Printing: Rise of the 3rd Industrial Revolution contains thought-provoking material for both experienced 3D printing enthusiasts and those new to the subject alike.

Download a free copy from Amazon (for a limited time only).


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11th February 2014

Nanomotors controlled inside living cells for the first time

For the first time anywhere, a team of researchers at Penn State University has placed tiny synthetic motors directly inside live human cells, propelled them with ultrasonic waves and steered them magnetically.


nanorods in cell
Credit: Mallouk Lab/ Penn State


"As these nanomotors move around and bump into structures inside the cells, the live cells show internal mechanical responses that no one has seen before," said Tom Mallouk, Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. "This research is a vivid demonstration that it may be possible to use synthetic nanomotors to study cell biology in new ways. We might be able to use nanomotors to treat cancer and other diseases, by mechanically manipulating cells from the inside. Nanomotors could perform intracellular surgery and deliver drugs noninvasively to living tissues."

Until now, Mallouk said, nanomotors have been studied only "in vitro" in a laboratory apparatus – not in living human cells. Chemically powered nanomotors were first developed 10 years ago at Penn State by a team that included chemist Ayusman Sen and physicist Vincent Crespi, in addition to Mallouk.

"Our first-generation motors required toxic fuels and they would not move in biological fluid, so we couldn't study them in human cells," Mallouk said. "That limitation was a serious problem." When Mallouk and physicist Mauricio Hoyos discovered that nanomotors could be powered by ultrasonic waves, the door was open to studying the motors in living systems.

For their experiments, the team used HeLa cells, an immortal line of human cervical cancer cells that is typically used in research studies. These cells ingest the nanomotors, which then move about inside, powered by ultrasonic waves. At low ultrasonic power, the nanomotors have little effect on the cells. But when the power is turned up, the nanomotors spring into action, bumping into organelles – structures within a cell that perform specific functions. The nanomotors can act as egg beaters to homogenise the cell's contents, or they can act as battering rams to puncture the cell membrane.



While ultrasound pulses control whether the nanomotors spin around or whether they move forward, the researchers can control them even further by steering them, using magnetic forces. Mallouk and his colleagues also found that the nanomotors can move autonomously – independently of one another – an ability that is important for future applications.

"Autonomous motion might help nanomotors selectively destroy the cells that engulf them," Mallouk said. "If you want these motors to seek out and destroy cancer cells, for example, it's better to have them move independently. You don't want a whole mass of them going in one direction."

"One dream application of ours is Fantastic Voyage-style medicine, where nanomotors cruise around inside the body, communicating with each other and performing various kinds of diagnoses and therapy. There are lots of applications for controlling particles on this small scale, and understanding how it works is what's driving us."



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24th January 2014

New technique improves nano-scale images

When capturing images at the atomic scale, even tiny movements of the sample can result in skewed or distorted images – and those movements are virtually impossible to prevent. Now microscopy researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that accounts for that movement and eliminates the distortion from the finished product.


nano scale image


At issue are scanning transmission electron microscopes (TEMs), which can obtain images of a material’s individual atoms. To take those images, scientists have to allow a probe to scan across the sample area – which has an area of less than 25 nanometres squared. That scanning can take tens of seconds.

The sample rests on a support rod, and while the scanning takes place, the rod expands or contracts due to subtle changes in ambient temperature. The rod’s expansion or contraction is imperceptible to the naked eye, but because the sample area is measured in nanometres the rod’s movement causes the sample material to shift slightly. This so-called “drift” can cause the resulting scanning TEM images to be significantly distorted.

“But our approach effectively eliminates the effect of drift on scanning TEM images,” says Dr. James LeBeau, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work.

Researchers programmed the microscope to rotate the direction in which it scans the sample. For example, it might first take an image scanning from left to right, then take one scanning from top to bottom, then right to left, then bottom to top. Each scanning direction captures the distortion caused by drift from a different vantage point.

