Tag Archives: CNTs

A better buckypaper

‘Buckyballs’ is a slang term for buckminster fullerenes, spheres made up of a carbon atoms arranged in hexagons. It’s a tribute of sorts to Buckminster Fuller, an architect, designer, systems theorist and more, who developed a structure known as a geodesic dome which bears a remarkable resemblance to the carbon atom spheres known as buckyballs or buckminster fullerenes or fullerenes or C60 (for a carbon-based fullerene) for short. Carbon nanotubes are sometimes called buckytubes and there is a material known as buckypaper. A Sept. 20, 2016 news item on Nanowerk describes the latest work on buckypaper,

Researchers at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology have developed a novel type of “buckypaper” – a thin film composed of carbon nanotubes – that has better thermal and electrical properties than most types of buckypaper previously developed. Researchers believe the innovative buckypaper could be used to create ultra-lightweight composite materials for numerous aerospace and energy applications, including advanced lightning strike protection on airplanes and more powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Masdar Institute’s Associate Professors of Mechanical and Materials Engineering Dr. Rashid Abu Al-Rub and Dr. Amal Al Ghaferi, along with Post-Doctoral Researcher Dr. Hammad Younes, developed the buckypaper with carbon nanostructures provided by global security, aerospace, and information technology company Lockheed Martin.

A Sept. 20, 2016 Masdar Institute (United Arab Emirates) press release, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

The black, powdery flakes provided by Lockheed Martin’s Applied NanoStructured Solutions (ANS) contain hundreds of carbon nanotubes, which are one-atom thick sheets of graphene rolled into a tube that have extraordinary mechanical, electrical and thermal properties. Lockheed Martin’s carbon nanostructures are unique because the carbon nanotubes within each flake are all properly aligned, making them good conductors of heat and electricity.

“Lockheed Martin’s carbon nanostructures have many potential applications, but in its powdery form, it cannot be used. It has to be fabricated in a way that keeps the unique properties of the carbon nanotube,” explained Dr. Al Ghaferi. “The challenge we faced was to create something useful with the carbon nanotubes without losing any of their unique properties or disturbing the alignment.”

Dr. Younes said: “Each flake is a carbon nanostructure containing many aligned carbon nanotubes. The alignment of the tubes creates a path for conductivity, much like a wire, making the nanostructure an exceptionally good conductor of electricity.”

The Masdar Institute team mixed the carbon nanotubes with a polymer and their resulting buckypaper, which successfully maintained the alignment of the carbon nanotubes, demonstrated high thermal-electrical conductivity and superior mechanical properties.

“We have a secret recipe for self-aligning the carbon nanotubes within the buckypaper. This self-aligning is key in significantly enhancing the electrical, thermal and mechanical properties of our fabricated buckypapers,” explained Dr. Abu Al-Rub.

Despite their microscopic size – a carbon nanotube’s diameter is about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair – carbon nanotubes’ impact on technology has been huge. At the individual tube level, carbon nanotubes are 200 times stronger, five times more elastic, and five times more electrically conductive than steel.

Because of their extraordinary strength, thermal and electrical properties, and miniscule size, carbon nanotubes can be used in a number of applications, including ultra-thin energy storage devices, smaller and more efficient computer chips, photovoltaic solar cells, flexible electronics, cancer detection, and lightning-resistant coatings on airplanes.

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., the current global market for nanotubes is pegged at roughly US$5 billion and its market share is growing sharply, reflecting the rising sentiment worldwide in carbon nanotubes’ potential as a wonder technology.

Masdar Institute’s efforts to capitalize on this emerging technology have resulted in several cutting-edge carbon nanotube research projects, including an attempt to create carbon nanotube-strengthened concrete, super capacitors that can hold 50 times more charge, and a membrane that can bind organic micro-pollutants.

As the UAE moves towards a clean energy future, innovations in renewable energy storage systems and other sustainable technologies are crucial for the country’s successful transition, and researchers at Masdar Institute believe that carbon nanotubes will play a huge role in achieving energy sustainability.

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

Processing and property investigation of high-density carbon nanostructured papers with superior conductive and mechanical properties by Hammad Younesa, Rashid Abu Al-Ruba, Md. Mahfuzur Rahmana, Ahmed Dalaqa, Amal Al Ghaferia, Tushar Shahb. Diamond and Related Materials Volume 68, September 2016, Pages 109–117  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.diamond.2016.06.016

This paper is behind a paywall.

