Tag Archives: Megan Fellman

Richard Van Duyne solves mystery of Renoir’s red with surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and Canadian scientists uncover forgeries

The only things these two items have in common is that they are concerned with visual art. and with solving mysteries The first item concerns research by Richard Van Duyne into the nature of the red paint used in one of Renoir’s paintings. A February 14, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some of the art conservation work that Van Duyne’s (nanoish) technology has made possible along with details about this most recent work,

Scientists are using powerful analytical and imaging tools to study artworks from all ages, delving deep below the surface to reveal the process and materials used by some of the world’s greatest artists.

Northwestern University chemist Richard P. Van Duyne, in collaboration with conservation scientists at the Art Institute of Chicago, has been using a scientific method he discovered nearly four decades ago to investigate masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt.

Van Duyne recently identified the chemical components of paint, now partially faded, used by Renoir in his oil painting “Madame Léon Clapisson.” Van Duyne discovered the artist used carmine lake, a brilliant but light-sensitive red pigment, on this colorful canvas. The scientific investigation is the cornerstone of a new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition is called, Renoir’s True Colors: Science Solves a Mystery. being held from Feb. 12, 2014 – April 27, 2014. Here is an image of the Renoir painting in question and an image featuring the equipment being used,

Renoir-Madame-Leon-Clapisson.Art Institute of Chicago.

Renoir-Madame-Leon-Clapisson.Art Institute of Chicago.

Renoir and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Art Institute of Chicago

Renoir and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Art Institute of Chicago

The Feb. 13, 2014 Northwestern University news release (also on EurekAlert) by Megan Fellman, which originated the news item, gives a brief description of Van Duyne’s technique and its impact on conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago (Note: A link has been removed),

To see what the naked eye cannot see, Van Duyne used surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) to uncover details of Renoir’s paint. SERS, discovered by Van Duyne in 1977, is widely recognized as the most sensitive form of spectroscopy capable of identifying molecules.

Van Duyne and his colleagues’ detective work informed the production of a new digital visualization of the painting’s original colors by the Art Institute’s conservation department. The re-colorized reproduction and the original painting (presented in a case that offers 360-degree views) can be viewed side by side at the exhibition “Renoir’s True Colors: Science Solves a Mystery” through April 27 [2014] at the Art Institute.

I first wrote about Van Duyne’s technique in my wiki, The NanoTech Mysteries. From the Scientists get artful page (Note: A footnote was removed),

Richard Van Duyne, then a chemist at Northwestern University, developed the technique in 1977. Van Duyne’s technology, based on Raman spectroscopy which has been around since the 1920s, is called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy’ or SERS “[and] uses laser light and nanoparticles of precious metals to interact with molecules to show the chemical make-up of a particular dye.”

This next item is about forgery detection. A March 5, 2014 news release on EurekAlert describes the latest developments,

Gallery owners, private collectors, conservators, museums and art dealers face many problems in protecting and evaluating their collections such as determining origin, authenticity and discovery of forgery, as well as conservation issues. Today these problems are more accurately addressed through the application of modern, non-destructive, “hi-tech” techniques.

Dmitry Gavrilov, a PhD student in the Department of Physics at the University of Windsor (Windsor, Canada), along with Dr. Roman Gr. Maev, the Department of Physics Professor at the University of Windsor (Windsor, Canada) and Professor Dr. Darryl Almond of the University of Bath (Bath, UK) have been busy applying modern techniques to this age-old field. Infrared imaging, thermography, spectroscopy, UV fluorescence analysis, and acoustic microscopy are among the innovative approaches they are using to conduct pre-restoration analysis of works of art. Some fascinating results from their applications are published today in the Canadian Journal of Physics.

Since the early 1900s, using infrared imaging in various wave bands, scientists have been able to see what parts of artworks have been retouched or altered and sometimes even reveal the artist’s original sketches beneath layers of the paint. Thermography is a relatively new approach in art analysis that allows for deep subsurface investigation to find defects and past reparations. To a conservator these new methods are key in saving priceless works from further damage.

Gavrilov explains, “We applied new approaches in processing thermographic data, materials spectra data, and also the technique referred to as craquelure pattern analysis. The latter is based on advanced morphological processing of images of surface cracks. These cracks, caused by a number of factors such as structure of canvas, paints and binders used, can uncover important clues on the origins of a painting.”