The researchers plug those images into a program they developed that measures the features in each image and uses that data to determine the precise direction and extent of drift within the sample. Once the drift is quantified, the images can be adjusted to remove the distortion caused by the drift. The resulting images accurately represent the actual structure of the sample, giving scientists new capabilities to understand bonding between atoms.

“Historically, a major problem with drift has been that you need to have a reference material in any nanoscale image, so that you can tell how the image has been distorted,” LeBeau says. “This technique makes that unnecessary. That means we can now look at completely unknown samples and discover their crystalline structures – which is an important step in helping us control a material’s physical properties.”

The paper, “Revolving scanning transmission electron microscopy: correcting sample drift distortion without prior knowledge,” will be published in the March issue of Ultramicroscopy. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Xiahan Sang, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State. There is a patent pending on the technique.


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19th December 2013

DNA motor 'walks' along nanotube, transports tiny particle

Researchers have created a new type of molecular motor made of DNA and used it to transport a nanoparticle along the length of a carbon nanotube.


nanotube particle


This design was inspired by natural biological motors that evolved to perform specific tasks vital to the function of cells – according to Jong Choi, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.

Whereas biological motors are made of protein, researchers are working towards creating synthetic motors based on DNA, the genetic materials in cells that consist of four chemical bases in a sequence: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. The walking mechanism of synthetic motors is far slower than the mobility of natural motors. However, natural motors cannot be controlled, and they don't function outside their natural environment, whereas DNA-based motors are more stable and could be switched on and off.

"We are in the very early stages of developing these kinds of synthetic molecular motors," Choi said.

In future decades, such devices may be used in drug delivery, manufacturing and chemical processing at the nanoscale – perhaps forming the components and moving parts of tiny robots. His team's latest findings are published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.


nanobot blood cells


The motor has a core, with two arms made of DNA above and below the core. As it moves along a carbon-nanotube track it harvests energy from strands of RNA, molecules vital in living cells and viruses.

"Our motors extract chemical energy from RNA molecules decorated on the nanotubes and use that energy to fuel autonomous walking along the carbon nanotube track," Choi explained.

The core is made of an enzyme that cleaves off part of an RNA strand. After cleavage the upper DNA arm moves forward, binding with the next strand of RNA, and then the rest of the DNA follows. The process repeats until reaching the end of the nanotube track.


nano motor


The team used this motor to move nanoparticles of cadmium disulfide along the length of a nanotube. Each nanoparticle (pictured yellow) was just 4 nanometres in diameter. For comparison, a red blood cell is about 7,000 nanometres.

To record the motor's movement, the team combined two fluorescent imaging systems – one in the visible light spectrum and the other in near-infrared. The nanoparticle was fluorescent in visible light and the nanotubes were fluorescent in the near-infrared. The motor took about 20 hours to reach the end of the nanotube, which was several microns long, but the process could be accelerated by changing pH (a measure of acidity) and temperature.


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7th December 2013

Ultra-thin 'electronic skin' provides diagnosis and therapy

Researchers have developed a futuristic new medical device, resembling an electronic tattoo, which provides continuous patient monitoring and treatment.


diagnostic skin


An international team from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) has created this form of "electronic skin". The device, measuring just 1 x 2 cm (0.39 x 0.78"), adheres like a sticking plaster and is highly flexible, conforming to contours and remaining in place even when skin is stretched or pinched. It provides non-invasive measurements of blood flow and temperature from any part of the body, with minimal patient discomfort, while delivering therapeutic functions.

The array features a combination of miniature power coils, transistors, sensors and heating elements. It was measured alongside an infrared camera to compare their abilities in detecting local variations of skin temperature and blood flow. These tests used a range of mental and physical stimuli to trigger readings. The results were virtually identical using the two methods, meaning the electronic skin matches the “gold standard” of infrared technology. Another test, using pulses of heat from the array, demonstrated its success in accurately measuring skin perspiration and overall hydration.

