Category Archives: military

English ivy’s stickiness may be useful

Researchers have discovered the secret to English ivy’s stickiness and they hope that secret will lead to improved wound healing and more according to a May 24, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

English ivy’s natural glue might hold the key to new approaches to wound healing, stronger armor for the military and maybe even cosmetics with better staying power.

New research from The Ohio State University illuminates the tiny particles responsible for ivy’s ability to latch on so tight to trees and buildings that it can withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. (Not to mention infuriate those trying to rid their homes of the vigorous green climber.)

The researchers pinpointed the spherical particles within English ivy’s adhesive and identified the primary protein within them.

A May 23, 2016 Ohio State University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Misti Crane, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“By understanding the proteins that give rise to ivy’s strength, we can give rise to approaches to engineer new bio-inspired adhesives for medical and industry products,” said Mingjun Zhang, the biomedical engineering professor who led the work.

“It’s a milestone to resolve this mystery. We now know the secret of this adhesive and the underlying molecular mechanism,” said Zhang, who focuses his work on finding answers in nature for vexing problems in medicine.

“Ivy has these very tiny hairy structures that have a wonderful interaction with the surface as the plant climbs. One day I was looking at the ivy in the backyard and I was amazed at the force,” Zhang said.Like many scientists before him, Charles Darwin among them, Zhang found himself captivated by English ivy – the physics of it, the sheer strength of it. The study appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s very difficult to tear down, even in a natural disaster. It’s one of the strongest adhesive forces in nature.”

When he and his team took a look at the ivy’s glue with a powerful atomic-force microscope, they were able to identify a previously unknown element in its adhesive.

Zhang said particles rich in those proteins have exceptional adhesive abilities – abilities that could be used to the advantage of many, from biomedical engineers to paint makers.The tiny particles inside the glue on their laboratory slides turned out to be primarily made up of arabinogalactan proteins. And when the scientists investigated further, they discovered that the driving force behind the curing of the glue was a calcium-mediated interaction between the proteins and pectin in the gelatinous liquid that oozes from ivy as it climbs.

Zhang, a member of Ohio State’s Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, is particularly interested in bioadhesives that could aid in wound healing after injury or surgeries. Others, notably the U.S. military, are interested in surface-coating applications for purposes that include strengthening armor systems, he said.

Many plants are excellent climbers, but scientists have had limited information about the adhesives that enable those plants to affix themselves to walls, fences and just about anything in their way, he said.

“When climbing, ivy secretes these tiny nanoparticles which make initial surface contact. Due to their high uniformity and low viscosity, they can attach to large areas on various surfaces,” Zhang said.

After the water evaporates, a chemical bond forms, Zhang said.

“It’s really a nature-made amazing mechanism for high-strength adhesion,” he said.

The glue doesn’t just sit on the surface of the object that the ivy is clinging to, he said. It finds its way into openings invisible to the naked eye, further solidifying its bond.

To confirm what they found, Zhang and his collaborators used the nanoparticles to reconstruct a simple glue that mimics ivy adhesive. Advanced bioadhesives based on this research will take more time and research.

In addition to its strength, ivy adhesive has other properties that make it appealing to scientists looking for answers to engineering quandaries, Zhang said.

“Under moisture or high or low temperatures, it’s not easily damaged,” he said. “Ivy is very resistant to various environmental conditions, which makes the adhesive a particularly interesting candidate for the development of armor coatings.”

Ivy also is considered a pest because it can be destructive to buildings and bridges. Knowing what’s at the heart of its sticking ability could help scientists unearth approaches to resist the plant, Zhang said.

Zhang and his work have been featured here before in a Jan. 7, 2013 posting about flesh-eating fungus and in a July 22, 2010 posting about English ivy and sunscreens.

Here’s a link to and a citation for Zhang’s latest paper,

Nanospherical arabinogalactan proteins are a key component of the high-strength adhesive secreted by English ivy by Yujian Huang, Yongzhong Wang, Li Tan, Leming Sun, Jennifer Petrosino, Mei-Zhen Cui, Feng Hao, and Mingjun Zhang. PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] 2016 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1600406113 Published ahead of print May 23, 2016,

This paper is behind a paywall.

Sensing fuel leaks and fuel-based explosives with a nanofibril composite

A March 28, 2016 news item on Nanowerk highlights some research from the University of Utah (US),

Alkane fuel is a key ingredient in combustible material such as gasoline, airplane fuel, oil — even a homemade bomb. Yet it’s difficult to detect and there are no portable scanners available that can sniff out the odorless and colorless vapor.

But University of Utah engineers have developed a new type of fiber material for a handheld scanner that can detect small traces of alkane fuel vapor, a valuable advancement that could be an early-warning signal for leaks in an oil pipeline, an airliner, or for locating a terrorist’s explosive.

A March 25, 2016 University of Utah news release, which originated the news item, provides a little more detail,

Currently, there are no small, portable chemical sensors to detect alkane fuel vapor because it is not chemically reactive. The conventional way to detect it is with a large oven-sized instrument in a lab.

“It’s not mobile and very heavy,” Zang [Ling Zang, University of Utah materials science and engineering professor] says of the larger instrument. “There’s no way it can be used in the field. Imagine trying to detect the leak from a gas valve or on the pipelines. You ought to have something portable.”

So Zang’s team developed a type of fiber composite that involves two nanofibers transferring electrons from one to the other.

That kind of interaction would then signal the detector that the alkane vapor is present. Vaporsens, a University of Utah spinoff company, has designed a prototype of the handheld detector with an array of 16 sensor materials that will be able to identify a broad range of chemicals including explosives.  This new composite material will be incorporated into the sensor array to include the detection of alkanes. Vaporsens plans to introduce the device on the market in about a year and a half, says Zang, who is the company’s chief science officer.

