The University of Iowa does not jump to mind when considering powerhouse nanomaterial research; it seems that’s a mistake. An Oct. 19, 2016 news item on Nanowerk sets the record straight,
Chemists at the University of Iowa will research the effects of nanomaterials on the environment and human health using a network of supercomputers funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Sara E. Mason, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, won an NSF award that grants her team access to the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE). The XSEDE project links computers, data, and people from around the world to establish a single, virtual system that scientists can interactively use to conduct research. It was started in 2011 and was renewed by the NSF last August.
The NSF says it “will be the most advanced, powerful, and robust collection of integrated advanced digital resources and services in the world.”
The UI grant, valued at $72,503, essentially gives Mason’s team time on the supercomputer network, which they can access from their desktops. The researchers will use that time to study nanoparticles—matter far too small to be seen by the naked eye and present in a range of products, from sunscreen to advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The team hopes to better define the atom-to-atom interactions of various nanoparticles. Mason says the grant will “super charge” her computational research.
“To me, having four concurrent NSF research grants is a big deal, and now, having the boost of the computer time allows us to do even more,” Mason says. “XSEDE allows us to run simulations using quantum mechanics and highly parallelized computers. The outcome is new chemical insight into natural or widely used nanoparticles. We can then connect the chemistry to broader issues, such as human health and the behavior of nanomaterials in the environment.”
Mason’s group aims to find and design nanomaterials that are more benign to the environment and human health. Part of the search means trying out new elements in computational designs to find out how they interact, as well as their side effects, good or bad.
The XSEDE computers will give them far more computing horsepower to carry out those computational experiments.
“We can collectively get a lot more done in a shorter period of time,” says Joseph Bennett, co-principal investigator on the grant and a post-doctoral researcher in Mason’s group.
The UI is one of 15 institutions affiliated with the NSF-funded Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, devoted to investigating the fundamental molecular mechanisms by which nanoparticles interact with biological systems.
In the future, our health may be monitored and maintained by tiny sensors and drug dispensers, deployed within the body and made from graphene—one of the strongest, lightest materials in the world. Graphene is composed of a single sheet of carbon atoms, linked together like razor-thin chicken wire, and its properties may be tuned in countless ways, making it a versatile material for tiny, next-generation implants.
But graphene is incredibly stiff, whereas biological tissue is soft. Because of this, any power applied to operate a graphene implant could precipitously heat up and fry surrounding cells.
Now, engineers from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Tsinghua University in Beijing have precisely simulated how electrical power may generate heat between a single layer of graphene and a simple cell membrane. While direct contact between the two layers inevitably overheats and kills the cell, the researchers found they could prevent this effect with a very thin, in-between layer of water.
By tuning the thickness of this intermediate water layer, the researchers could carefully control the amount of heat transferred between graphene and biological tissue. They also identified the critical power to apply to the graphene layer, without frying the cell membrane. …
Co-author Zhao Qin, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), says the team’s simulations may help guide the development of graphene implants and their optimal power requirements.
“We’ve provided a lot of insight, like what’s the critical power we can accept that will not fry the cell,” Qin says. “But sometimes we might want to intentionally increase the temperature, because for some biomedical applications, we want to kill cells like cancer cells. This work can also be used as guidance [for those efforts.]”
Typically, heat travels between two materials via vibrations in each material’s atoms. These atoms are always vibrating, at frequencies that depend on the properties of their materials. As a surface heats up, its atoms vibrate even more, causing collisions with other atoms and transferring heat in the process.
The researchers sought to accurately characterize the way heat travels, at the level of individual atoms, between graphene and biological tissue. To do this, they considered the simplest interface, comprising a small, 500-nanometer-square sheet of graphene and a simple cell membrane, separated by a thin layer of water.
“In the body, water is everywhere, and the outer surface of membranes will always like to interact with water, so you cannot totally remove it,” Qin says. “So we came up with a sandwich model for graphene, water, and membrane, that is a crystal clear system for seeing the thermal conductance between these two materials.”