Future versions will incorporate a wireless power coil and antenna for remote data transfer. New sensors could eventually be developed that reveal blood cell counts, the precise levels of a circulating medication, or the activity of metabolites (such as alcohols, antioxidants, nucleotides, organic and amino acids, sugars and vitamins). The heating elements could deliver heat therapy to specific regions – increasing blood flow in the affected area for accelerated healing, pain relief, decreased joint stiffness, muscle spasm relief, or reduced inflammation. It could even incorporate actuators that deliver an electrical charge, or nanoparticles.

Such diagnostic and therapeutic functions could be performed while patients go about their daily business, with data relayed via cellphone to a doctor or AI program. Looking further into the future, these devices might be incorporated into clothing and shoes. Perhaps eventually, later this century, they will be sufficiently compact and distributed that almost every part of the human body could be treated and monitored in real-time. With a comprehensive merging of the organic and inorganic, the age of transhumanism would truly be upon us.


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20th November 2013

Engineers make world's smallest FM radio

A team at the University of Columbia has taken advantage of graphene's special properties – its mechanical strength and electrical conduction – to create a nano-mechanical system producing FM signals, in effect the world's smallest FM radio transmitter. The study is published in Nature Nanotechnology.


worlds smallest fm radio


“This work is significant in that it demonstrates an application of graphene that cannot be achieved using conventional materials,” said Mechanical Engineering Professor James Hone, who led the study. “And it’s an important first step in advancing wireless signal processing and designing ultrathin, efficient cell phones. Our devices are much smaller than any other sources of radio signals, and can be put on the same chip that’s used for data processing.”

Graphene – a single atomic layer of carbon – is the strongest material known to man, and also has electrical properties superior to the silicon found in modern electronics. The combination of these properties makes graphene an ideal material for nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS), which are scaled-down versions of the micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) used widely for sensing of vibration and acceleration. For example, Hone explains, MEMS sensors figure out how your smartphone or tablet is tilted to rotate the screen.

In this new study, Hone’s team took advantage of graphene’s mechanical ‘stretchability’ to tune the output frequency of their custom oscillator – producing a nano-mechanical version of a component known as a voltage controlled oscillator (VCO). With a VCO, explained Hone, it is easy to generate a frequency-modulated (FM) signal – exactly what is used for FM radio broadcasting. The team built a graphene NEMS whose frequency was 100 megahertz, which lies right in the middle of the FM radio band (87.7 to 108 MHz). They used low-frequency music signals (both pure tones and songs from an iPhone) to modulate the 100 MHz carrier signal from the graphene, and then retrieved the musical signals again using an ordinary FM radio receiver.

“This device is by far the smallest system that can create such FM signals,” says Hone.

While graphene NEMS will not be used to replace conventional radio transmitters, they have many applications in wireless signal processing. Electrical Engineering Professor Kenneth Shepard: “Due to the continuous shrinking of electrical circuits known as ‘Moore’s Law’, today’s cell phones have more computing power than systems that used to occupy entire rooms. However, some types of devices, particularly those involved in creating and processing radio-frequency signals, are much harder to miniaturise. These ‘off-chip’ components take up a lot of space and electrical power. In addition, most of these components cannot be easily tuned in frequency, requiring multiple copies to cover the range of frequencies used for wireless communication.”

Graphene NEMS can address both problems: they are very compact and easily integrated with other types of electronics, and their frequency can be tuned over a wide range, because of graphene’s tremendous mechanical strength.     

“There is a long way to go toward actual applications in this area,” notes Hone, “but this work is an important first step. We are excited to have demonstrated successfully how this wonder material can be used to achieve a practical technological advancement – something particularly rewarding to us as engineers.”

Hone and Shepard are now working on improving the performance of the graphene oscillators to have lower noise. At the same time, they are also trying to demonstrate integration of graphene NEMS with silicon integrated circuits, making the oscillator design even more compact.


