Tag: Nanotechnology

Biomimicry

The Future of Solar Power? Snail Teeth!

Gumboot chiton is a marine snail with an appetite for algae growing on rocks. Grazing on rocks would destroy the teeth of others, but not the gumboot chiton. This snail produces the hardest biomineral yet discovered to deal with its punishing eating habits.

This mineral, called magnetite, has inspired a new type of solar cell and a new type of lithium battery. By understanding how the snail produces this mineral, researchers could develop similar ways to make nano-materials at room temperature. This will allow researchers to develop low-cost, high-efficiency microscopic structures.

Dr. Kisailus, of Riverside’s Bourne College of Engineering in California, believes that understanding the gumboot chiton will lead to solar cells that can capture and convert more sunlight into electricity, as well to more efficient batteries. “If we can reduce the size of particles in batteries, which at present, are massive on a nano-scale, this will reduce their recharge time and increase their power efficiency”.

Via Elements Science

Hypernature

Genetic Screening for Christmas Trees

If you’ve turned to plastic Christmas trees because the real ones leave piles of needles behind, science is working to bring live conifers back into your holidays. A $1.3 million project in the US is trying to find which individual trees hold onto their needles most tenaciously. A team headed by plant pathologist Gary Chastagner is subjecting thousands of branch samples to a “rub test” and then meticulously counting the number of needles that fall off. By comparing shedding versus non-shedding pines, the team hopes to find the piece of RNA responsible for needle loss  – and to develop an easy field test for identifying that trees that lack the offending nucleotide.

Genetic testing aside, the story of the commercial Christmas tree in the US is an interesting one. A tradition introduced by German immigrants, Christmas trees were mostly gathered from wild or semi-wild conditions until the 1970s. Unfortunately, harvesting all the young conifers from a forest has the side effect of letting understory shrubs and weeds to go wild. Competing for light against these quick-growing plants, pine tree saplings grew tall and spindly – a shape that’s not particularly festive. Christmas tree farms sprung up to provide the perfectly conical trees that no longer existed in the wild. Hypernature at its most festive.

Via the New York Times. Image via Ian Sane.

Biomimicry

Nanotech Diatoms

No, those aren’t plastic trinkets or beads from a craft store. They’re diatoms, a group of single-celled algae, and unlike almost all of our current technologies, they can rapidly and reliably synthesize  nanoscale structures. Diatoms produce incredibly complex silica shells that are riddled with a regular pattern of pores. As can be seen above, diatoms come in an incredible variety of shapes – around 100,000 species in all. Strong, easy and quick-growing, and virtually unlimited, diatoms are drawing the attention of scientists who are interested in nanotechnology.

As with many nanotechnologies, research into the use of diatoms is in its infancy. These microscopic algae have been studied for their ability of synthesize novel electrical devices, including new ways to detect pollution. A chemical process that converts their silica shells into silicon creates ready-made nano electronics. Since biologically active molecules attach to the pores in their shells, they may eventually function as a “lab on a chip” for detecting antibodies, traces of diseases, and other chemicals in the body. Diatoms also show promise in the fields of optics. Solar energy cells with diatom-based coatings capture three times more electrons that standard coatings. Genetic manipulation might refine the diatom’s natural precision engineering to create bespoke parts for nanosensors and nanoscale machines from diatoms. Further proof that guided growth is the future of manufacturing.

Biomimicry

Nanotech Water Bottle Harvests Water from the Air

The Namib desert gets less than a half an inch of rain per year, yet the stenocara beetle manages to survive in these punishing conditions. The beetle’s secret lies in an array of microscopic bumps and valleys on its shell. The bumps are hydrophilic (water-attracting) and the valleys are hydrophobic (water-repelling). During foggy days, tiny water droplets accumulate on the hydrophilic bumps. Once a droplet is big enough, it tumbles off the bump down into a hydrophobic trough, which funnels the water to the beetle’s mouth. Now, a company called NBD Nano is hoping to mimic stenocara’s shell to create the world’s first self-filling water bottles.