Qin’s colleagues at Tsinghua University had previously developed a model to precisely simulate the interactions between atoms in graphene and water, using density functional theory — a computational modeling technique that considers the structure of an atom’s electrons in determining how that atom will interact with other atoms.
However, to apply this modeling technique to the group’s sandwich model, which comprised about half a million atoms, would have required an incredible amount of computational power. Instead, Qin and his colleagues used classical molecular dynamics — a mathematical technique based on a “force field” potential function, or a simplified version of the interactions between atoms — that enabled them to efficiently calculate interactions within larger atomic systems.
The researchers then built an atom-level sandwich model of graphene, water, and a cell membrane, based on the group’s simplified force field. They carried out molecular dynamics simulations in which they changed the amount of power applied to the graphene, as well as the thickness of the intermediate water layer, and observed the amount of heat that carried over from the graphene to the cell membrane.
Because the stiffness of graphene and biological tissue is so different, Qin and his colleagues expected that heat would conduct rather poorly between the two materials, building up steeply in the graphene before flooding and overheating the cell membrane. However, the intermediate water layer helped dissipate this heat, easing its conduction and preventing a temperature spike in the cell membrane.
Looking more closely at the interactions within this interface, the researchers made a surprising discovery: Within the sandwich model, the water, pressed against graphene’s chicken-wire pattern, morphed into a similar crystal-like structure.
“Graphene’s lattice acts like a template to guide the water to form network structures,” Qin explains. “The water acts more like a solid material and makes the stiffness transition from graphene and membrane less abrupt. We think this helps heat to conduct from graphene to the membrane side.”
The group varied the thickness of the intermediate water layer in simulations, and found that a 1-nanometer-wide layer of water helped to dissipate heat very effectively. In terms of the power applied to the system, they calculated that about a megawatt of power per meter squared, applied in tiny, microsecond bursts, was the most power that could be applied to the interface without overheating the cell membrane.
Qin says going forward, implant designers can use the group’s model and simulations to determine the critical power requirements for graphene devices of different dimensions. As for how they might practically control the thickness of the intermediate water layer, he says graphene’s surface may be modified to attract a particular number of water molecules.
“I think graphene provides a very promising candidate for implantable devices,” Qin says. “Our calculations can provide knowledge for designing these devices in the future, for specific applications, like sensors, monitors, and other biomedical applications.”
This research was supported in part by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI): MIT-China Seed Fund, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, DARPA [US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Naval Research, the DoD Multidisciplinary Research Initiatives program, the MIT Energy Initiative, and the National Science Foundation.
An upcoming (Oct. 19, 2016) webinar from the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is the first of a new series (from an Oct. 7, 2016 news item on Nanowerk),
“Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology: A Federal Perspective” – This webinar is the first in a series exploring the confluence of nanotechnology and water. This event will introduce the Nanotechnology Signature Initiative (NSI): Water Sustainability through Nanotechnology and highlight the activities of several participating Federal agencies. …
Panelists include Nora Savage (National Science Foundation), Daniel Barta (National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration), Paul Shapiro (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Jim Dobrowolski (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture), and Hongda Chen (USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture).
Webinar viewers will be able to submit questions for the panelists to answer during the Q&A period. Submitted questions will be considered in the order received and may be posted on the NNI website. A moderator will identify relevant questions and pose them to the speakers. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be addressed during the webinar. The moderator reserves the right to group similar questions and to skip questions, as appropriate.