The nanotube of a thousand faces (similar nanomaterials behaving differently)

Kudos to any one who recognizes the reference to the ‘man of a thousand faces’, Lon Chaney, a silent film horror star. As for the nanotubes, there’s this Sept. 14, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Nanotubes can be used for many things: electrical circuits, batteries, innovative fabrics and more. Scientists have noted, however, that nanotubes, whose structures appear similar, can actually exhibit different properties, with important consequences in their applications. Carbon nanotubes and boron nitride nanotubes, for example, while nearly indistinguishable in their structure, can be different when it comes to friction. A study conducted by SISSA/CNR-IOM and Tel Aviv University created computer models of these crystals and studied their characteristics in detail and observed differences related to the material’s chirality. …

A Sept. 14, 2016 Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA) press release (PDF), which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

“We began with a series of experimental observations which showed that very similar nanotubes exhibit different frictional properties, with intensities ranging up to two orders of magnitude,” says Roberto Guerra, a researcher at CNR-IOM and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, first author of the study. “This led us to hypothesize that the chirality of the materials may play a role in this phenomenon.” The study involving also Andrea Vanossi (CNR-IOM) and Erio Tosatti (SISSA), was conducted in collaboration with the University of Tel Aviv.

For materials, such as those used in the study, chirality is linked to the three-dimensional arrangement of the weft that form the nanotube. “If we wrap a sheet of lined paper around itself to form a tube, the angle that the lines form with the axis of the tube determines its chirality,” says Guerra. “In our work we reconstructed the behavior of double-walled nanototubes, which can be imagined as two tubes of slightly different diameters, one inside the other. We observed that the difference in chirality between the inner tube and the outer tube has a remarkable effect on the three-dimensional shape of the nanotubes.”

A polygonal tube

“If we continue with the paper metaphor, the difference in orientation between the lattice on the inner tube and the outer tube determine to what extent, and, in what way, planar regions (faces) along the tube will form,” says Guerra. To better understand what is meant by “faces,” imagine a cross section of the tube, which is polygonal rather than perfectly circular. “The smaller the difference in chirality, the clearer and more obvious the faces,” concludes Guerra. If, however, the difference in chirality becomes too large, the faces disappear and the nanotubes take on the classic cylindrical shape.

The faces appear spontaneously depending on the characteristics of the material. Double-walled carbon nanotubes tend to form with a greater difference in internal and external chirality compared to boron nitride. Therefore, the former usually maintains a cylindrical shape that allows for less friction. In further studies, Guerra and colleagues intend to work directly on measuring the level of friction between nanotubes.

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

Multiwalled nanotube faceting unravelled by Itai Leven, Roberto Guerra, Andrea Vanossi, Erio Tosatti, & Oded Hod. Nature Nanotechnology (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.151 Published online 22 August 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Carbon nanotubes that can outperform silicon

According to a Sept. 2, 2016 news item on phys.org, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have produced carbon nanotube transistors that outperform state-of-the-art silicon transistors,

For decades, scientists have tried to harness the unique properties of carbon nanotubes to create high-performance electronics that are faster or consume less power—resulting in longer battery life, faster wireless communication and faster processing speeds for devices like smartphones and laptops.

But a number of challenges have impeded the development of high-performance transistors made of carbon nanotubes, tiny cylinders made of carbon just one atom thick. Consequently, their performance has lagged far behind semiconductors such as silicon and gallium arsenide used in computer chips and personal electronics.

Now, for the first time, University of Wisconsin-Madison materials engineers have created carbon nanotube transistors that outperform state-of-the-art silicon transistors.

Led by Michael Arnold and Padma Gopalan, UW-Madison professors of materials science and engineering, the team’s carbon nanotube transistors achieved current that’s 1.9 times higher than silicon transistors. …

A Sept. 2, 2016 University of Wisconsin-Madison news release (also on EurekAlert) by Adam Malecek, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail and notes that the technology has been patented,

“This achievement has been a dream of nanotechnology for the last 20 years,” says Arnold. “Making carbon nanotube transistors that are better than silicon transistors is a big milestone. This breakthrough in carbon nanotube transistor performance is a critical advance toward exploiting carbon nanotubes in logic, high-speed communications, and other semiconductor electronics technologies.”