NBD Nano co-founder Deckard Sorenson says that “We see this being applicable to anything from marathon runners to people in third-world countries, because we realize that water is such a large issue in the world today, and we want to try to alleviate those problems with a cost-efficient solution.” According to him, this technology could harvest three liters per square meter per hour in an area with 75% humidity. Unfortunately, the self-filling water bottle is still years from being realized, if ever. For those of you who are impatient for a solution to the world’s water crisis, GrabCAD is holding a contest to design devices that harvest water from the air.

Story via BoingBoing. Image via GrabCAD.

Augmented Bodies

Spider-Man Gloves

Imagine how much easier the job of window cleaners would be if they could simply scale walls like Spider-Man instead of using elevators, ladders and other gear. Ever since the first Spider-Man comic appeared children and adults alike have been dreaming of these particular talents. Thanks to “gecko-tape”, these dreams are no longer  science fiction. Luckily, this new method of scaling walls doesn’t involve being bit by a radioactive spider.

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Hyperreality

Nanotech Generates the Blackest Black

As the NANO Supermarket opens discussions on the ethics, purpose and usability of nanotechnology, Frederik De Wilde is researching its artistic possibilities. De Wilde is a guest professor at the Transmedia program at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels and artist in residence at the University of Hasselt. For a few years he has used nanotechnology to generate “super-black” artworks.

One technique is to ‘grow’ carbon nanotubes on a silicon wafer. When a photon approaches the surface it slips in between the nanotubes, and cannot be reflected. Because colors are generated through the reflection of photons, the surface of De Wilde’s artworks appear to be blacker than black. When applied to a complex 3D object it appears to be just a silhouette, because no reflections, highlights or shadows can be seen. The works of De Wilde are reminiscent of Anish Kapoor’s Descent into Limbo shown at De Pont in Tilburg, Netherlands.

Frederik De Wilde takes part in a selection for the TED2013 programme with his talk. Good luck with this.

Augmented-Bodies

Nano Product: Lungless

350 million years after crawling from the sea, the Lungless suit will bring us back. Inspired by fish gills, the Lungless Aquatic Respiration Suit uses millions of cascading sheets of nano-membrane to filter oxygen from the water and deliver it to the diver’s mouth. Enjoy unlimited, tank-free exploration on the other 70% of the planet.

From the NANO Supermarket product collection. Designer: Sean Serafini. Enabling technology: Nano structures. Feasibility: Medium.

Augmented-Bodies

Nano Product: Nansense

For years, people have relied on harsh drugs and irritating alarms to control when they sleep and when they wake. Now, the Nansense wristwatch offers an all-natural way to determine your daily rhythms. Using painless nanoscale needles, Nansense monitors and regulates your levels of cortisol and melatonin, the hormones that govern circadian cycles. Have a deadline to meet? Spin the dial for a gentle way to stay awake. Drowsy from jet lag? Nansense will put you on local time in no time.

From the NANO Supermarket product collection. Designers: Joshua Brevoort, Lisa Chun, Eric Baldwin, Ian Campbell. Enabling technology: Nano sensors, metabolic engineering. Feasibility: Medium.

Augmented-Bodies

Nano Product: Menoé

At the beginning of menopause, celebrate your reproductive past by giving “birth” to a unique peace of jewelry. By using Menoé’s nano-coated birth control pills over a lifetime, you can grow a gem-quality pearl inside your uterus. This beautiful heirloom will inspire a new rite of passage in any woman’s life.

From the NANO Supermarket product collection. Designer: Robin Pohl. Enabling technology: Programmable matter. Feasibility: Very low.

Food Technology

Nano Product: Honest Egg

Do away with dishonest health claims for eggs and uncertain promises of organic, free-range hens. With eggshells that change color according to hormones, medicines, and nutrients, Honest Egg tells you the truth about your food. The color of each egg provides information on animal welfare, as well as how healthy the egg is for you. How much time did the chicken spend outside? How much room did it have? Is the egg rich in vitamins and wholesome fats? For ethical eaters, Honest Egg takes the guesswork out of shopping.

From the NANO Supermarket product collection. Designer: Soroka Grievink. Enabling technology: Genetic engineering. Feasibility: Very low.