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10th November 2013

Bulletproof nanotechnology suit goes on sale

Luxury bespoke tailoring house, Garrison Bespoke, has launched the first fashion-forward bulletproof suit with a live ammo field-testing event in Toronto, Canada.




Michael Nguyen, co-owner of Garrison Bespoke: "After receiving requests from high-profile clients who travel to dangerous places for work, we set out to develop a lightweight, fashion-forward bulletproof suit as a more discreet and stylish alternative to wearing a bulky vest underneath."

The Garrison Bespoke bulletproof suit is made with carbon nanotubes created using nanotechnology and originally developed to protect the US 19th Special Forces in Iraq. The patented material is thinner, more flexible and 50 percent lighter than Kevlar, which is traditionally used for bulletproof gear. The suit also protects against stabbing – the carbon nanotubes harden on impact to prevent a knife from penetrating.

The live ammo field-testing event was held in the Ajax Rod and Gun Club, Ontario. It demonstrated the suit's ability to shield against 9mm bullets. Nguyen claims the suit can block .45 bullets as well. Garrison Bespoke's latest collection – Town & Country – features a range of new clothing, all of which can be made bulletproof by request, with prices starting from $20,000.


bulletproof nanotechnology suit


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30th October 2013

Super-thin membranes clear the way for chip-sized pumps

The ability to shrink laboratory-scale processes to automated chip-sized systems would revolutionise biotechnology and medicine. For example, inexpensive and highly portable devices that process blood samples to detect biological agents, such as anthrax, are needed by the U.S. military and for homeland security efforts.


A microfluidic bioreactor. Credit: Adam Fenster/University of Rochester.


One of the challenges of "lab-on-a-chip" technology is the need for miniaturised pumps to move solutions through micro-channels. Electroosmotic pumps (EOPs) — devices in which fluids appear to magically move through porous media in the presence of an electric field — are ideal, because they can be readily miniaturised. EOPs however, require bulky and external power sources, which defeats the concept of portability. But a super-thin silicon membrane developed at the University of Rochester could now make it possible to drastically shrink the power source, paving the way for new diagnostic devices the size of a credit card.

"Up until now, electroosmotic pumps have had to operate at a very high voltage, about 10 kilovolts," said James McGrath, associate professor of biomedical engineering. "Our device works in the range of one-quarter of a volt, which means it can be integrated into devices and powered with small batteries."

McGrath's research paper is published this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

McGrath and his colleagues use porous nanocrystalline silicon (pnc-Si) membranes that are microscopically thin – it takes more than one thousand stacked on top of each other to equal the width of a human hair. And that's what allows for a low-voltage system.

A porous membrane needs to be placed between two electrodes in order to create what's known as electroosmotic flow, which occurs when an electric field interacts with ions on a charged surface, causing fluids to move through channels. Membranes previously used in EOPs have resulted in a significant voltage drop between the electrodes, forcing engineers to begin with bulky and high-voltage power sources. The thin pnc Si membranes allow the electrodes to be placed much closer to each other, creating a much stronger electric field with a much smaller drop in voltage. As a result, a smaller power source is needed.

"Until now, not everything associated with miniature pumps was miniaturised," said McGrath. "Our device opens the door for a tremendous number of applications."

Along with medical applications, it's been suggested that EOPs could be used to cool electronic devices. As electronic devices get smaller, components are packed more tightly, making it easier for the devices to overheat. With miniature power supplies, it may be possible to use EOPs to help cool laptops and other portable electronic devices.

McGrath said there's one other benefit to the silicon membranes. "Due to scalable fabrication methods, the nanocrystalline silicon membranes are inexpensive to make and can be easily integrated on silicon or silica-based microfluid chips."