“Air-coupled acoustic imaging and acoustic microscopy are other innovative approaches which have been developed and introduced into art analysis by our team under supervision of Dr. Roman Gr. Maev. The technique has proven to be extremely sensitive to small layer detachments and allows for the detection of early stages of degradation. It is based on the same principles as medical and industrial ultrasound, namely, the sending a sound wave to the sample and receiving it back. ”

Spectroscopy is a technique that has been useful in the fight against art fraud. It can determine chemical composition of pigments and binders, which is essential information in the hands of an art specialist in revealing fakes. As described in the paper, “…according to the FBI, the value of art fraud, forgery and theft is up to $6 billion per year, which makes it the third most lucrative crime in the world after drug trafficking and the illegal weapons trade.”

One might wonder how these modern applications can be safe for delicate works of art when even flash photography is banned in art galleries. The authors discuss this and other safety concerns, describing both historic and modern-day implications of flash bulbs and exhibit illumination and scientific methods. As the paper concludes, the authors suggest that we can expect that the number of “hi-tech” techniques will only increase. In the future, art experts will likely have a variety of tools to help them solve many of the mysteries hiding beneath the layers.

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

A review of imaging methods in analysis of works of art: Thermographic imaging method in art analysis by D. Gavrilov, R.Gr. Maev, and D.P. Almond. Canadian Journal of Physics, 10.1139/cjp-2013-0128

This paper is open access.

Bejweled and bedazzled but not bewitched, bothered, or bewildered at Northwestern University

When discussing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) one doesn’t usually expect to encounter gems as one does in a Nov. 28, 2013 news item on Azonano,

Nature builds flawless diamonds, sapphires and other gems. Now a Northwestern University [located in Chicago, Illinois, US] research team is the first to build near-perfect single crystals out of nanoparticles and DNA, using the same structure favored by nature.

The Nov. 27, 2013 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,, explains why single crystals are of such interest,

“Single crystals are the backbone of many things we rely on — diamonds for beauty as well as industrial applications, sapphires for lasers and silicon for electronics,” said nanoscientist Chad A. Mirkin. “The precise placement of atoms within a well-defined lattice defines these high-quality crystals.

“Now we can do the same with nanomaterials and DNA, the blueprint of life,” Mirkin said. “Our method could lead to novel technologies and even enable new industries, much as the ability to grow silicon in perfect crystalline arrangements made possible the multibillion-dollar semiconductor industry.”

His research group developed the “recipe” for using nanomaterials as atoms, DNA as bonds and a little heat to form tiny crystals. This single-crystal recipe builds on superlattice techniques Mirkin’s lab has been developing for nearly two decades.

(I wrote about Mirkin’s nanoparticle DNA work in the context of his proposed periodic table of modified nucleic acid nanoparticles in a July 5, 2013 posting.) The news release goes on to describe Mirkin’s most recent work,

In this recent work, Mirkin, an experimentalist, teamed up with Monica Olvera de la Cruz, a theoretician, to evaluate the new technique and develop an understanding of it. Given a set of nanoparticles and a specific type of DNA, Olvera de la Cruz showed they can accurately predict the 3-D structure, or crystal shape, into which the disordered components will self-assemble.

The general set of instructions gives researchers unprecedented control over the type and shape of crystals they can build. The Northwestern team worked with gold nanoparticles, but the recipe can be applied to a variety of materials, with potential applications in the fields of materials science, photonics, electronics and catalysis.

A single crystal has order: its crystal lattice is continuous and unbroken throughout. The absence of defects in the material can give these crystals unique mechanical, optical and electrical properties, making them very desirable.

In the Northwestern study, strands of complementary DNA act as bonds between disordered gold nanoparticles, transforming them into an orderly crystal. The researchers determined that the ratio of the DNA linker’s length to the size of the nanoparticle is critical.

“If you get the right ratio it makes a perfect crystal — isn’t that fun?” said Olvera de la Cruz, who also is a professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “That’s the fascinating thing, that you have to have the right ratio. We are learning so many rules for calculating things that other people cannot compute in atoms, in atomic crystals.”

The ratio affects the energy of the faces of the crystals, which determines the final crystal shape. Ratios that don’t follow the recipe lead to large fluctuations in energy and result in a sphere, not a faceted crystal, she explained. With the correct ratio, the energies fluctuate less and result in a crystal every time.

“Imagine having a million balls of two colors, some red, some blue, in a container, and you try shaking them until you get alternating red and blue balls,” Mirkin explained. “It will never happen.