Such a small sensor device that can detect alkane vapor will benefit three main categories:

  • Oil pipelines. If leaks from pipelines are not detected early enough, the resulting leaked oil could contaminate the local environment and water sources. Typically, only large leaks in pipelines can be detected if there is a drop in pressure. Zang’s portable sensor — when placed along the pipeline — could detect much smaller leaks before they become bigger.
  • Airplane fuel tanks. Fuel for aircraft is stored in removable “bladders” made of flexible fabric. The only way a leak can be detected is by seeing the dyed fuel seeping from the plane and then removing the bladder to inspect it. Zang’s sensors could be placed around the bladder to warn a pilot if a leak is occurring in real time and where it is located.
  • Security. The scanner will be designed to locate the presence of explosives such as bombs at airports or in other buildings. Many explosives, such as the bomb used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, use fuel oils like diesel as one of its major components. These fuel oils are forms of alkane.

The research was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, National Science Foundation and NASA. The lead author of the paper is University of Utah materials science and engineering doctoral student Chen Wang, and [Benjamin] Bunes is the co-author.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Interfacial Donor–Acceptor Nanofibril Composites for Selective Alkane Vapor Detection by Chen Wang, Benjamin R. Bunes, Miao Xu, Na Wu, Xiaomei Yang, Dustin E. Gross, and Ling Zang. ACS Sens DOI: 10.1021/acssensors.6b00018 Publication Date (Web): March 09, 2016

Copyright © 2016 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Getting back to incandescent light (recycling the military way)

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) issued two news releases about this research into reclaiming incandescent light or as they call it “recycling light.” First off, there’s the Jan. 11, 2016 MIT Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies news release by Paola Rebusco on EurekAlert,

Humanity started recycling relatively early in its evolution: there are proofs that trash recycling was taking place as early as in the 500 BC. What about light recycling? Consider light bulbs: more than one hundred and thirty years ago Thomas Edison patented the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb, so that “none but the extravagant” would ever “burn tallow candles”, paving the way for more than a century of incandescent lighting. In fact, emergence of electric lighting was the main motivating factor for deployment of electricity into every home in the world. The incandescent bulb is an example of a high temperature thermal emitter. It is very useful, but only a small fraction of the emitted light (and therefore energy) is used: most of the light is emitted in the infrared, invisible to the human eye, and in this context wasted.

Now, in a study published in Nature Nanotechnology on January 11th 2016 (online), a team of MIT researchers describes another way to recycle light emitted at unwanted infrared wavelengths while optimizing the emission at useful visible wavelengths. …

“For a thermal emitter at moderate temperatures one usually nano-patterns its surface to alter the emission,” says Ilic [postdoc Ognjen Ilic], the lead author of the study. “At high temperatures” – a light bulb filament reaches 3000K! – “such nanostructures deteriorate and it is impossible to alter the emission spectrum by having a nanostructure directly on the surface of the emitter.” The team solved the problem by surrounding the hot object with special nanophotonic structures that spectrally filter the emitted light, meaning that they let the light reflect or pass through based on its color (i.e. its wavelength). Because the filters are not in direct physical contact with the emitter, temperatures can be very high.

To showcase this idea, the team picked one of the highest temperature thermal emitters available – an incandescent light bulb. The authors designed nanofilters to recycle the infrared light, while allowing the visible light to go through. “The key advance was to design a photonic structure that transmits visible light and reflects infrared light for a very wide range of angles,” explains Ilic. “Conventional photonic filters usually operate for a single incidence angle. The challenge for us was to extend the desired optical properties across all directions,” a feat the authors achieved using special numerical optimization techniques.

However, for this scheme to work, the authors had to redesign the incandescent filament from scratch. “In a regular light bulb, the filament is a long and curly piece of tungsten wire. Here, the filament is laser-machined out of a flat sheet of tungsten: it is completely planar,” says Bermel [professor Peter Bermel now at Purdue University]. A planar filament has a large area, and is therefore very efficient in re-absorbing the light that was reflected by the filter. In describing how the new device differs from previously suggested concepts, Soljačić [professor Marin Soljačić], the project lead, emphasizes that “it is the combination of the exceptional properties of the filter and the shape of the filament that enabled substantial recycling of unwanted radiated light.”

In the new-concept light bulb prototype built by the authors, the efficiency approaches some fluorescent and LED bulbs. Nonetheless, the theoretical model predicts plenty of room for improvement. “This experimental device is a proof-of-concept, at the low end of performance that could be ultimately achieved by this approach,” argues Celanovic [principal research scientist Ivan Celanovic]. There are other advantages of this approach: “An important feature is that our demonstrated device achieves near-ideal rendering of colors,” notes Ilic, referring to the requirement of light sources to faithfully reproduce surrounding colors. That is precisely the reason why incandescent lights remained dominant for so long: their warm light has remained preferable to drab fluorescent lighting for decades.

Some practical questions need to be addressed before this technology can be widely adopted. “We will work closely with our mechanical engineering colleagues at MIT to try to tackle the issues of thermal stability and long-lifetime,” says Soljačić. The authors are particularly excited about the potential for producing these devices cheaply. “The materials we need are abundant and inexpensive,” Joannopoulos [professor John Joannopoulos] notes, “and the filters themselves–consisting of stacks of commonly deposited materials–are amenable to large-scale deposition.”