There will be more in this series according to the webinar event page,
Water is essential to all life, and its significance bridges many critical areas for society: food, energy, security, and the environment. Projected population growth in the coming decades and associated increases in demands for water exacerbate the mounting pressure to address water sustainability. Yet, only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh water, and some of the most severe impacts of climate change are on our country’s water resources. For example, in 2012, droughts affected about two-thirds of the continental United States, impacting water supplies, tourism, transportation, energy, and fisheries – costing the agricultural sector alone $30 billion. In addition, the ground water in many of the Nation’s aquifers is being depleted at unsustainable rates, which necessitates drilling ever deeper to tap groundwater resources. Finally, water infrastructure is a critically important but sometimes overlooked aspect of water treatment and distribution. Both technological and sociopolitical solutions are required to address these problems.
The text also goes on to describe how nanotechnology could assist with this challenge.
WHIZ! POW! BAM! BOOM! Today [Oct. 5, 2016], the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) announce the opening of the second annual Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes! competition. The contest invites U.S. high school and home-schooled students to create a superhero that uses nanotechnology — science and technology on the scale of a nanometer, or one billionth of a meter — to solve crimes and meet today’s challenges.
By challenging students to think big (or small, in this case) to create superheroes with nanotechnology-inspired gear or powers, NSF and NNI aim to promote an early interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“An increasing number of students are drawn to the fascinating field of nanotechnology, which allows us to do things not possible before in computing, mobile communication, medicine and the environment,” said NSF Senior Advisor for Science and Engineering Mihail Roco. “The younger generation will carry on future progress in this exciting field. The Generation Nano competition gives students an opportunity to creatively combine this scientific interest with their artistic side.”
An Oct. 5, 2016 NSF news release, which originated the news item, describes the first competition and provides information for students wanting to enter this second one,
Last year’s first-ever Generation Nano competition inspired entries from more than 115 students across the U.S. The winning superhero creations included Nanoman, who battled a malignant crab-monster named Cancer; Radio Blitz, who helped dispose of local waste; and Nine, a rising superhero who used his nanosuit to defeat a pair of kidnappers.
Actor Wil Wheaton hosted the awards ceremony at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., where legendary comic book creator Stan Lee made a surprise virtual appearance to congratulate the finalists.
“The number and quality of the submissions to the Generation Nano contest last year were fantastic,” said Lisa Friedersdorf, deputy director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, which provides public outreach for NNI. “I’m very excited by the four key societal missions identified for this year’s contest as nanotechnology can play a critical role in addressing each of these needs. I can’t wait to see the creative and imaginative ways the student teams take on this challenge!”
This year, participants’ superhero creations must tackle one of the following societal issues:
Justice — Using nanotechnology to fight criminals, bullies, supervillains and other wrongdoers.
Relief — Using nanotechnology to aid victims of famine, drought and other disasters.
Health — Using nanotechnology to heal the sick and injured.
Environment — Using nanotechnology to generate clean energy, control pollution and create a sustainable future.
NSF will promote the opening of the competition this week at New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s largest popular culture convention. A panel will bring together NSF-funded scientists and storytellers to talk about their imagined worlds.
Student contestants are encouraged to submit their superhero creations to the Generation Nano competition website for an opportunity to compete for prizes. A panel will review the submissions and select 15 semifinalists, and then a first and second place winner. Submissions from all semifinalists will also be posted to the Generation Nano website to allow the public to vote for their favorite superhero, which will receive a People’s Choice award.
Additional competition details
U.S. high school and home-schooled students should submit a written entry explaining how their superhero uses nanotechnology to do good, along with a two-to-three-page comic and 90-second video.
Competition opens Oct. 5, 2016, and submissions are due by midnight, Jan. 31, 2017 EST.
Three rounds of judging will take place, with winners announced in the spring.
Prizes: $1,500 for first place; $1,000 for second place; and $750 for the People’s Choice award.
Visit the Generation Nano competition website for full eligibility criteria, entry guidelines, timeline and prize information. For additional questions about the contest, contact the Generation Nano team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As noted in the news release, the competition opened Oct. 5, 2016 and entries can be submitted until Jan. 31, 2017 and you need to submit a written piece, a 2-3 page comic, and a short video.
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. …
“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?