“But if you attach DNA that is complementary to nanoparticles — the red has one kind of DNA, say, the blue its complement — and now you shake, or in our case, just stir in water, all the particles will find one another and link together,” he said. “They beautifully assemble into a three-dimensional crystal that we predicted computationally and realized experimentally.”

To achieve a self-assembling single crystal in the lab, the research team reports taking two sets of gold nanoparticles outfitted with complementary DNA linker strands. Working with approximately 1 million nanoparticles in water, they heated the solution to a temperature just above the DNA linkers’ melting point and then slowly cooled the solution to room temperature, which took two or three days.

The very slow cooling process encouraged the single-stranded DNA to find its complement, resulting in a high-quality single crystal approximately three microns wide. “The process gives the system enough time and energy for all the particles to arrange themselves and find the spots they should be in,” Mirkin said.

The researchers determined that the length of DNA connected to each gold nanoparticle can’t be much longer than the size of the nanoparticle. In the study, the gold nanoparticles varied from five to 20 nanometers in diameter; for each, the DNA length that led to crystal formation was about 18 base pairs and six single-base “sticky ends.”

“There’s no reason we can’t grow extraordinarily large single crystals in the future using modifications of our technique,” said Mirkin, who also is a professor of medicine, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering and materials science and engineering and director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology.

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

DNA-mediated nanoparticle crystallization into Wulff polyhedra by Evelyn Auyeung, Ting I. N. G. Li, Andrew J. Senesi, Abrin L. Schmucker, Bridget C. Pals, Monica Olvera de la Cruz, & Chad A. Mirkin. Nature (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12739 Published online 27 November 2013

This article is behind a paywall.

Points to anyone who recognized the song title (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered) embedded in the head for this posting.

Chad Mirkin’s periodic table of modified nucleic acid nanoparticles

Chad Mirkin has been pushing his idea for a new periodic table of ‘nanoparticles’ since at least Feb. 2013 (I wrote about this and some of Mirkin’s other work in my Feb. 19, 2013 posting) when he presented it at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. From a Feb. 17, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

Northwestern University’s Chad A. Mirkin, a leader in nanotechnology research and its application, has developed a completely new set of building blocks that is based on nanoparticles and DNA. Using these tools, scientists will be able to build — from the bottom up, just as nature does — new and useful structures.

Mirkin will discuss his research in a session titled “Nucleic Acid-Modified Nanostructures as Programmable Atom Equivalents: Forging a New Periodic Table” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.

“We have a new set of building blocks,” Mirkin said. “Instead of taking what nature gives you, we can control every property of the new material we make. [emphasis mine] We’ve always had this vision of building matter and controlling architecture from the bottom up, and now we’ve shown it can be done.”

Mirkin seems a trifle grandiose; I’m hoping he doesn’t have any grand creation projects that require seven days.

Getting back to the new periodic table, the Feb. 13, 2013 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman, which originated the news item,  provides a few more details,

Using nanoparticles and DNA, Mirkin has built more than 200 different crystal structures with 17 different particle arrangements. Some of the lattice types can be found in nature, but he also has built new structures that have no naturally occurring mineral counterpart.
….
Mirkin can make new materials and arrangements of particles by controlling the size, shape, type and location of nanoparticles within a given particle lattice. He has developed a set of design rules that allow him to control almost every property of a material.

New materials developed using his method could help improve the efficiency of optics, electronics and energy storage technologies. “These same nanoparticle building blocks have already found wide-spread commercial utility in biology and medicine as diagnostic probes for markers of disease,” Mirkin added.

With this present advance, Mirkin uses nanoparticles as “atoms” and DNA as “bonds.” He starts with a nanoparticle, which could be gold, silver, platinum or a quantum dot, for example. The core material is selected depending on what physical properties the final structure should have.

He then attaches hundreds of strands of DNA (oligonucleotides) to the particle. The oligonucleotide’s DNA sequence and length determine how bonds form between nanoparticles and guide the formation of specific crystal lattices.

“This constitutes a completely new class of building blocks in materials science that gives you a type of programmability that is extraordinarily versatile and powerful,” Mirkin said. “It provides nanotechnologists for the first time the ability to tailor properties of materials in a highly programmable way from the bottom up.”

