Tag: Nanotechnology

Guided Growth

Using Nanoscale Wood Pulp to Replace Metal and Plastics

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) sounds almost too good to be true. The same microscopic particles that help trees to stand up straight are also lightweight, non-toxic, stronger than steel and just happen to be the most abundant organic compound on Earth. First studied in earnest in the early 1990s, manufacturers can now produce pure NCC from wood pulp.

Some early boosters are predicting that NCC will replace metals, conventional glass, and petroleum-based plastics in everything from helicopters to office towers. The material is cheap, and doesn’t even require felling entire trees: It can be recovered from twigs, sawdust and presumably any plant with woody components. Though NCC is cheap, is potential profitability is anything but. The USDA anticipates that the nanocrystalline cellulose market will hit $600 billion by 2020. NCC might wean us off mining for nonrenewable resources, might lead to a second rush on the world’s forests, or may simply blow away in a puff of nanoscale hype.

Via Atlantic Cities.

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Biomimicry

Replacing Synapses with a Single Switch

Neural synapses in the human brain are extraordinarily complex structures. Responsible for relaying information between neurons, chemical synapses govern the release of over 100 different kinds of neurotransmitters, while electrical synapses deliver information via electricity for rapid-fire reflexes.

Now, researchers in Japan have invented a simplified synapse in the form of a “solid-state electrochemical nanodevice” that functions as a switch. The gap between these two synthetic synapses is bridged by a tiny copper wire, which changes in conductivity over time. Though at first it may seem a bit esoteric, this new device actually mimics what goes on in the construction of sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The scientists behind this synapse are hopeful that it will lead to more life-like artificial minds, as well as treatments for the human brain.

It’s interesting that this nanodevice may in some ways have improved upon a biological synapse. Evolution tends to lead to local maxima – it reaches the best design given existing structures, but it can’t invent entirely new solutions out of nothing. The “blind spot” is a classic example: Because the optic nerve connects through the retina, there is a blank region in our field of vision where the nerve cells have crowded out the sensory cells. The brain has evolved very clever ways to deal with this deficit, but evolution hasn’t actually been able to completely solve the problem.* Maybe science may soon find more “intelligent designs” that cut some of the evolutionary clutter. As always, we welcome our hyper-efficient cyborg overlords.

*Except in squid and octopi.

Via Io9. Image via Systemic Kids.

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Hypermaterials

Spray On Liquid Glass

Now here is a product that should soon find its way into the NANO Supermarket soon. At least, if supermarkets are willing to put it on their shelves, as they currently make huge profits from cleaning products and spray-on liquid glass would make virtually all of them obsolete.

According to its creators “Spray-on liquid glass is transparent, non-toxic, and used to protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections. The coating is also flexible and breathable, which makes it suitable for use on an enormous array of products.”

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Design-for-debate

A Winery in your Microwave

A delicious Montepulciano in only 6 seconds? This is now possible with the universal Nano wine. All you need is a microwave oven.

In 5,64 seconds at 1000 watt you have a sublime Romanée-Conti. Or create a surprisingly young Mouton-Rothschild 1945 in only 2,34 seconds at 650 watt. The possibilities are endless. The wine contains millions of nano capsules which depending on your mood and taste preferences can be activated by microwaves. Inactivated nano capsules move unnoticed through the body, while the opened capsules alter the taste, smell and color of the wine. Sweet!

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Calm-technology

To Generate Electricity, Just Tap on this Virus

Is your friend impatiently tapping on her phone, or is she just charging the battery? Researchers at the Berkeley Lab have produced the first virus-powered generator that runs off taps. The device takes advantage of a special characteristic of certain viruses, piezoelectricity, that converts movement into electrical energy. By tapping on a small electrode coated in harmless viruses, the scientists were able to produce enough energy to power a liquid-crystal display. The viruses, which self-assemble into a thin, organized film, may also pave the way for simplified electronics manufacturing.

This technology could potentially generate electricity from any object that’s subject to motion or vibration: Doors in apartment buildings, busy sidewalks and roads, even the soles of shoes. There’s stranger, next natural applications to consider as well. What about tiny surveillance devices that run on pigeons’ flapping wings? Or streetlights powered by leaves as they shake in the wind? Whatever the outcome, this piezoelectric generator represents a step away from mechanistic thought, and towards a more ecological approach to design.