A century ago, more than 60,000 tigers roamed the wild. Today, the worldwide estimate has dwindled to around 3,200. Poaching is one of the main drivers of this precipitous drop. Whether killed for skins, medicine or trophy hunting, humans have pushed tigers to near-extinction. The same applies to other large animal species like elephants and rhinoceros that play unique and crucial roles in the ecosystems where they live.
Human patrols serve as the most direct form of protection of endangered animals, especially in large national parks. However, protection agencies have limited resources for patrols.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Army Research Office, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) and game theory to solve poaching, illegal logging and other problems worldwide, in collaboration with researchers and conservationists in the U.S., Singapore, Netherlands and Malaysia.
“In most parks, ranger patrols are poorly planned, reactive rather than pro-active, and habitual,” according to Fei Fang, a Ph.D. candidate in the computer science department at the University of Southern California (USC).
Fang is part of an NSF-funded team at USC led by Milind Tambe, professor of computer science and industrial and systems engineering and director of the Teamcore Research Group on Agents and Multiagent Systems.
Their research builds on the idea of “green security games” — the application of game theory to wildlife protection. Game theory uses mathematical and computer models of conflict and cooperation between rational decision-makers to predict the behavior of adversaries and plan optimal approaches for containment. The Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration have used similar methods developed by Tambe and others to protect airports and waterways.
“This research is a step in demonstrating that AI can have a really significant positive impact on society and allow us to assist humanity in solving some of the major challenges we face,” Tambe said.
PAWS puts the claws in anti-poaching
The team presented papers describing how they use their methods to improve the success of human patrols around the world at the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence in February .
The researchers first created an AI-driven application called PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security) in 2013 and tested the application in Uganda and Malaysia in 2014. Pilot implementations of PAWS revealed some limitations, but also led to significant improvements.
Here’s a video describing the issues and PAWS,
For those who prefer to read about details rather listen, there’s more from the news release,
PAWS uses data on past patrols and evidence of poaching. As it receives more data, the system “learns” and improves its patrol planning. Already, the system has led to more observations of poacher activities per kilometer.
Its key technical advance lies in its ability to incorporate complex terrain information, including the topography of protected areas. That results in practical patrol routes that minimize elevation changes, saving time and energy. Moreover, the system can also take into account the natural transit paths that have the most animal traffic – and thus the most poaching – creating a “street map” for patrols.
“We need to provide actual patrol routes that can be practically followed,” Fang said. “These routes need to go back to a base camp and the patrols can’t be too long. We list all possible patrol routes and then determine which is most effective.”
The application also randomizes patrols to avoid falling into predictable patterns.
“If the poachers observe that patrols go to some areas more often than others, then the poachers place their snares elsewhere,” Fang said.
Since 2015, two non-governmental organizations, Panthera and Rimbat, have used PAWS to protect forests in Malaysia. The research won the Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence award for deployed application, as one of the best AI applications with measurable benefits.
The team recently combined PAWS with a new tool called CAPTURE (Comprehensive Anti-Poaching Tool with Temporal and Observation Uncertainty Reasoning) that predicts attacking probability even more accurately.
In addition to helping patrols find poachers, the tools may assist them with intercepting trafficked wildlife products and other high-risk cargo, adding another layer to wildlife protection. The researchers are in conversations with wildlife authorities in Uganda to deploy the system later this year. They will present their findings at the 15th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2016) in May.
“There is an urgent need to protect the natural resources and wildlife on our beautiful planet, and we computer scientists can help in various ways,” Fang said. “Our work on PAWS addresses one facet of the problem, improving the efficiency of patrols to combat poaching.”
There is yet another potential use for PAWS, the prevention of illegal logging,
While Fang and her colleagues work to develop effective anti-poaching patrol planning systems, other members of the USC team are developing complementary methods to prevent illegal logging, a major economic and environmental problem for many developing countries.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates trade in illegally harvested timber to be worth between $30 billion and $100 billion annually. The practice also threatens ancient forests and critical habitats for wildlife.