Mirkin and his colleagues have since published a paper about this new periodic table in Angewandte Chemie (May 2013). And, earlier today (July 5, 2013) Philip Ball writing (A self-assembled periodic table) for the Royal Society of Chemistry provided a critique of the idea while supporting it in principle,

Mirkin and his colleagues perceive the pairing of [DNA] strands as somewhat analogous to the covalent pairing of electrons and call their DNA-tagged nanoparticles programmable atom equivalents (PAEs). These PAEs may bind to one another according to particular combinatorial rules and Mirkin proposes a kind of periodic table of PAEs that systematises their possible interactions and permutations.
Well, it’s not hard to start enumerating ways in which PAEs are unlike atoms. Most fundamentally, perhaps, the bonding propensity of a PAE need bear no real relation to the ‘atom’ (the nanoparticle) with which it is associated: a given nanoparticle might be paired with any other, and there’s nothing periodic about those tendencies.

I recommend reading Ball’s piece for the way he analyzes the weaknesses and for why he thinks the effort to organize PAEs conceptually is worthwhile.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ published paper,

Nucleic Acid-Modified Nanostructures as Programmable Atom Equivalents: Forging a New “Table of Elements by Robert J. Macfarlane, Matthew N. O’Brien, Dr. Sarah Hurst Petrosko, and Prof. Chad A. Mirkin. Angewandte Chemie International Edition Volume 52, Issue 22, pages 5688–5698, May 27, 2013. Article first published online: 2 MAY 2013 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201209336

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

One final comment, this is not the first ‘nanoparticle table of elements’.  Larry Bell mentioned one in his Dec. 7, 2010 NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) blog posting,

The focus of today’s sessions at NSF’s [US National Science Foundation] meeting of nanoscale science and engineering grantees focuses on putting the science to practical use. First up this morning is nanomanufacturing. Mark Tuonimen from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst gave a talk about the Nanoscale Manufacturing Network and one of his images caught my imagination. This image, which comes from the draft Nano2 vision document on the next decade of nanoscale research, illustrates and idea that is sometimes referred to as a periodic table of nanoparticles.

[downloaded from http://www.nisenet.org/blogs/observations_insights/periodic_table_nanoparticles]

[downloaded from http://www.nisenet.org/blogs/observations_insights/periodic_table_nanoparticles]

Bell goes on to describe one way in which a nanoparticle table of elements would have to differ from the traditional chemistry table.

Bend it, twist it, any way you want to—a foldable lithium-ion battery

Feb. 26, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily features an extraordinary lithium-ion battery,

Northwestern University’s Yonggang Huang and the University of Illinois’ John A. Rogers are the first to demonstrate a stretchable lithium-ion battery — a flexible device capable of powering their innovative stretchable electronics.

No longer needing to be connected by a cord to an electrical outlet, the stretchable electronic devices now could be used anywhere, including inside the human body. The implantable electronics could monitor anything from brain waves to heart activity, succeeding where flat, rigid batteries would fail.

Huang and Rogers have demonstrated a battery that continues to work — powering a commercial light-emitting diode (LED) — even when stretched, folded, twisted and mounted on a human elbow. The battery can work for eight to nine hours before it needs recharging, which can be done wirelessly.

The researchers at Northwestern have produced a video where they demonstrate the battery’s ‘stretchability’,

The Northwestern University Feb. 26, 2013 news release by Megan Fellman, which originated the news item, offers this detail,

“We start with a lot of battery components side by side in a very small space, and we connect them with tightly packed, long wavy lines,” said Huang, a corresponding author of the paper. “These wires provide the flexibility. When we stretch the battery, the wavy interconnecting lines unfurl, much like yarn unspooling. And we can stretch the device a great deal and still have a working battery.”

The power and voltage of the stretchable battery are similar to a conventional lithium-ion battery of the same size, but the flexible battery can stretch up to 300 percent of its original size and still function.

Huang and Rogers have been working together for the last six years on stretchable electronics, and designing a cordless power supply has been a major challenge. Now they have solved the problem with their clever “space filling technique,” which delivers a small, high-powered battery.

For their stretchable electronic circuits, the two developed “pop-up” technology that allows circuits to bend, stretch and twist. They created an array of tiny circuit elements connected by metal wire “pop-up bridges.” When the array is stretched, the wires — not the rigid circuits — pop up.

This approach works for circuits but not for a stretchable battery. A lot of space is needed in between components for the “pop-up” interconnect to work. Circuits can be spaced out enough in an array, but battery components must be packed tightly to produce a powerful but small battery. There is not enough space between battery components for the “pop-up” technology to work.

Huang’s design solution is to use metal wire interconnects that are long, wavy lines, filling the small space between battery components. (The power travels through the interconnects.)