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9th October 2013

Major leap towards graphene for solar cells

Researchers in Germany have discovered that graphene retains its properties even when coated with silicon, paving the way for solar cells with much greater efficiency.


graphene solar cell technology


Graphene – a revolutionary new material discovered in 2004 – has extreme conductivity and is completely transparent, while being inexpensive and non-toxic. This makes it a perfect candidate material for layers in solar cells to conduct electricity without reducing the amount of incoming light; at least in theory. Whether or not this holds true in a real world setting is questionable as there is no such thing as "ideal" graphene – a free floating, flat honeycomb structure formed by a single layer of carbon atoms: interactions with adjacent layers can change its properties dramatically.

Now, researchers at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) have shown that graphene retains its impressive properties when coated with a thin silicon film. These findings pave the way for entirely new possibilities to use in thin-film photovoltaics.

"We examined how graphene's conductive properties change if incorporated into a stack of layers similar to a silicon-based thin film solar cell, and were surprised to find that these properties actually change very little," Dr. Marc Gluba explains.

To this end, they grew graphene on a thin copper sheet, next transferred it to a glass substrate, and finally coated it with a thin film of silicon. They examined two different versions that are commonly used in conventional silicon thin-film technologies: one sample contained an amorphous silicon layer, in which the silicon atoms are in a disordered state similar to a hardened molten glass; the other sample contained poly-crystalline silicon to help them observe the effects of a standard crystallization process on graphene's properties.

The team obtained their measurements on one square centimetre samples. Even though the morphology of the top layer changed completely as a result of being heated to a temperature of several hundred degrees Celsius, the graphene was still detectable.

"That's something we didn't expect to find, but our results demonstrate that graphene remains graphene even if it is coated with silicon," says Norbert Nickel. Their measurements of carrier mobility, using the Hall effect, showed that the mobility of charge carriers within the embedded graphene layer was roughly 30 times greater than that of conventional zinc oxide-based contact layers.

"Admittedly, it's been a real challenge connecting this thin contact layer – just one atom thick – to external contacts. We're still having to work on that," said Gluba.

"Our thin film technology colleagues are already pricking up their ears and wanting to incorporate it," added Gluba.

HZB is the same company which last month achieved a solar cell with 44.7% efficiency, a new record. Third-generation solar cells with graphene could, in theory, reach efficiencies in the range of 60%.


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20th September 2013

Densest array of carbon nanotubes grown to date

Researchers at Cambridge University have developed a new technique allowing carbon nanotube "forests" to be grown at five times the density of previous methods.


carbon nanotube forests
Scanning electron microscope images of CNT forests, low and high density.


Carbon nanotubes' outstanding mechanical, electrical and thermal properties make them an alluring material to electronics manufacturers. Until recently, however, scientists believed that growing the high density of tiny graphene cylinders needed for many microelectronics applications would be difficult.

Now a team from Cambridge University in England has devised a simple technique to increase the density of nanotube forests grown on conductive supports about five times over previous methods. The high density nanotubes might one day replace some metal electronic components, leading to faster devices.

"The high density aspect is often overlooked in many carbon nanotube growth processes, and is an unusual feature of our approach," says John Robertson, a professor in the electronic devices and materials group in the department of engineering at Cambridge. High-density forests are necessary for certain applications of carbon nanotubes, such as electronic interconnects and thermal interface materials.

Robertson and his colleagues grew carbon nanotubes on a conductive copper surface that was coated with co-catalysts cobalt and molybdenum. In a novel approach, they grew at lower temperature than is typical which is applicable in the semiconductor industry. When the interaction of metals was analysed by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, it revealed the creation of a more supportive substrate for the forests to root in. The subsequent nanotube growth exhibited the highest mass density reported so far.

"In microelectronics, this approach to growing high-density carbon nanotube forests on conductors can potentially replace and outperform the current copper-based interconnects in a future generation of devices," says Cambridge researcher Hisashi Sugime. In the future, more robust carbon nanotube forests may also help to improve thermal interface materials, battery electrodes, and supercapacitors.