Researchers at USC, the University of Texas at El Paso and Michigan State University recently partnered with the non-profit organization Alliance Vohoary Gasy to limit the illegal logging of rosewood and ebony trees in Madagascar, which has caused a loss of forest cover on the island nation.
Forest protection agencies also face limited budgets and must cover large areas, making sound investments in security resources critical.
The research team worked to determine the balance of security resources in which Madagascar should invest to maximize protection, and to figure out how to best deploy those resources.
Past work in game theory-based security typically involved specified teams — the security workers assigned to airport checkpoints, for example, or the air marshals deployed on flight tours. Finding optimal security solutions for those scenarios is difficult; a solution involving an open-ended team had not previously been feasible.
To solve this problem, the researchers developed a new method called SORT (Simultaneous Optimization of Resource Teams) that they have been experimentally validating using real data from Madagascar.
The research team created maps of the national parks, modeled the costs of all possible security resources using local salaries and budgets, and computed the best combination of resources given these conditions.
“We compared the value of using an optimal team determined by our algorithm versus a randomly chosen team and the algorithm did significantly better,” said Sara Mc Carthy, a Ph.D. student in computer science at USC.
The algorithm is simple and fast, and can be generalized to other national parks with different characteristics. The team is working to deploy it in Madagascar in association with the Alliance Vohoary Gasy.
“I am very proud of what my PhD students Fei Fang and Sara Mc Carthy have accomplished in this research on AI for wildlife security and forest protection,” said Tambe, the team lead. “Interdisciplinary collaboration with practitioners in the field was key in this research and allowed us to improve our research in artificial intelligence.”
Moreover, the project shows other computer science researchers the potential impact of applying their research to the world’s problems.
“This work is not only important because of the direct beneficial impact that it has on the environment, protecting wildlife and forests, but on the way that it can inspire other to dedicate their efforts into making the world a better place,” Mc Carthy said.
The curious can find out more about Panthera here and about Alliance Vohoary Gasy here (be prepared to use your French language skills). Unfortunately, I could not find more information about Rimbat.
On behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF), actor Wil Wheaton and legendary superhero creator Stan Lee yesterday announced the winners of the Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroescompetition, sponsored by NSF and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).
The competition challenged high school students to think big — or, in this case, small — to create superheroes that harness their powers from nanotechnology.
Wheaton applauded the students’ creative storylines, noting that when he was Wesley Crusher on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, such plots were only imaginary. “It is amazing what is today plausible due to the power of nanotechnonlogy,” he said.
In a video introduction before Wheaton announced top prize winners, Stan Lee said it was “great that I can virtually join you today.” He remarked on the winners’ “creativity, ingenuity and initiative.”
“From one superhero storyteller to the next, congratulations,” Lee said.
First Prize: Eric Liu from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, for his “Nanoman,” who fights the malignant crab-monster “Cancer.”
Second Prize and the People’s Choice Award: Madeleine Chang from Bergen County Academies in New Jersey, for her superhero “Radio Blitz,” who disposes of local waste.
Third Prize: Vuong Mai from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts in Georgia, for her protector “Nine,” who dons a nanosuit for strength to save a kidnapping victim.
“All three finalists immersed themselves in the worlds of nanotechnology and art, told a great story, entertained and educated — all at the same time,” said Lisa Friedersdorf, deputy director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. “Their creations will surely motivate additional students to imagine and learn more about what is possible with nanotechnology.”
Top award winners in this competition show that with imagination and nanotechnology, possibilities abound, said Mihail C. Roco, NSF senior advisor for science and engineering and a key architect of NNI.
“These school students have aimed higher than ever in their lives, pushing their abilities in novel domains where seeds for their high-tech future may germinate,” Roco said. “We need a constant regeneration of new talent to exploit this general purpose science and technology field to its outstanding potential. These students are well on their way.”