The unique mechanism is a “spring within a spring”: The line connecting the components is a large “S” shape and within that “S” are many smaller “S’s.” When the battery is stretched, the large “S” first stretches out and disappears, leaving a line of small squiggles. The stretching continues, with the small squiggles disappearing as the interconnect between electrodes becomes taut.

“We call this ordered unraveling,” Huang said. “And this is how we can produce a battery that stretches up to 300 percent of its original size.”

The stretching process is reversible, and the battery can be recharged wirelessly. The battery’s design allows for the integration of stretchable, inductive coils to enable charging through an external source but without the need for a physical connection.

Huang, Rogers and their teams found the battery capable of 20 cycles of recharging with little loss in capacity. The system they report in the paper consists of a square array of 100 electrode disks, electrically connected in parallel.

I’d like to see this battery actually powering a device even though the stretching is quite alluring in its way. For those who are interested here’s a citation and a link to the research paper,

Stretchable batteries with self-similar serpentine interconnects and integrated wireless recharging systems by Sheng Xu, Yihui Zhang, Jiung Cho, Juhwan Lee, Xian Huang, Lin Jia, Jonathan A. Fan, Yewang Su, Jessica Su, Huigang Zhang, Huanyu Cheng, Bingwei Lu,           Cunjiang Yu, Chi Chuang, Tae-il Kim, Taeseup Song, Kazuyo Shigeta, Sen Kang, Canan Dagdeviren, Ivan Petrov  et al.   Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1543 doi: 10.1038/ncomms2553  Published 26 February 2013

The article is behind a paywall.

Love, hate, and the whole damn thing affect batteries, semiconductors, and electronic memory

A Jan. 24, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily features love triumphing over hate where tetracationic rings are concerned,

Northwestern University graduate student Jonathan Barnes had a hunch for creating an exotic new chemical compound, and his idea that the force of love is stronger than hate proved correct. He and his colleagues are the first to permanently interlock two identical tetracationic rings that normally are repelled by each other. Many experts had said it couldn’t be done.

On the surface, the rings hate each other because each carries four positive charges (making them tetracationic). But Barnes discovered by introducing radicals (unpaired electrons) onto the scene, the researchers could create a love-hate relationship in which love triumphs.

The Jan. 24, 2013 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman, which originated the news item, probes into the nature of the problem and its solution (Note: A link has been removed),

Unpaired electrons want to pair up and be stable, and it turns out the attraction of one ring’s single electrons to the other ring’s single electrons is stronger than the repelling forces.

The process links the rings not by a chemical bond but by a mechanical bond, which, once in place, cannot easily be torn asunder.

The study detailing this new class of stable organic radicals will be published Jan. 25 [2013] by the journal Science.

“It’s not that people have tried and failed to put these two rings together — they just didn’t think it was possible,” said Sir Fraser Stoddart, a senior author of the paper. “Now this molecule has been made. I cannot overemphasize Jonathan’s achievement — it is really outside the box. Now we are excited to see where this new chemistry leads us.”

The rings repel each other like the positive poles of two magnets. Barnes saw an opportunity where he thought he could tweak the chemistry by using radicals to overcome the hate between the two rings.

“We made these rings communicate and love each other under certain conditions, and once they were mechanically interlocked, the bond could not be broken,” Barnes said.

Barnes’ first strategy — adding electrons to temporarily reduce the charge and bring the two rings together — worked the first time he tried it. He, Stoddart and their colleagues started with a full ring and a half ring that they then closed up around the first ring (using some simple chemistry), creating the mechanical bond.

When the compound is oxidized and electrons lost, the strong positive forces come roaring back — “It’s hate on all the time,” Barnes said — but then it is too late for the rings to be parted. “That’s the beauty of this system,” he added.

Most organic radicals possess short lifetimes, but this unusual radical compound is stable in air and water. The compound tucks the electrons away inside the structure so they can’t react with anything in the environment. The tight mechanical bond endures despite the unfavorable electrostatic interactions.

The two interlocked rings house an immense amount of charge in a mere cubic nanometer of space. The compound, a homo[2]catenane, can adopt one of six oxidation states and can accept up to eight electrons in total.

“Anything that accepts this many electrons has possibilities for batteries,” Barnes said.

“Applications beckon,” Stoddart agreed. “Now we need to spend more time with materials scientists and people who make devices to see how this amazing compound can be used.”