This advance could pave the way for carbon nanotube transistors to replace silicon transistors and continue delivering the performance gains the computer industry relies on and that consumers demand. The new transistors are particularly promising for wireless communications technologies that require a lot of current flowing across a relatively small area.

As some of the best electrical conductors ever discovered, carbon nanotubes have long been recognized as a promising material for next-generation transistors.

Carbon nanotube transistors should be able to perform five times faster or use five times less energy than silicon transistors, according to extrapolations from single nanotube measurements. The nanotube’s ultra-small dimension makes it possible to rapidly change a current signal traveling across it, which could lead to substantial gains in the bandwidth of wireless communications devices.

But researchers have struggled to isolate purely carbon nanotubes, which are crucial, because metallic nanotube impurities act like copper wires and disrupt their semiconducting properties — like a short in an electronic device.

The UW–Madison team used polymers to selectively sort out the semiconducting nanotubes, achieving a solution of ultra-high-purity semiconducting carbon nanotubes.

“We’ve identified specific conditions in which you can get rid of nearly all metallic nanotubes, where we have less than 0.01 percent metallic nanotubes,” says Arnold.

Placement and alignment of the nanotubes is also difficult to control.

To make a good transistor, the nanotubes need to be aligned in just the right order, with just the right spacing, when assembled on a wafer. In 2014, the UW–Madison researchers overcame that challenge when they announced a technique, called “floating evaporative self-assembly,” that gives them this control.

The nanotubes must make good electrical contacts with the metal electrodes of the transistor. Because the polymer the UW–Madison researchers use to isolate the semiconducting nanotubes also acts like an insulating layer between the nanotubes and the electrodes, the team “baked” the nanotube arrays in a vacuum oven to remove the insulating layer. The result: excellent electrical contacts to the nanotubes.

The researchers also developed a treatment that removes residues from the nanotubes after they’re processed in solution.

“In our research, we’ve shown that we can simultaneously overcome all of these challenges of working with nanotubes, and that has allowed us to create these groundbreaking carbon nanotube transistors that surpass silicon and gallium arsenide transistors,” says Arnold.

The researchers benchmarked their carbon nanotube transistor against a silicon transistor of the same size, geometry and leakage current in order to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

They are continuing to work on adapting their device to match the geometry used in silicon transistors, which get smaller with each new generation. Work is also underway to develop high-performance radio frequency amplifiers that may be able to boost a cellphone signal. While the researchers have already scaled their alignment and deposition process to 1 inch by 1 inch wafers, they’re working on scaling the process up for commercial production.

Arnold says it’s exciting to finally reach the point where researchers can exploit the nanotubes to attain performance gains in actual technologies.

“There has been a lot of hype about carbon nanotubes that hasn’t been realized, and that has kind of soured many people’s outlook,” says Arnold. “But we think the hype is deserved. It has just taken decades of work for the materials science to catch up and allow us to effectively harness these materials.”

The researchers have patented their technology through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Interestingly, at least some of the research was publicly funded according to the news release,

Funding from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and the Air Force supported their work.

Will the public ever benefit financially from this research?

Next generation of power lines could be carbon nanotube-coated

This research was done at the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates. From a Sept. 1, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

A Masdar Institute Assistant Professor may have brought engineers one step closer to developing the type of next-generation power lines needed to achieve sustainable and resilient electrical power grids.

Dr. Kumar Shanmugam, Assistant Professor of Materials and Mechanical Engineering, helped develop a novel coating made from carbon nanotubes that, when layered around an aluminum-conductor composite core (ACCC) transmission line, reduces the line’s operating temperature and significantly improves its overall transmission efficiency.

An Aug. 29, 2016 Masdar Institute news release by Erica Solomon, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The coating is made from carbon nanostructures (CNS) – which are bundles of aligned carbon nanotubes that have exceptional mechanical and electrical properties – provided by the project’s sponsor, Lockheed Martin. The second component of the coating is an epoxy resin, which is the thick material used to protect things like appliances and electronics from damage.  Together, the CNS and epoxy resin help prevent power lines from overheating, increases their current carrying capacity (the amount of current that can flow through a transmission line), while also protecting them from damages associated with lightning strikes, ice and other environmental impacts.