NSF and NNI challenges students to submit written entries explaining their superhero and nanotechnology-driven gear, along with a one-page comic or 90-second video. A panel of judges from academia and multimedia platforms selected semifinalists and finalists, from which the public selected Madeline Chang as its People’s Choice winner.
Top prizes were determined by judges Elise Lemle, director of special projects at Two Bit Circus; Lizabeth Fogel, director of Education for the Walt Disney Company and Chair of the Board for the Partnership for 21st Century Learning; and James Murday, director of physical sciences at the University of Southern California’s Washington, D.C., office of research advancement.
Researchers at The Ohio State University are developing embroidered antennas and circuits with 0.1 mm precision—the perfect size to integrate electronic components such as sensors and computer memory devices into clothing. Photo by Jo McCulty, courtesy of The Ohio State University.
Researchers who are working to develop wearable electronics have reached a milestone: They are able to embroider circuits into fabric with 0.1 mm precision—the perfect size to integrate electronic components such as sensors and computer memory devices into clothing.
With this advance, the Ohio State University researchers have taken the next step toward the design of functional textiles—clothes that gather, store, or transmit digital information. With further development, the technology could lead to shirts that act as antennas for your smart phone or tablet, workout clothes that monitor your fitness level, sports equipment that monitors athletes’ performance, a bandage that tells your doctor how well the tissue beneath it is healing—or even a flexible fabric cap that senses activity in the brain.
That last item is one that John Volakis, director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State, and research scientist Asimina Kiourti are investigating. The idea is to make brain implants, which are under development to treat conditions from epilepsy to addiction, more comfortable by eliminating the need for external wiring on the patient’s body.
“A revolution is happening in the textile industry,” said Volakis, who is also the Roy & Lois Chope Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering at Ohio State. “We believe that functional textiles are an enabling technology for communications and sensing—and one day even medical applications like imaging and health monitoring.”
Recently, he and Kiourti refined their patented fabrication method to create prototype wearables at a fraction of the cost and in half the time as they could only two years ago. With new patents pending, they published the new results in the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters.
In Volakis’ lab, the functional textiles, also called “e-textiles,” are created in part on a typical tabletop sewing machine—the kind that fabric artisans and hobbyists might have at home. Like other modern sewing machines, it embroiders thread into fabric automatically based on a pattern loaded via a computer file. The researchers substitute the thread with fine silver metal wires that, once embroidered, feel the same as traditional thread to the touch.
“We started with a technology that is very well known—machine embroidery—and we asked, how can we functionalize embroidered shapes? How do we make them transmit signals at useful frequencies, like for cell phones or health sensors?” Volakis said. “Now, for the first time, we’ve achieved the accuracy of printed metal circuit boards, so our new goal is to take advantage of the precision to incorporate receivers and other electronic components.”
The shape of the embroidery determines the frequency of operation of the antenna or circuit, explained Kiourti.
The shape of one broadband antenna, for instance, consists of more than half a dozen interlocking geometric shapes, each a little bigger than a fingernail, that form an intricate circle a few inches across. Each piece of the circle transmits energy at a different frequency, so that they cover a broad spectrum of energies when working together—hence the “broadband” capability of the antenna for cell phone and internet access.
“Shape determines function,” she said. “And you never really know what shape you will need from one application to the next. So we wanted to have a technology that could embroider any shape for any application.”
The researchers’ initial goal, Kiourti added, was just to increase the precision of the embroidery as much as possible, which necessitated working with fine silver wire. But that created a problem, in that fine wires couldn’t provide as much surface conductivity as thick wires. So they had to find a way to work the fine thread into embroidery densities and shapes that would boost the surface conductivity and, thus, the antenna/sensor performance.
Previously, the researchers had used silver-coated polymer thread with a 0.5-mm diameter, each thread made up of 600 even finer filaments twisted together. The new threads have a 0.1-mm diameter, made with only seven filaments. Each filament is copper at the center, enameled with pure silver.