For anyone interested in the details of the work, here’s a citation and link to the paper published in Science,

A Radically Configurable Six-State Compound by Jonathan C. Barnes, Albert C. Fahrenbach, Dennis Cao, Scott M. Dyar, Marco Frasconi, Marc A. Giesener, Diego Benítez, Ekaterina Tkatchouk, Oleksandr Chernyashevskyy, Weon Ho Shin, Hao Li, Srinivasan Sampath, Charlotte L. Stern, Amy A. Sarjeant, Karel J. Hartlieb, Zhichang Liu, Raanan Carmieli, Youssry Y. Botros, Jang Wook Choi, Alexandra M. Z. Slawin, John B. Ketterson, Michael R. Wasielewski, William A. Goddard III, J. Fraser Stoddart. Science 25 January 2013: Vol. 339 no. 6118 pp. 429-433 DOI: 10.1126/science.1228429

This is paper is behind a paywall.

Nano crafts class: get out your ‘paper’ and scissors

It’s not all atomic force microscopy and nanotweezers as scientists keep reminding us that the techniques we learned in kindergarten can be all the high technology we need even when working at the nanoscale. From the Nov. 14, 2012 news item on ScienceDaily,

Two Northwestern University researchers have discovered a remarkably easy way to make nanofluidic devices: using paper and scissors. And they can cut a device into any shape and size they want, adding to the method’s versatility.

The Nov. 14, 2012 Northwestern University news release by Megan Fellman explains both nanofluidic devices and the new technique,

Nanofluidic devices are attractive because their thin channels can transport ions — and with them a higher than normal electric current — making the devices promising for use in batteries and new systems for water purification, harvesting energy and DNA sorting.

The “paper-and-scissors” method one day could be used to manufacture large-scale nanofluidic devices without relying on expensive lithography techniques.

The Northwestern duo found that simply stacking up sheets of the inexpensive material graphene oxide creates flexible “paper” with tens of thousands of very useful channels. A tiny gap forms naturally between neighboring sheets, and each gap is a channel through which ions can flow.

Using a pair of regular scissors, the researchers simply cut the paper into a desired shape, which, in the case of their experiments, was a rectangle.

“In a way, we were surprised that these nanochannels actually worked, because creating the device was so easy,” said Jiaxing Huang, who conducted the research with postdoctoral fellow Kalyan Raidongia. “No one had thought about the space between sheet-like materials before. Using the space as a flow channel was a wild idea. We ran our experiment at least 10 times to be sure we were right.”

The process is a little more complex than kindergarten crafts (from Fellman’s news release),

To create a working device, the researchers took a pair of scissors and cut a piece of their graphene oxide paper into a centimeter-long rectangle. They then encased the paper in a polymer, drilled holes to expose the ends of the rectangular piece and filled up the holes with an electrolyte solution (a liquid containing ions) to complete the device.

Next they put electrodes at both ends and tested the electrical conductivity of the device. Huang and Raidongia observed higher than normal current, and the device worked whether flat or bent.

The nanochannels have significantly different — and desirable — properties from their bulk channel counterparts, Huang said. The nanochannels have a concentrating effect, resulting in an electric current much higher than those in bulk solutions.

Graphene oxide is basically graphene sheets decorated with oxygen-containing groups. It is made from inexpensive graphite powders by chemical reactions known for more than a century.

Scaling up the size of the device is simple. Tens of thousands of sheets or layers create tens of thousands of nanochannels, each channel approximately one nanometer high. There is no limit to the number of layers — and thus channels — one can have in a piece of paper.

To manufacture very massive arrays of channels, one only needs to put more graphene oxide sheets in the paper or to stack up many pieces of paper. A larger device, of course, can handle larger quantities of electrolyte.

Kindergarten techniques worked well for Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who received Nobel prizes for their work on graphene (from my Oct. 7,2010 posting),

The technique that Geim and Novoselov used to create the first graphene sheets both amuses and fascinates me (from the article by Kit Eaton on the Fast Company website),

The two scientists came up with the technique that first resulted in samples of graphene–peeling individual atoms-deep sheets of the material from a bigger block of pure graphite. The science here seems almost foolishly simple, but it took a lot of lateral thinking to dream up, and then some serious science to investigate: Geim and Novoselo literally “ripped” single sheets off the graphite by using regular adhesive tape.

Then, there’s the ‘Shrinky Dinks’ nanopatterning technique (from my Aug. 16,2010 posting),

Scientists at a Northwestern University laboratory have taken to using a children’s arts and crafts product, Shrinky Dinks, for a new way to create large area nanoscale patterns on the cheap.

It’s good to be reminded that science at its heart is not about expensive equipment and complicated techniques but a means of exploring the world around us with the means at hand.