Chen [professor Gang Chen] comments further: “The lighting potential of this technology is exciting, but the same approach could also be used to improve the performance of energy conversion schemes such as thermo-photovoltaics.” In a thermo-photovoltaic device, external heat causes the material to glow, emitting light that is converted into an electric current by an absorbing photovoltaic element.

The last point captures the main motivation behind the work. “Light radiated from a hot object can be quite useful, whether that object is an incandescent filament or the Sun,” Ilic says. At its core, this work is about recycling thermal light for a specific application; “a 3000-degree filament is one of the hottest and the most challenging sources to work with,” Ilic continues. “It’s also what makes it a crucial test of our approach.”

There are a few more details in the 2nd Jan. 11, 2016 MIT news release on EurekAlert,

Light recycling

The key is to create a two-stage process, the researchers report. The first stage involves a conventional heated metal filament, with all its attendant losses. But instead of allowing the waste heat to dissipate in the form of infrared radiation, secondary structures surrounding the filament capture this radiation and reflect it back to the filament to be re-absorbed and re-emitted as visible light. These structures, a form of photonic crystal, are made of Earth-abundant elements and can be made using conventional material-deposition technology.

That second step makes a dramatic difference in how efficiently the system converts light into electricity. The efficiency of conventional incandescent lights is between 2 and 3 percent, while that of fluorescents (including CFLs) is currently between 7 and 13 percent, and that of LEDs between 5 and 13 percent. In contrast, the new two-stage incandescents could reach efficiencies as high as 40 percent, the team says.

The first proof-of-concept units made by the team do not yet reach that level, achieving about 6.6 percent efficiency. But even that preliminary result matches the efficiency of some of today’s CFLs and LEDs, they point out. And it is already a threefold improvement over the efficiency of today’s incandescents.

The team refers to their approach as “light recycling,” says Ilic, since their material takes in the unwanted, useless wavelengths of energy and converts them into the visible light wavelengths that are desired. “It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted,” says Soljačić.

Bulbs and beyond

One key to their success was designing a photonic crystal that works for a very wide range of wavelengths and angles. The photonic crystal itself is made as a stack of thin layers, deposited on a substrate. “When you put together layers, with the right thicknesses and sequence,” Ilic explains, you can get very efficient tuning of how the material interacts with light. In their system, the desired visible wavelengths pass right through the material and on out of the bulb, but the infrared wavelengths get reflected as if from a mirror. They then travel back to the filament, adding more heat that then gets converted to more light. Since only the visible ever gets out, the heat just keeps bouncing back in toward the filament until it finally ends up as visible light.

I appreciate both MIT news release writers for “Thomas Edison patented the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb” (Rebusco) and the unidentified writer of the 2nd MIT news release for this, from the news release, “Incandescent bulbs, commercially developed by Thomas Edison (and still used by cartoonists as the symbol of inventive insight) … .” Edison did not invent the light bulb. BTW, the emphases are mine.

For interested parties, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Tailoring high-temperature radiation and the resurrection of the incandescent source by Ognjen Ilic, Peter Bermel, Gang Chen, John D. Joannopoulos, Ivan Celanovic, & Marin Soljačić. Nature Nanotechnology  (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.309 Published online 11 January 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanotechnology and cybersecurity risks

Gregory Carpenter has written a gripping (albeit somewhat exaggerated) piece for Signal, a publication of the  Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) about cybersecurity issues and  nanomedicine endeavours. From Carpenter’s Jan. 1, 2016 article titled, When Lifesaving Technology Can Kill; The Cyber Edge,

The exciting advent of nanotechnology that has inspired disruptive and lifesaving medical advances is plagued by cybersecurity issues that could result in the deaths of people that these very same breakthroughs seek to heal. Unfortunately, nanorobotic technology has suffered from the same security oversights that afflict most other research and development programs.

Nanorobots, or small machines [or nanobots[, are vulnerable to exploitation just like other devices.

At the moment, the issue of cybersecurity exploitation is secondary to making nanobots, or nanorobots, dependably functional. As far as I’m aware, there is no such nanobot. Even nanoparticles meant to function as packages for drug delivery have not been perfected (see one of the controversies with nanomedicine drug delivery described in my Nov. 26, 2015 posting).

That said, Carpenter’s point about cybersecurity is well taken since security features are often overlooked in new technology. For example, automated banking machines (ABMs) had woefully poor (inadequate, almost nonexistent) security when they were first introduced.

Carpenter outlines some of the problems that could occur, assuming some of the latest research could be reliably  brought to market,

The U.S. military has joined the fray of nanorobotic experimentation, embarking on revolutionary research that could lead to a range of discoveries, from unraveling the secrets of how brains function to figuring out how to permanently purge bad memories. Academia is making amazing advances as well. Harnessing progress by Harvard scientists to move nanorobots within humans, researchers at the University of Montreal, Polytechnique Montreal and Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte-Justine are using mobile nanoparticles inside the human brain to open the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from toxins found in the circulatory system.

A different type of technology presents a risk similar to the nanoparticles scenario. A DARPA-funded program known as Restoring Active Memory (RAM) addresses post-traumatic stress disorder, attempting to overcome memory deficits by developing neuroprosthetics that bridge gaps in an injured brain. In short, scientists can wipe out a traumatic memory, and they hope to insert a new one—one the person has never actually experienced. Someone could relish the memory of a stroll along the French Riviera rather than a terrible firefight, even if he or she has never visited Europe.