They purchase the wire by the spool at a cost of 3 cents per foot; Kiourti estimated that embroidering a single broadband antenna like the one mentioned above consumes about 10 feet of thread, for a material cost of around 30 cents per antenna. That’s 24 times less expensive than when Volakis and Kiourti created similar antennas in 2014.
In part, the cost savings comes from using less thread per embroidery. The researchers previously had to stack the thicker thread in two layers, one on top of the other, to make the antenna carry a strong enough electrical signal. But by refining the technique that she and Volakis developed, Kiourti was able to create the new, high-precision antennas in only one embroidered layer of the finer thread. So now the process takes half the time: only about 15 minutes for the broadband antenna mentioned above.
She’s also incorporated some techniques common to microelectronics manufacturing to add parts to embroidered antennas and circuits.
One prototype antenna looks like a spiral and can be embroidered into clothing to improve cell phone signal reception. Another prototype, a stretchable antenna with an integrated RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip embedded in rubber, takes the applications for the technology beyond clothing. (The latter object was part of a study done for a tire manufacturer.)
Yet another circuit resembles the Ohio State Block “O” logo, with non-conductive scarlet and gray thread embroidered among the silver wires “to demonstrate that e-textiles can be both decorative and functional,” Kiourti said.
They may be decorative, but the embroidered antennas and circuits actually work. Tests showed that an embroidered spiral antenna measuring approximately six inches across transmitted signals at frequencies of 1 to 5 GHz with near-perfect efficiency. The performance suggests that the spiral would be well-suited to broadband internet and cellular communication.
In other words, the shirt on your back could help boost the reception of the smart phone or tablet that you’re holding – or send signals to your devices with health or athletic performance data.
The work fits well with Ohio State’s role as a founding partner of the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Institute, a national manufacturing resource center for industry and government. The new institute, which joins some 50 universities and industrial partners, was announced earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Syscom Advanced Materials in Columbus provided the threads used in Volakis and Kiourti’s initial work. The finer threads used in this study were purchased from Swiss manufacturer Elektrisola. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation, and Ohio State will license the technology for further development.
Until then, Volakis is making out a shopping list for the next phase of the project.
According to an April 1, 2016 news item on Nanowerk, the US National Nanotechnology (NNI) has released its 2017 budget supplement,
The President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 provides $1.4 billion for the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), affirming the important role that nanotechnology continues to play in the Administration’s innovation agenda. NNI
Cumulatively totaling nearly $24 billion since the inception of the NNI in 2001, the President’s 2017 Budget supports nanoscale science, engineering, and technology R&D at 11 agencies.
Another 9 agencies have nanotechnology-related mission interests or regulatory responsibilities.
An April 1, 2016 NNI news release, which originated the news item, affirms the Obama administration’s commitment to the NNI and notes the supplement serves as an annual report amongst other functions,
Throughout its two terms, the Obama Administration has maintained strong fiscal support for the NNI and has implemented new programs and activities to engage the broader nanotechnology community to support the NNI’s vision that the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale will lead to new innovations that will improve our quality of life and benefit society.
This Budget Supplement documents progress of these participating agencies in addressing the goals and objectives of the NNI. It also serves as the Annual Report for the NNI called for under the provisions of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-153, 15 USC §7501). The report also addresses the requirement for Department of Defense reporting on its nanotechnology investments, per 10 USC §2358.
Over the past year, the NNI participating agencies, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) have been charting the future directions of the NNI, including putting greater focus on promoting commercialization and increasing education and outreach efforts to the broader nanotechnology community. As part of this effort, and in keeping with recommendations from the 2014 review of the NNI by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology, the NNI has been working to establish Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges, ambitious but achievable goals that will harness nanotechnology to solve National or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination. Based upon inputs from NNI agencies and the broader community, the first Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge (for future computing) was announced by OSTP on October 20, 2015, calling for a collaborative effort to “create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain.” This Grand Challenge has generated broad interest within the nanotechnology community—not only NNI agencies, but also industry, technical societies, and private foundations—and planning is underway to address how the agencies and the community will work together to achieve this goal. Topics for additional Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges are under review.