The researchers found that by replacing traditional steel-core transmission lines with ACCC cables layered with a CNS-epoxy coating (referred to in the study as ACCC-CNS lines), the amount of aluminum used in an ACCC cable can be reduced by 25%, making the cable significantly lighter and cheaper to produce. The span length of a transmission line can also increase by 30%, which will make it easier to transmit electricity across longer distances while the amount of current the line can carry can increase by 40%.

“The coating helps to dissipate the heat generated in the conductor more efficiently through radiation and convection, thereby preventing the cable from overheating and enabling it to carry more current farther distances,” Dr. Kumar explained.

Ultimately, the purpose of the coating is to effectively eliminate the transmission line losses. Each year, anywhere from 5% to over 10% of the overall power generated in a power plant is lost in transmission and distribution lines. Most of this electrical energy is lost in the form of heat; as current runs through a conductor (the transmission line), the conductor heats up because it resists the flow of electrons to some extent – a phenomenon known as resistive Joule heating. Resistive Joule heating causes the energy that was moving the electrons forward to change into heat energy, which means some of the generated power gets converted into heat and lost to the surrounding environment instead of getting to its intended destination (like our homes and offices).

In addition to wasting energy, resistive Joule heating can lead to overheating, which can trigger a transmission line to “sag”, or physically droop low to the ground. Sagging power lines in turn can have catastrophic effects, including short circuits and power outages.

Efforts to reduce the problem of resistive heating and energy loss in power lines have led to significant improvements in transmission line technologies. For example, in 2002 ACCC transmission cables – which feature a carbon and glass-fiber reinforced composite core wrapped in aluminum conductor wires – were invented. The ACCC conductors are lighter and more heat-resistant than traditional steel-core cables, which means they can carry more current without overheating or sagging. Today, it is estimated that over 200 power and distribution networks use ACCC transmission cables.

While the advent of composite core cables marks the first major turning point in the development of energy-efficient transmission lines, Dr. Kumar’s CNS-epoxy coating may be the second significant advancement in the evolution of sustainable power lines.

The CNS-epoxy coating works by keeping the cable’s operating temperatures low. It does this by dissipating, any generated heat away from the conductor efficiently, thereby preventing further increase in temperature of the line and avoiding the trickle-effect that often leads to overheating.

The coating is layered twice in the ACCC cable – an outer layer, which dissipates the heat and protects the cable from environmental factors like lightning strikes and foreign object impact; and an inner layer, which protects the composite core from damage caused by stray radio frequency radiation generated by the electromagnetic pulse emanating from high electric current carrying aluminum conductor

The research team utilized a multi-physics modeling framework to analyze how the CNS-epoxy coating would influence the performance of ACCC transmission line. After fabricating the coating, they characterized it, which is a critical step to determine its mechanical, thermal and electrical properties. These properties were then used in the computational and theoretical models to evaluate and predict the coating’s performance. Finally, a design tool was developed and used to find the optimal combination of parameters (core diameter, span distance and sag) needed to reduce the cable’s weight, sag, and operating temperature while increasing its span distance and current carrying capacity.

Dr. Kumar’s innovative transmission line technology research comes at a pivotal time, when countries all over the world, including the UAE, are seeking ways to reduce their carbon footprint in a concerted effort to mitigate global climate change. Turning to energy-efficient power lines that waste less power and in turn produce less carbon dioxide emissions will be an obvious choice for nations devoted to greater sustainability.

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

High-Ampacity Overhead Power Lines With Carbon Nanostructure–Epoxy Composites by V. S. N. Ranjith Kumar, S. Kumar, G. Pal, and Tushar Shah. J. Eng. Mater. Technol 138(4), 041018 (Aug 09, 2016) (9 pages) Paper No: MATS-15-1217; doi: 10.1115/1.4034095

This paper is behind a paywall.

Harvard University announced new Center on Nano-safety Research

The nano safety center at Harvard University (Massachusetts, US) is a joint center with the US National Institute of Environmental Health  Sciences according to an Aug. 29, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs)—which are less than 100 nanometers (one millionth of a millimeter) in diameter—can make the colors in digital printer inks pop and help sunscreens better protect against radiation, among many other applications in industry and science. They may even help prevent infectious diseases. But as the technology becomes more widespread, questions remain about the potential risks that ENMs may pose to health and the environment.

Researchers at the new Harvard-NIEHS [US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences] Nanosafety Research Center at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are working to understand the unique properties of ENMs—both beneficial and harmful—and to ultimately establish safety standards for the field.