As an individual receives a disruptive memory, a cyber criminal could manage to hack the controls. Breaches of the brain could become a reality, putting humans at risk of becoming zombie hosts [emphasis mine] for future virus deployments. …

At this point, the ‘zombie’ scenario Carpenter suggests seems a bit over-the-top but it does hearken to the roots of the zombie myth where the undead aren’t mindlessly searching for brains but are humans whose wills have been overcome. Mike Mariani in an Oct. 28, 2015 article for The Atlantic has presented a thought-provoking history of zombies,

… the zombie myth is far older and more rooted in history than the blinkered arc of American pop culture suggests. It first appeared in Haiti in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the country was known as Saint-Domingue and ruled by France, which hauled in African slaves to work on sugar plantations. Slavery in Saint-Domingue under the French was extremely brutal: Half of the slaves brought in from Africa were worked to death within a few years, which only led to the capture and import of more. In the hundreds of years since, the zombie myth has been widely appropriated by American pop culture in a way that whitewashes its origins—and turns the undead into a platform for escapist fantasy.

The original brains-eating fiend was a slave not to the flesh of others but to his own. The zombie archetype, as it appeared in Haiti and mirrored the inhumanity that existed there from 1625 to around 1800, was a projection of the African slaves’ relentless misery and subjugation. Haitian slaves believed that dying would release them back to lan guinée, literally Guinea, or Africa in general, a kind of afterlife where they could be free. Though suicide was common among slaves, those who took their own lives wouldn’t be allowed to return to lan guinée. Instead, they’d be condemned to skulk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity, an undead slave at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them—a soulless zombie.

I recommend reading Mariani’s article although I do have one nit to pick. I can’t find a reference to brain-eating zombies until George Romero’s introduction of the concept in his movies. This Zombie Wikipedia entry seems to be in agreement with my understanding (if I’m wrong, please do let me know and, if possible, provide a link to the corrective text).

Getting back to Carpenter and cybersecurity with regard to nanomedicine, while his scenarios may seem a trifle extreme it’s precisely the kind of thinking you need when attempting to anticipate problems. I do wish he’d made clear that the technology still has a ways to go.

DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) ‘Atoms to Product’ program launched

It took over a year after announcing the ‘Atoms to Product’ program in 2014 for DARPA (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to select 10 proponents for three projects. Before moving onto the latest announcement, here’s a description of the ‘Atoms to Product’ program from its Aug. 27, 2014 announcement on Nanowerk,

Many common materials exhibit different and potentially useful characteristics when fabricated at extremely small scales—that is, at dimensions near the size of atoms, or a few ten-billionths of a meter. These “atomic scale” or “nanoscale” properties include quantized electrical characteristics, glueless adhesion, rapid temperature changes, and tunable light absorption and scattering that, if available in human-scale products and systems, could offer potentially revolutionary defense and commercial capabilities. Two as-yet insurmountable technical challenges, however, stand in the way: Lack of knowledge of how to retain nanoscale properties in materials at larger scales, and lack of assembly capabilities for items between nanoscale and 100 microns—slightly wider than a human hair.

DARPA has created the Atoms to Product (A2P) program to help overcome these challenges. The program seeks to develop enhanced technologies for assembling atomic-scale pieces. It also seeks to integrate these components into materials and systems from nanoscale up to product scale in ways that preserve and exploit distinctive nanoscale properties.

DARPA’s Atoms to Product (A2P) program seeks to develop enhanced technologies for assembling nanoscale items, and integrating these components into materials and systems from nanoscale up to product scale in ways that preserve and exploit distinctive nanoscale properties.

A Dec. 29, 2015 news item on Nanowerk features the latest about the project,

DARPA recently selected 10 performers to tackle this challenge: Zyvex Labs, Richardson, Texas; SRI, Menlo Park, California; Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts; University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana; HRL Laboratories, Malibu, California; PARC, Palo Alto, California; Embody, Norfolk, Virginia; Voxtel, Beaverton, Oregon; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A Dec. 29, 2015 DARPA news release, which originated the news item, offers more information and an image illustrating the type of advances already made by one of the successful proponents,

DARPA recently launched its Atoms to Product (A2P) program, with the goal of developing technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. At the heart of that goal was a frustrating reality: Many common materials, when fabricated at nanometer-scale, exhibit unique and attractive “atomic-scale” behaviors including quantized current-voltage behavior, dramatically lower melting points and significantly higher specific heats—but they tend to lose these potentially beneficial traits when they are manufactured at larger “product-scale” dimensions, typically on the order of a few centimeters, for integration into devices and systems.

“The ability to assemble atomic-scale pieces into practical components and products is the key to unlocking the full potential of micromachines,” said John Main, DARPA program manager. “The DARPA Atoms to Product Program aims to bring the benefits of microelectronic-style miniaturization to systems and products that combine mechanical, electrical, and chemical processes.”

The program calls for closing the assembly gap in two steps: From atoms to microns and from microns to millimeters. Performers are tasked with addressing one or both of these steps and have been assigned to one of three working groups, each with a distinct focus area.


Image caption: Microscopic tools such as this nanoscale “atom writer” can be used to fabricate minuscule light-manipulating structures on surfaces. DARPA has selected 10 performers for its Atoms to Product (A2P) program whose goal is to develop technologies and processes to assemble nanometer-scale pieces—whose dimensions are near the size of atoms—into systems, components, or materials that are at least millimeter-scale in size. (Image credit: Boston University)

Here’s more about the projects and the performers (proponents) from the A2P performers page on the DARPA website,

Nanometer to Millimeter in a Single System – Embody, Draper and Voxtel

Current methods to treat ligament injuries in warfighters [also known as, soldiers]—which account for a significant portion of reported injuries—often fail to restore pre-injury performance, due to surgical complexities and an inadequate supply of donor tissue. Embody is developing reinforced collagen nanofibers that mimic natural ligaments and replicate the biological and biomechanical properties of native tissue. Embody aims to create a new standard of care and restore pre-injury performance for warfighters and sports injury patients at a 50% reduction compared to current costs.