The article, "Low temperature growth of ultra-high mass density carbon nanotube forests on conductive supports" appears in the journal Applied Physics Letters.


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17th September 2013

Microrobots for cell and drug delivery in the human body

A team of researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has developed a novel type of magnetic "micro-robot" capable of transporting cells and delivering drugs to specific locations inside the body. This new technology has the potential to revolutionise minimally invasive medical treatment such as targeted therapy and tissue regeneration.




The development of microrobots requires interdisciplinary knowledge including mechatronics, materials science, biology, computing and automation. These tiny devices have the potential to work in very small and confined spaces and thus have broad applications in many fields, but particularly in minimally invasive medical treatment.

Prof. Zhang Li, from CUHK's Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, collaborated with Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in Korea, and ETH Zurich. Together, they innovated a new microrobot capable of transporting the appropriate amount of cells and therapeutic drugs to specific areas of the body. The team used laser lithography to construct porous 3D scaffolds which were coated with a thin layer of magnetic material (nickel) and biocompatible material (titanium). This allowed remote manipulation of the devices using external magnetic fields to guide them, while causing no harm to living cells.

Prof. Zhang commented: "Our microrobots have enormous potential in on-demand, minimally invasive medical treatments. They allow accurate cell and drug delivery and reduce risk of complications arising from more invasive treatment methods. The low-strength magnetic fields are biologically harmless to living cells and tissues, and are therefore safe to use in the human body. This innovation is a great leap forward in the development of wirelessly-controlled medical microrobots."

One lab test involved cultivating human kidney cells in the microbot model, which grew and interacted with the model, Zhang said. This confirmed that the model could interoperate with the kidney cells, he said, adding that tests were currently conducted on rabbits and mice. This technology could lead to targeted treatment of various diseases such as cancer, cerebral infarction and retinal degeneration.

Professor Zhang is now leading the CUHK research team to improve the performance, intelligence and design of these micro-devices by paying close attention to their locomotion and dynamic properties in fluid. At present, they are just over 100 micrometres (µm) in length. However, as technology improves, they will become even smaller and more sophisticated. Experts believe that nano-scale robots may be possible by 2025 – able to repair individual cells and even work directly inside them. Further into the future, these machines could become a permanent part of our physiology.

The research results of this latest study will be featured as the cover story in a forthcoming issue of Advanced Materials.


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11th September 2013

New NIH awards focus on nanopore technology for DNA sequencing

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded grants of $17 million to eight research teams, with a focus on nanopore technology aimed at more accurate and efficient DNA sequencing.


nanopore technology


These grants are the latest awarded through the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)’s Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program, which was launched in 2004. NHGRI is part of NIH.

“Nanopore technology shows great promise, but is still a new area of science. We have much to learn about how nanopores can work effectively as a DNA sequencing technology, which is why five of the program’s eight grants are exploring this approach,” said Jeffery A. Schloss, Ph.D., program director for NHGRI’s Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology program and director of the Division of Genome Sciences.

Nanopore-based DNA sequencing involves threading single DNA strands through tiny pores. The individual base pairs – chemical letters of DNA – are then read one at a time as they pass through the nanopore. The bases are identified by measuring the difference in their effect on current flowing through the pore. For perspective, a human hair is 100,000 nanometres in diameter; a strand of DNA is only 2 nanometres in diameter.

This technology offers many potential advantages over current sequencing methods, e.g. real-time sequencing of single DNA molecules at low cost and the ability for the same molecule to be reassessed over and over again. Current systems involve isolating DNA and chemically labelling and copying it. DNA has to be broken up, and small segments are sequenced many times. Only the first step of isolating DNA would be necessary with nanopore technology.

Innovation is crucial in these, as well as the other (non-nanopore) genome studies being funded. For example, one team eventually hopes to use light to sequence DNA on a smartphone chip for under $100.


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