An Aug. 16, 2016 Harvard University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

“We want to help nanotechnology develop as a scientific and economic force while maintaining safeguards for public health,” said Center Director Philip Demokritou, associate professor of aerosol physics at Harvard Chan School. “If you understand the rules of nanobiology, you can design safer nanomaterials.”

ENMs can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact, and toxicological studies have shown that some can penetrate cells and tissues and potentially cause biochemical damage. Because the field of nanoparticle science is relatively new, no standards currently exist for assessing the health risks of exposure to ENMs—or even for how studies of nano-biological interactions should be conducted.

Much of the work of the new Center will focus on building a fundamental understanding of why some ENMs are potentially more harmful than others. The team will also establish a “reference library” of ENMs, each with slightly varied properties, which will be utilized in nanotoxicology research across the country to assess safety. This will allow researchers to pinpoint exactly what aspect of an ENM’s properties may impact health. The researchers will also work to develop standardized methods for nanotoxicology studies evaluating the safety of nanomaterials.

The Center was established with a $4 million dollar grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) last month, and is the only nanosafety research center to receive NIEHS funding for the next five years. It will also play a coordinating role with existing and future NIEHS nanotoxicology research projects nantionwide. Scientists from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), MIT, University of Maine, and University of Florida will collaborate on the new effort.

The Center builds on the existing Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology at Harvard Chan School, established by Demokritou and Joseph Brain, Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, in the School’s Department of Environmental Health in 2010.

A July 5, 2016 Harvard University press release announcing the $4M grant provides more information about which ENMs are to be studied,

The main focus of the new HSPH-NIEHS Center is to bring together  scientists from across disciplines- material science, chemistry, exposure assessment, risk assessment, nanotoxicology and nanobiology- to assess the potential  environmental Health and safety (EHS) implications of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs).

The $4 million dollar HSPH based Center  which is the only Nanosafety Research  Center to be funded by NIEHS this funding cycle, … The new HSPH-NIEHS Nanosafety Center builds upon the nano-related infrastructure in [the] collaborating Universities, developed over the past 10 years, which includes an inter-disciplinary research group of faculty, research staff and students, as well as state-of-the-art platforms for high throughput synthesis of ENMs, including metal and metal oxides, cutting edge 2D/3D ENMs such as CNTs [carbon nanotubes] and graphene, nanocellulose, and advanced nanocomposites, [emphasis mine] coupled with innovative tools to assess the fate and transport of ENMs in biological systems, statistical and exposure assessment tools, and novel in vitro and in vivo platforms for nanotoxicology research.

“Our mission is to integrate material/exposure/chemical sciences and nanotoxicology-nanobiology   to facilitate assessment of potential risks from emerging nanomaterials.  In doing so, we are bringing together the material synthesis/applications and nanotoxicology communities and other stakeholders including industry,   policy makers and the general public to maximize innovation and growth and minimize environmental and public health risks from nanotechnology”, quoted by  Dr Philip Demokritou, …

This effort certainly falls in line with the current emphasis on interdisciplinary research and creating standards and protocols for researching the toxicology of engineered nanomaterials.

Canada’s Ingenuity Lab receives a $1.7M grant to develop oil recovery system for oil spills

A Sept. 15, 2016 news item on Benzinga.com describes the reasons for the $1.7M grant for Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab to develop an oil spill recovery system,

Since 2010’s tragic events, which saw BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster desecrate the Gulf of Mexico, oil safety has been on the forefront of the environmental debate and media outrage. In line with the mounting concerns continuing to pique public attention, at the end of this month [Sept. 2016], Hollywood will release its own biopic of the event. As can be expected, more questions will be raised about what exactly went wrong, in addition to fresh criticism aimed at the entire industry.

One question that is likely to emerge is how do we prevent such a calamity from ever happening again? Fortunately, some of the brightest minds in science have been preparing for such an answer.

One team that has been focusing on this dilemma is Alberta-based, multi-disciplinary research initiative Ingenuity Lab. The institution has just secured $1.7m in project funding for developing a highly advanced system for recovering oil from oil spills. This injection of capital will enable Ingenuity Lab to conduct new research and develop commercial production processes for recovering heavy oil spills in marine environments. The technology is centred on cutting edge nanowire-based stimuli-responsive membranes and devices that are capable for recovering oil.