Radio Frequency (RF) systems (e.g., cell phones, GPS) have performance limits due to alternating current loss. In lower frequency power systems this is addressed by braiding the wires, but this is not currently possibly in cell phones due to an inability to manufacture sufficiently small braided wires. Draper is developing submicron wires that can be braided using DNA self-assembly methods. If successful, portable RF systems will be more power efficient and able to send 10 times more information in a given channel.

For seamless control of structures, physics and surface chemistry—from the atomic-level to the meter-level—Voxtel Inc. and partner Oregon State University are developing an efficient, high-rate, fluid-based manufacturing process designed to imitate nature’s ability to manufacture complex multimaterial products across scales. Historically, challenges relating to the cost of atomic-level control, production speed, and printing capability have been effectively insurmountable. This team’s new process will combine synthesis and delivery of materials into a massively parallel inkjet operation that draws from nature to achieve a DNA-like mediated assembly. The goal is to assemble complex, 3-D multimaterial mixed organic and inorganic products quickly and cost-effectively—directly from atoms.

Optical Metamaterial Assembly – Boston University, University of Notre Dame, HRL and PARC.

Nanoscale devices have demonstrated nearly unlimited power and functionality, but there hasn’t been a general- purpose, high-volume, low-cost method for building them. Boston University is developing an atomic calligraphy technique that can spray paint atoms with nanometer precision to build tunable optical metamaterials for the photonic battlefield. If successful, this capability could enhance the survivability of a wide range of military platforms, providing advanced camouflage and other optical illusions in the visual range much as stealth technology has enabled in the radar range.

The University of Notre Dame is developing massively parallel nanomanufacturing strategies to overcome the requirement today that most optical metamaterials must be fabricated in “one-off” operations. The Notre Dame project aims to design and build optical metamaterials that can be reconfigured to rapidly provide on-demand, customized optical capabilities. The aim is to use holographic traps to produce optical “tiles” that can be assembled into a myriad of functional forms and further customized by single-atom electrochemistry. Integrating these materials on surfaces and within devices could provide both warfighters and platforms with transformational survivability.

HRL Laboratories is working on a fast, scalable and material-agnostic process for improving infrared (IR) reflectivity of materials. Current IR-reflective materials have limited use, because reflectivity is highly dependent on the specific angle at which light hits the material. HRL is developing a technique for allowing tailorable infrared reflectivity across a variety of materials. If successful, the process will enable manufacturable materials with up to 98% IR reflectivity at all incident angles.

PARC is working on building the first digital MicroAssembly Printer, where the “inks” are micrometer-size particles and the “image” outputs are centimeter-scale and larger assemblies. The goal is to print smart materials with the throughput and cost of laser printers, but with the precision and functionality of nanotechnology. If successful, the printer would enable the short-run production of large, engineered, customized microstructures, such as metamaterials with unique responses for secure communications, surveillance and electronic warfare.

Flexible, General Purpose Assembly – Zyvex, SRI, and Harvard.

Zyvex aims to create nano-functional micron-scale devices using customizable and scalable manufacturing that is top-down and atomically precise. These high-performance electronic, optical, and nano-mechanical components would be assembled by SRI micro-robots into fully-functional devices and sub-systems such as ultra-sensitive sensors for threat detection, quantum communication devices, and atomic clocks the size of a grain of sand.

SRI’s Levitated Microfactories will seek to combine the precision of MEMS [micro-electromechanical systems] flexures with the versatility and range of pick-and-place robots and the scalability of swarms [an idea Michael Crichton used in his 2002 novel Prey to induce horror] to assemble and electrically connect micron and millimeter components to build stronger materials, faster electronics, and better sensors.

Many high-impact, minimally invasive surgical techniques are currently performed only by elite surgeons due to the lack of tactile feedback at such small scales relative to what is experienced during conventional surgical procedures. Harvard is developing a new manufacturing paradigm for millimeter-scale surgical tools using low-cost 2D layer-by-layer processes and assembly by folding, resulting in arbitrarily complex meso-scale 3D devices. The goal is for these novel tools to restore the necessary tactile feedback and thereby nurture a new degree of dexterity to perform otherwise demanding micro- and minimally invasive surgeries, and thus expand the availability of life-saving procedures.


‘Sidebar’ is my way of indicating these comments have little to do with the matter at hand but could be interesting factoids for you.

First, Zyvex Labs was last mentioned here in a Sept. 10, 2014 posting titled: OCSiAL will not be acquiring Zyvex. Notice that this  announcement was made shortly after DARPA’s A2P program was announced and that OCSiAL is one of RUSNANO’s (a Russian funding agency focused on nanotechnology) portfolio companies (see my Oct. 23, 2015 posting for more).

HRL Laboratories, mentioned here in an April 19, 2012 posting mostly concerned with memristors (nanoscale devices that mimic neural or synaptic plasticity), has its roots in Howard Hughes’s research laboratories as noted in the posting. In 2012, HRL was involved in another DARPA project, SyNAPSE.

Finally and minimally, PARC also known as, Xerox PARC, was made famous by Steven Jobs and Steve Wozniak when they set up their own company (Apple) basing their products on innovations that PARC had rejected. There are other versions of the story and one by Malcolm Gladwell for the New Yorker May 16, 2011 issue which presents a more complicated and, at times, contradictory version of that particular ‘origins’ story.