Via Berkeley Lab.

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Biomimicry

Bacteria Inspire Magnetic Hard Drive

Certain types of bacteria can navigate using magnetic nanoparticles as tiny compasses. Researchers at the University of Leeds have extracted the protein that controls this process and applied it to computing. Typical hard drives use use “granular computing”, while this new method relies on bit-pattern media, where each miniscule magnetic square on a surface can store one bit.

The team is close to recreating the data density of modern hard drives, and hope eventually to be able to store one terabyte of date per square inch – more advanced than any existing hard drive. According to Sarah Stanilan, who lead the research, “We’re using and abusing nature because it’s had billions of years to do all of its experiments through evolution, so there is almost no point in us starting from scratch.”

Photo via Downhilldom. Story via New Scientist.

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Augmented-Bodies

Regrowing Bones with Silk

Time to add another superpower to insect silk, which already includes bulletproof skin and implantable microelectronics. Recent research indicates that silk may be an ideal candidate for creating strong, flexible scaffolding for re-growing bones. Scientists used a chemical process to break silk strands down into nano-scale fibers that were used to reinforce a silk protein scaffold. By mimicking the natural roughness and stiffness of bone, this biodegradable structure helps to encourage vigorous bone growth. While certain biomaterials are at the center of research into bone regeneration, few of these existing materials can match silk’s toughness, especially in load-bearing grafts.

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Food Technology

First “Farm”aceuticals Grown in Carrots

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved Elelyso, the first drug to be grown in genetically modified plant cells. Produced in carrot cells, this drug helps to treat the symptoms of Gaucher disease, a genetic disorder that causes bruising, anemia and low blood platelets.

Israeli scientists were able to insert a gene that codes for a human enzyme into carrot cells, causing the cells to produce the same protein that Gaucher patients lack. This new method should help prevent drug shortages that have affected Gaucher sufferers in the past, as well as being cheaper and less prone to infection than animal cells. Soon mothers may be telling their children to eat carrots, not just for better eyesight, but for better health across the board.

Story via Nature. Photo via Flickr user Loose Ends

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Nano Supermarket

Natura Prossimo a Milano

Calling our Italian readers! This week our NANO Supermarket will be visiting Milan as part of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a show devoted to product and interior design. While the show is only open to invitees, the NANO Supermarket is open to everyone. Come learn, discuss, and sample some pharmaceutical sushi.

NANO Supermarket Exhibition 18-22 April 2012
Studio Zeta, Via Friuli 26, 20135 Milan, Italy (map)

Opening hours:
Wed 4/18: 11 AM – 7 PM
Thu 4/19: 9 AM – 7 PM
Fri 4/20: 9 AM – 7 PM
Sat 4/21: 9 AM – 7 PM
Sun 4/22: 11 AM – 5 PM

* Pre-opening at Dutch Consulate on 17th of April 18:00

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Food Technology

‘Alp’ Turns Containers into Refrigerators

Transporting and displaying cold food is an incredibly wasteful and inefficient process. Current display refrigerators, like those that display meats or cheeses in supermarkets, create cold air that is quickly lost to the open environment. The volume that is cooled is inevitably greater than the volume. Alp, by Ethan Frier, is a transportation and refrigeration concept for the supermarket of 2021. It consists of standardized, reusable boxes in which food items are packed, shipped and displayed.

The boxes are constructed of highly thermally conductive nanomaterials. They cool food via contact with a refrigerated “wall” that is permanently installed in the supermarket for display purposes, or in the wheeled containers used for transport. This system replaces the cardboard boxes typically used to ship food, the refrigerated infrastructure used to transport cold food (refrigerated trucks, large industrial holding refrigerators) and replaces the refrigerated shelving systems used to display cold food for sale.  Alp is completely modular and scalable, and can be configured to replace almost any type of refrigerator, from mini fridge to industrial size. Alp challenges us to critically think about how we refrigerate and transport our food.

For additional documentation, visit the project page.

Want to design your own speculative nanotech? Check out the Call for Products in the second edition of the NANO Supermarket. 

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