A Sept. 15, 2016 Ingenuity Lab news release on MarketWired, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the oil spill situation,

Oil is a common pollutant in our oceans; more than three million metric tonnes contaminate the sea each year. When crude oil is accidentally released into a body of water by an oil tanker, refinery, storage facility, underwater pipeline or offshore oil-drilling rig, it is an environmental emergency of the most urgent kind.

Depending on the location, oil spills can be highly hazardous, as well as environmentally destructive. Consequently, a timely clean up is absolutely crucial in order to protect the integrity of the water, the shoreline and the numerous creatures that depend on these habitats.

Due to increased scrutiny of the oil industry with regard to its unseemly environmental track record, attention must be focused on the development of new materials and technologies for removing organic contaminants from waterways. Simply put, existing methods are not sufficiently robust.

Fortuitously, however, nanotechnology has opened the door for the development of sophisticated new tools that use specifically designed materials with properties that are ideally suited to enable complex separations, including the separation of crude oil from water.

Ingenuity Lab’s project focuses on the efficient recovery of oil through the development of this novel technology using a variety of stimuli-responsive nanomaterials. When the time comes for scale up production for this technology, Ingenuity Lab will work closely with industry trendsetters, Tortech Nanofibers.

This project forms a strong element of the Oil Spill Response Science (OSRS), which is part of Canada’s world-class tanker safety system for Responsible Resource Development. Through this programme, the Canadian Government ensures that the country’s resource wealth can be safely developed and transported to market, thus creating new jobs and economic growth for all Canadians.

From a communications standpoint, the news release is well written and well strategized to underline the seriousness of the situation and to take advantage of renewed interest in the devastating (people’s lives were lost and environmental damage is still being assessed) 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to the upcoming movie titled, Deepwater Horizon. A little more information about the team (how many people, who’s leading the research, are there international and/or interprovincial collaborators?), plans for the research (have they already started? what work, if any, are they building on? what challenges are they facing?) and some technical details would have been welcome.

Regardless, it’s good to hear about this initiative and I wish them great success with it.

You can find our more about Ingenuity Lab here and Tortech Nanofibers here. Interestingly, Tortech is a joint venture between Israel’s Plasan Sasa and the UK’s Q-Flo. (Q-Flo is a spinoff from Cambridge University.) One more thing, Tortech Nanofibers produces materials made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Presumably Ingenuity’s “nanowire-based stimuli-responsive membranes” include carbon nanotubes.

Faster predictive toxicology of nanomaterials

As more nanotechnology-enabled products make their way to the market and concerns rise regarding safety, scientists work to find better ways of assessing and predicting the safety of these materials, from an Aug. 13, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] researchers have designed a laboratory test that uses microchip technology to predict how potentially hazardous nanomaterials could be.

According to UCLA professor Huan Meng, certain engineered nanomaterials, such as non-purified carbon nanotubes that are used to strengthen commercial products, could have the potential to injure the lungs if inhaled during the manufacturing process. The new test he helped develop could be used to analyze the extent of the potential hazard.

An Aug. 12, 2016 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The same test could also be used to identify biological biomarkers that can help scientists and doctors detect cancer and infectious diseases. Currently, scientists identify those biomarkers using other tests; one of the most common is called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA. But the new platform, which is called semiconductor electronic label-free assay, or SELFA, costs less and is faster and more accurate, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study was led by Meng, a UCLA assistant adjunct professor of medicine, and Chi On Chui, a UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering.

ELISA has been used by scientists for decades to analyze biological samples — for example, to detect whether epithelial cells in the lungs that have been exposed to nanomaterials are inflamed. But ELISA must be performed in a laboratory setting by skilled technicians, and a single test can cost roughly $700 and take five to seven days to process.

In contrast, SELFA uses microchip technology to analyze samples. The test can take between 30 minutes and two hours and, according to the UCLA researchers, could cost just a few dollars per sample when high-volume production begins.

The SELFA chip contains a T-shaped nanowire that acts as an integrated sensor and amplifier. To analyze a sample, scientists place it on a sensor on the chip. The vertical part of the T-shaped nanowire converts the current from the molecule being analyzed, and the horizontal portion amplifies that signal to distinguish the molecule from others.

The use of the T-shaped nanowires created in Chui’s lab is a new application of a UCLA patented invention that was developed by Chui and his colleagues. The device is the first time that “lab-on-a-chip” analysis has been tested in a scenario that mimics a real-life situation.