Ceramic firefighting foam: better at extinguishing fires and nontoxic

A Dec. 14, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announces a new ceramic firefighting foam developed in Russia,

A team of chemists from ITMO University, in collaboration with research company SOPOT, has developed a novel type of firefighting foam based on inorganic silica nanoparticles. The new foam beats existing analogues in fire extinguishing capacity, thermal and mechanical stability and biocompatibility.

A Dec. 14, 2015 ITMO University press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Fighting large-scale fires usually involves firefighting foams based on synthetic substances, such as prefluorinated surfactants, that, despite their effectiveness, are extremely toxic for living organisms. Complete biodegradation of such foams can last for more than 200 years [emphasis mine], with residues quickly penetrating deep into soil and surface water. This leads to the the accumulation of toxic elements in living organisms, such as plants, animals and men. Many countries have declined the use of such fire extinguishing agents or opted for reducing the production of such substances despite the absence of any decent alternatives.

A group of scientists from the International Laboratory of Advanced Materials and Technologies (SCAMT) at ITMO University in Saint Petersburg and research company SOPOT devised a foam, which was awarded full biodegradability and whose fire extinguishing capacity is higher than that of any existing analogue currently in use by fire fighters. After the fire is extinguished, the substance actively absorbs water, softens and falls apart into bioinert silica particles. And even when the foam accidentally enters living organisms, it does not not pose any danger to them.

“Our foam is based on silica nanoparticles, which create a polymer network when exposed to air,” says Alexander Vinogradov, deputy head of the SCAMT laboratory. “Such a network embraces and adheres to the burning object and momentarily cools it down. At the same time, the foam itself hardens. The inorganic origin of this polymer network allows it to resist temperatures above 1000 degrees Celsius, which ensures gigantic stability from the aggressive environment in the midst of a raging fire.”

“Most existing foams are made of organic materials and quickly deteriorate when temperature approaches 300 degrees Celsius. In our case, the foam creates a hard frame that not only puts out the fire, but also protects the object from re-ignition. With ordinary foams, re-ignition occurs within seconds after flame is applied to the object again.”

The scientists conducted a series of large-scale experiments of the hardening foam, including the imitation of an actual forest fire. The foam was used to create a flame retardant belt that was supposed stop the spread of the fire. The tests demonstrated that the foam easily localizes the forest fire seat and can stay active during the whole fire season.

“The flame retardant belt made of our foam will prevent the spread of any forest fire, regardless of its strength and level of complexity,” says Gennady Kuprin, head of SOPOT. “We can localize the fire and be sure that the adjacent territories will be safe. This is crucial to organize evacuation works during forest fires, where 9 of 10 people die in our and other countries.”

The standard firefighting foam can take up to 200 years before completely degrading? I hope this new foam is all they say it is and that they can get it to market. In the meantime, here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ paper,

Silica foams for fire prevention and firefighting by Alexander V. Vinogradov, Denis Kuprin, Iosif Abduragimov, Gennadii Kuprin, Evgeniy Serebriyakov, and Vladimir V. Vinogradov. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b08653
Publication Date (Web): October 22, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This is paper is behind a paywall. But, the researchers have made an image of the foam available,

Caption: This is an electronic microscope image of hybrid silica foam. Credit: ITMO University

Caption: This is an electronic microscope image of hybrid silica foam. Credit: ITMO University

For anyone curious about SOPOT, here’s more from the company’s About page,

  “NPO Sopot” was founded in 1994 in St. Petersburg. Its creation was preceded by many years of scientific research and experimental design work done in person at the head of the firm basis of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, as well as, with the participation and cooperation with representatives of several institutions of the defense industry (the Sukhoi Design Bureau, Institute TRANSMASH, Academy. Zhukovsky etc.), the Ministry of Civil aviation, Fire Prevention Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Interior Ministry VIPTSH

General Director of JSC “NPO” Sopot “Gennady Kuprin. Winner of the National Industry Award” Bison-2006 “, the grand prize Emergencies Ministry in 2005 and 2006., Awarded the” Golden Shield of the Russian economy, “international diploma” European quality “member of the International Academy of Patronage, the World Academy of Integrated Security.

Using quantum dots to detect and identify explosives

This research is courtesy of the University College London (UCL) according to a Dec. 9, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

A new test for detecting multiple explosives simultaneously has been developed by UCL scientists. The proof-of-concept sensor is designed to quickly identify and quantify five commonly used explosives in solution to help track toxic contamination in waste water and improve the safety of public spaces.

Lead researcher, Dr William Peveler (UCL Chemistry), said: “This is the first time multiple explosives have been detected using a single sensor before, demonstrating proof-of-concept for this approach. Our sensor changes colour within 10 seconds to give information about how much and what explosives are present in a sample. Following further development, we hope it will be used to quickly analyse the nature of threats and inform tailored responses.”

A Dec. 9, 2015 UCL press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Dr Peveler, added: “We analysed explosives which are commonly used for industrial and military purposes to create a useful tool for environmental and security monitoring. For example, DNT is a breakdown product from landmines, and RDX and PETN have been used in terror plots in recent years as they can be hard to detect using sniffer dogs. Our test can quickly identify these compounds so we see it having a variety of applications from monitoring the waste water of munitions factories and military ranges to finding evidence of illicit activities.”

The sensor is made of quantum dots, which are tiny light-emitting particles or nanomaterials, to which explosive targeting receptors are attached. As each explosive binds to the quantum dot, it quenches the light being emitted to a different degree. The distinct changes in colour are analysed computationally in a variety of conditions to give a unique fingerprint for each compound, allowing multiple explosives to be detected with a single test.

Senior author, Professor Ivan Parkin (UCL Chemistry), said: “Our sensor is a significant step forward for multiple explosives detection. Current methods can be laborious and require expensive equipment but our test is designed to be inexpensive, fast and use a much smaller volume of sample than previously possible. Although all of these factors are important, speed and accuracy are crucial when identifying explosive compounds.”

The team plan to take it from the laboratory into the field by blind testing it with contaminated waste water samples. They also hope to improve the sensitivity of the test by tailoring the surfaces of the quantum dots. Currently, its limit is less than one part per million which the team hope to increase into the part per billion range.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Multichannel Detection and Differentiation of Explosives with a Quantum Dot Array by William J. Peveler, Alberto Roldan, Nathan Hollingsworth, Michael J. Porte‡, and Ivan P. Parkin. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b06433 Publication Date (Web): November 18, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

New tool for mapping neuronal connections in the brain

This work comes from the US Naval Research Laboratory according to a Nov. 17, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Research biologists, chemists and theoreticians at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), are on pace to develop the next generation of functional materials that could enable the mapping of the complex neural connections in the brain (“Electric Field Modulation of Semiconductor Quantum Dot Photoluminescence: Insights Into the Design of Robust Voltage-Sensitive Cellular Imaging Probes”). The ultimate goal is to better understand how the billions of neurons in the brain communicate with one another during normal brain function, or dysfunction, as result of injury or disease.

“There is tremendous interest in mapping all the neuron connections in the human brain,” said Dr. James Delehanty, research biologist, Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering. “To do that we need new tools or materials that allow us to see how large groups of neurons communicate with one another while, at the same time, being able to focus in on a single neuron’s activity. Our most recent work potentially opens the integration of voltage-sensitive nanomaterials into live cells and tissues in a variety of configurations to achieve real-time imaging capabilities not currently possible.”

A Nov. 17, 2015 US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides more details,

The basis of neuron communication is the time-dependent modulation of the strength of the electric field that is maintained across the cell’s plasma membrane. This is called an action potential. Among the nanomaterials under consideration for application in neuronal action potential imaging are quantum dots (QDs) — crystalline semiconductor nanomaterials possessing a number of advantageous photophysical attributes.

“QDs are very bright and photostable so you can look at them for long times and they allow for tissue imaging configurations that are not compatible with current materials, for example, organic dyes,” Delehanty added. “Equally important, we’ve shown here that QD brightness tracks, with very high fidelity, the time-resolved electric field strength changes that occur when a neuron undergoes an action potential. Their nanoscale size make them ideal nanoscale voltage sensing materials for interfacing with neurons and other electrically active cells for voltage sensing.”

QDs are small, bright, photo-stable materials that possess nanosecond fluorescence lifetimes. They can be localized within or on cellular plasma membranes and have low cytotoxicity when interfaced with experimental brain systems. Additionally, QDs possess two-photon action cross-section orders of magnitude larger than organic dyes or fluorescent proteins. Two-photon imaging is the preferred imaging modality for imaging deep (millimeters) into the brain and other tissues of the body.

In their most recent work, the NRL researchers showed that an electric field typical of those found in neuronal membranes results in suppression of the QD photoluminescence (PL) and, for the first time, that QD PL is able to track the action potential profile of a firing neuron with millisecond time resolution. This effect is shown to be connected with electric-field-driven QD ionization and consequent QD PL quenching, in contradiction with conventional wisdom that suppression of the QD PL is attributable to the quantum confined Stark effect — the shifting and splitting of spectral lines of atoms and molecules due to presence of an external electric field.

“The inherent superior photostability properties of QDs coupled with their voltage sensitivity could prove advantageous to long-term imaging capabilities that are not currently attainable using traditional organic voltage sensitive dyes,” Delehanty said. “We anticipate that continued research will facilitate the rational design and synthesis of voltage-sensitive QD probes that can be integrated in a variety of imaging configurations for the robust functional imaging and sensing of electrically active cells.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Electric Field Modulation of Semiconductor Quantum Dot Photoluminescence: Insights Into the Design of Robust Voltage-Sensitive Cellular Imaging Probes by Clare E. Rowland, Kimihiro Susumu, Michael H. Stewart, Eunkeu Oh, Antti J. Mäkinen, Thomas J. O’Shaughnessy, Gary Kushto, Mason A. Wolak, Jeffrey S. Erickson, Alexander L. Efros, Alan L. Huston, and James B. Delehanty. Nano Lett., 2015, 15 (10), pp 6848–6854 DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b02725 Publication Date (Web): September 28, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanotechnology-enabled full suit body protection against viral, biological, and chemical threats

Demron ICE: the world's first full-body suit that protects against viral, biological and chemical threats. Courtesy: Radiation Shield Technologies

Demron ICE: the world’s first full-body suit that protects against viral, biological and chemical threats. Courtesy: Radiation Shield Technologies

I liked it better when I thought the suit was called Demon ICE but it’s real name is Demron ICE and it’s being introduced at a trade show on the day before Hallowe’en 2015 according to an Oct. 28, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Radiation Shield Technologies, a global developer of advanced personal-protection gear, today announced its introduction of Demron ICE: the world’s first full-body suit that protects against viral, biological and chemical threats using a patented self-cooling fabric that is ASTM F1671 Blood and Viral Penetration Resistance certified.

The suit will be unveiled and exhibited Tuesday through Friday at the 8th Annual CBRNe [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives] Convergence Congress & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla. Specifically, the suit will be exhibited at the RST Booth No. 112, where live radiation testing of the company’s patented technologies will also take place.