The UCLA scientists exposed cultured lung cells to different nanomaterials and then compared their results using SELFA with results in a database of previous studies that used other testing methods.

“By measuring biomarker concentrations in the cell culture, we showed that SELFA was 100 times more sensitive than ELISA,” Meng said. “This means that not only can SELFA analyze much smaller sample sizes, but also that it can minimize false-positive test results.”

Chui said, “The results are significant because SELFA measurement allows us to predict the inflammatory potential of a range of nanomaterials inside cells and validate the prediction with cellular imaging and experiments in animals’ lungs.”

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

Semiconductor Electronic Label-Free Assay for Predictive Toxicology by Yufei Mao, Kyeong-Sik Shin, Xiang Wang, Zhaoxia Ji, Huan Meng, & Chi On Chui. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24982 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep24982 Published online: 27 April 2016

This paper is open access.

Untangling carbon nanotubes at McMaster University (Canada)

Carbon nanotubes can be wiggly, entangled things (more about McMaster in a bit) as Dr. Andrew Maynard notes in this video (part of his Risk Bites video series) describing carbon nanotubes, their ‘infinite’ variety, and risks,

Researchers at Canada’s McMaster University have found a way to untangle carbon nanotubes according to an Aug. 16, 2016 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Imagine an electronic newspaper that you could roll up and spill your coffee on, even as it updated itself before your eyes.

It’s an example of the technological revolution that has been waiting to happen, except for one major problem that, until now, scientists have not been able to resolve.

Researchers at McMaster University have cleared that obstacle by developing a new way to purify carbon nanotubes – the smaller, nimbler semiconductors that are expected to replace silicon within computer chips and a wide array of electronics (Chemistry – A European Journal, “Influence of Polymer Electronics on Selective Dispersion of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes”).

“Once we have a reliable source of pure nanotubes that are not very expensive, a lot can happen very quickly,” says Alex Adronov, a professor of Chemistry at McMaster whose research team has developed a new and potentially cost-efficient way to purify carbon nanotubes.

The researchers have provided a gorgeous image,

Artistic rendition of a metallic carbon nanotube being pulled into solution, in analogy to the work described by the Adronov group. Image: Alex Adronov McMaster

Artistic rendition of a metallic carbon nanotube being pulled into solution, in analogy to the work described by the Adronov group. Image: Alex Adronov McMaster University

An Aug. 15, 2016 McMaster University news release, which originated the news item, provides a beginner’s introduction to carbon nanotubes and describes the purification process that will make production of carbon nanotubes easier,

Carbon nanotubes – hair-like structures that are one billionth of a metre in diameter but thousands of times longer ­– are tiny, flexible conductive nano-scale materials, expected to revolutionize computers and electronics by replacing much larger silicon-based chips.

A major problem standing in the way of the new technology, however, has been untangling metallic and semiconducting carbon nanotubes, since both are created simultaneously in the process of producing the microscopic structures, which typically involves heating carbon-based gases to a point where mixed clusters of nanotubes form spontaneously as black soot.

Only pure semiconducting or metallic carbon nanotubes are effective in device applications, but efficiently isolating them has proven to be a challenging problem to overcome. Even when the nanotube soot is ground down, semiconducting and metallic nanotubes are knotted together within each grain of powder. Both components are valuable, but only when separated.

Researchers around the world have spent years trying to find effective and efficient ways to isolate carbon nanotubes and unleash their value.

While previous researchers had created polymers that could allow semiconducting carbon nanotubes to be dissolved and washed away, leaving metallic nanotubes behind, there was no such process for doing the opposite: dispersing the metallic nanotubes and leaving behind the semiconducting structures.

Now, Adronov’s research group has managed to reverse the electronic characteristics of a polymer known to disperse semiconducting nanotubes – while leaving the rest of the polymer’s structure intact. By so doing, they have reversed the process, leaving the semiconducting nanotubes behind while making it possible to disperse the metallic nanotubes.

The researchers worked closely with experts and equipment from McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering and the Canada Centre for Electron Microscopy, located on the university’s campus.

“There aren’t many places in the world where you can do this type of interdisciplinary work,” Adronov says.

The next step, he explains, is for his team or other researchers to exploit the discovery by finding a way to develop even more efficient polymers and scale up the process for commercial production.