An Oct. 27, 2015 Radiation Shield Technologies (RST) press release on BusinessWire, which originated the news item, provides more details about the presentation,

With a focus on promoting industry collaboration and preparedness for all hazard threats, the conference is considered the most important annual event for the global CBRNe community. Planned by the editor of CBRNe World magazine, the program unites top regional and international military and civil expert speakers providing shortcuts to best practice. Discussion topics will cover the latest hot-button issues, including responding to everything from nuclear threats to the Ebola virus. Ronald DeMeo, MD, president and CEO of RST, will provide a presentation on “Nuclear Countermeasures” at noon Thursday at “Stream H.” The presentation will explore varied topics including:

  • Preparing for CBRNe threats
  • Multi-hazard protection available today
  • Military first responders: the first line of defense
  • Military partners: case studies and examples

A key component of the presentation will focus on the increased need for advanced solutions such as Demron ICE, which is differentiated from others on the market by its proven ability to enable the longest extended use with the lowest degree of heat stress. The gear, available at, is made with the Demron fabric and includes booties, gloves and a face seal.

The press release also provides an explanation for why this new suit was developed without  explaining how this is a nanotechnology-enabled product,

“We developed Demron ICE in response to a growing global demand from healthcare workers, members of the military and other first responders for a comfortable full-body suit that provides protection against viral, biological, and chemical threats and may be comfortably worn for prolonged periods of time with significantly less heat stress than other gear on the market,” said Ronald DeMeo, M.D., MBA, president of RST and the surgeon who invented Demron.

Here’s how other CBRN suits work: When first responders wear the CBRN suits, their body heat is quickly trapped in the suits, causing the users to become increasingly weak until they are incapacitated. Because the suits are designed to keep chemical agents from entering, they also keep heat from exiting. However, Demron ICE is differentiated by its unique thermally conductive properties that enable heat to leave the suits through thermal radiation and also enable the suits to be cooled externally without compromising the suits.

“With Demron ICE, first responders can operate in the field longer and safer than ever before,” Dr. DeMeo said. “As a global leader in advanced personal protection gear, Radiation Shield Technologies will continue to innovate and introduce new products to keep pace with increased threats from an ever-changing enemy in today’s uncertain world.”

Demron ICE, which exceeds the latest Centers for Disease Control guidelines, is the most thermally conductive impermeable suit on the market today. Demron ICE’s self-cooling system also makes it possible to provide external cooling with ice packs or wet towels and to monitor the user’s body temperature without having to remove or penetrate the suit. The Demron ICE material also is differentiated for its superior flexibility, ruggedness, durability, and ability to withstand tearing, extensive use, and decontamination procedures and corrosive agents.

Certifications include: ASTM F1670, ASTM F1671 Blood and Viral Penetration. Resistance: NFPA 1994/2007 for Chem/Bio (2012 pending), ISO 8194 Certified: Radiation Protective Clothing, ISO 9001 Certified: Quality Management.

Demron ICE is part of the Demron product line, which also includes a series of full-body suits, vests, blankets and medical X-ray vests and aprons that provide chemical, biological, radiation and heat-stress protection. Demron, which has many U.S. and international patents, consists of an advanced radiopaque nanopolymeric compound [emphasis mine] fused between layers of fabric to manufacture the personal-protection gear.

Demron products are currently deployed worldwide by every branch of the U.S. military, U.S. CST teams, FDNY, IAEC, NASA, and many international first responder and military teams in China, Iraq, Kuwait, South Korea, Pakistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Singapore. Scientists have selected Demron for thermo-mechanical suits for future space travel. RST manufactures Demron and the nano materials at its research and development facility in Miami.

The Radiation Shield Technologies website can be found here.

A 2015 nanotechnology conference for the security and defense sectors

According to an August 25, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, a security and defence conference (NanoSD 2015) will be held in September 2015 in Spain,

Nano for Security & Defense International Conference (NanoSD2015) will be held in Madrid, Spain (September 22-25, 2015). The conference will provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. A broad range of defense and security technologies and applications, such as nanostructures, nanosensors, nano energy sources, and nanoelectronics which are influencing these days will be discussed.

The NanoSD 2015 website notes this on its homepage,

After a first edition organised in Avila [Spain], NanoSD 2015 will again provide an opportunity to discuss general issues and important impacts of nanotechnology in the development of security and defense. …

It is evident that nanotechnology can bring many innovations into the defense world such as new innovate products, materials and power sources. Therefore, NanoSD 2015 will present current developments, research findings and relevant information on nanotechnology that will impact the security and defense.

The Phantoms Foundation (event organizers) August 24, 2015 press release, which originated the news item, provides a few more details,

NanoSD2015 Topics
Sensors | Textiles | Nano-Optics | Nanophotonics | Nanoelectronics | Nanomaterials | Nanobio & Nanomedicine | Energy | Nanofood | Forensic Science

Do not miss presentations from well known institutions
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA) | Ministry of Economy, Industry and Digital (France) | European Defence Agency (Belgium) | Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (Canada) | Graphenea (Spain) | Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy) | Gemalto SA (France) | ICFO (Spain) | The University of Texas at Dallas (USA) | International Commercialisation Alliance of Israel | Grupo Antolin (Spain), among others

Do not miss the opportunity to meet the key players of the Security & Defense industry. Prices starting from 350€ and 495€ for students and seniors respectively.

The deadline for poster submission is September 04.

My most recent piece on nanotechnology and security is an Aug. 19, 2014 posting about a then upcoming NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) workshop on aiding chemical and biological defenses. It took place in Sept. 2014 in Turkey.