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

Influence of Polymer Electronics on Selective Dispersion of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes by *Darryl Fong*, William J. Bodnaryk, Dr. Nicole A. Rice, Sokunthearath Saem, Prof. Jose M. Moran-Mirabal, Prof. Alex Adronov. Chemistry A European Journal DOI: 10.1002/chem.201603553 First published: 16 August 2016

This paper appears to be open access.

*’Daryl Fon’ changed to ‘Darryl Fong’ on Oct. 3, 2016.

Carbon nanotubes: faster, cheaper, easier, and more consistent

One of the big problems with nanomaterials has to do with production issues such as: consistent size and shape. It seems that scientists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a technique for producing carbon nanotubes (CNTs) which addresses these issues. From a July 19, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Just as many of us might be resigned to clogged salt shakers or rush-hour traffic, those working to exploit the special properties of carbon nanotubes have typically shrugged their shoulders when these tiniest of cylinders fill with water during processing. But for nanotube practitioners who have reached their Popeye threshold and “can’t stands no more,” the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has devised a cheap, quick and effective strategy that reliably enhances the quality and consistency of the materials–important for using them effectively in applications such as new computing technologies.

To prevent filling of the cores of single-wall carbon nanotubes with water or other detrimental substances, the NIST researchers advise intentionally prefilling them with a desired chemical of known properties. Taking this step before separating and dispersing the materials, usually done in water, yields a consistently uniform collection of nanotubes. In quantity and quality, the results are superior to water-filled nanotubes, especially for optical applications such as sensors and photodetectors.

A July 15, 2016 NIST news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The approach opens a straightforward route for engineering the properties of single-wall carbon nanotubes—rolled up sheets of carbon atoms arranged like chicken wire or honey combs—with improved or new properties.

“This approach is so easy, inexpensive and broadly useful that I can’t think of a reason not to use it,” said NIST chemical engineer Jeffrey Fagan.

In their proof-of-concept experiments, the NIST team inserted more than 20 different compounds into an assortment of single-wall carbon nanotubes with an interior diameter that ranged from more than 2 down to about 0.5 nanometers. Led by visiting researcher Jochen Campo, the scientists tested their strategy by using hydrocarbons called alkanes as fillers.

The alkanes, which include such familiar compounds as propane and butane, served to render the nanotube interiors unreactive. In other words, the alkane-filled nanotubes behaved almost as if they were empty—precisely the goal of Campo, Fagan and colleagues.

Compared with nanotubes filled with water and possibly ions, acids and other unwanted chemicals encountered during processing, empty nanotubes possess far superior properties. For example, when stimulated by light, empty carbon nanotubes fluoresce far brighter and with sharper signals.

Yet, “spontaneous ingestion” of water or other solvents by the nanotubes during processing is an “endemic but often neglected phenomenon with strong implications for the development of nanotube applications,” the NIST team wrote in a recent article in Nanoscale Horizons.

Perhaps because of the additional cost and effort required to filter out and gather nanotubes, researchers tend to tolerate mixed batches of unfilled (empty) and mostly filled single-wall carbon nanotubes. Separating unfilled nanotubes from these mixtures requires expensive ultracentrifuge equipment and, even then, the yield is only about 10 percent, Campo estimates.

“If your goal is to use nanotubes for electronic circuits, for example, or for fluorescent anti-cancer image contrast agents, then you require much greater quantities of materials of consistent composition and quality,” Campo explained, who was exploring these applications while doing postdoctoral research at the University of Antwerp. “This particular need inspired development of the new prefilling method by asking the question, can we put some passive chemical into the nanotube instead to keep the water out.”

From the very first simple experiments, the answer was yes. And the benefits can be significant. In fluorescence experiments, alkane-filled nanotubes emitted signals two to three times stronger than those emitted by water-filled nanotubes. Performance approached that of empty nanotubes—the gold standard for these comparisons.

As important, the NIST-developed prefilling strategy is controllable, versatile and easily incorporated into existing methods for processing single-wall carbon nanotubes, according to the researchers.

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

Enhancing single-wall carbon nanotube properties through controlled endohedral filling by J. Campo, Y. Piao, S. Lam, C. M. Stafford, J. K. Streit, J. R. Simpson, A. R. Hight Walker, and J. A. Fagan. Nanoscale Horiz., 2016,1, 317-324 DOI: 10.1039/C6NH00062B First published online 10 May 2016

This paper is open access but you do need to register on the site (it is a free registration).