Interestingly, it also offers an explanation of the images on its cover (Note: Links have been removed),
About the cover
Each year’s National Nanotechnology Initiative Supplement to the President’s Budget features cover images illustrating recent developments in nanotechnology stemming from NNI activities that have the potential to make major contributions to National priorities. The text below explains the significance of each of the featured images on this year’s cover.
Front cover featured images (above): Images illustrating three novel nanomedicine applications. Center: microneedle array for glucose-responsive insulin delivery imaged using fluorescence microscopy. This “smart insulin patch” is based on painless microneedles loaded with hypoxia-sensitive vesicles ~100 nm in diameter that release insulin in response to high glucose levels. Dr. Zhen Gu and colleagues at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University have demonstrated that this patch effectively regulates the blood glucose of type 1 diabetic mice with faster response than current pH-sensitive formulations. The inset image on the lower right shows the structure of the nanovesicles; each microneedle contains more than 100 million of these vesicles. The research was supported by the American Diabetes Association, the State of North Carolina, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Left: colorized rendering of a candidate universal flu vaccine nanoparticle. The vaccine molecule, developed at the NIH Vaccine Research Center, displays only the conserved part of the viral spike and stimulates the production of antibodies to fight against the ever-changing flu virus. The vaccine is engineered from a ~13 nm ferritin core (blue) combined with a 7 nm influenza antigen (green). Image credit: NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Right: colorized scanning electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles on an infected VERO E6 cell. Blue represents individual Ebola virus particles. The image was produced by John Bernbaum and Jiro Wada at NIAID. When the Ebola outbreak struck in 2014, the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of lateral flow immunoassays for Ebola detection that use gold nanoparticles for visual interpretation of the tests.
Back cover featured images (above): Images illustrating examples of NNI educational outreach activities. Center: Comic from the NSF/NNI competition Generation Nano: Small Science Superheroes. Illustration by Amina Khan, NSF. Left of Center: Polymer Nanocone Array (biomimetic of antimicrobial insect surface) by Kyle Nowlin, UNC-Greensboro, winner from the first cycle of the NNI’s student image contest, EnvisioNano. Right of Center: Gelatin Nanoparticles in Brain (nasal delivery of stroke medication to the brain) by Elizabeth Sawicki, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, winner from the second cycle of EnvisioNano. Outside right: still photo from the video Chlorination-less (water treatment method using reusable nanodiamond powder) by Abelardo Colon and Jennifer Gill, University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, the winning video from the NNI’s Student Video Contest. Outside left: Society of Emerging NanoTechnologies (SENT) student group at the University of Central Florida, one of the initial nodes in the developing U.S. Nano and Emerging Technologies Student Network; photo by Alexis Vilaboy.
The US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) contest “Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroes” for high school students has whittled down the entries to three finalists and bringing them to Washington, DC where the winner will announced at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival (April 16 – 17, 2016) according to a March 30, 2016 NSF news release,
The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the names of three finalists in its Generation Nano: Small Science, Superheroescompetition, sponsored by NSF and its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and supported by many, including superhero legend Stan Lee.
High school students Madeleine Chang from Bergen County Academies in New Jersey, Vuong Mai from Martha Ellen Stilwell School of the Arts in Georgia and Eric Liu from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia will come to Washington, D.C., to display their comics and compete for prizes at the 2016 USA Science & Engineering Festival in mid-April.
The competition drew submissions from all over the country. All responded to the call to think big — or in this case small — and use nanotechnology to empower their own original superheroes. Chang’s hero “Radio Blitz” disposes of local waste. Mai’s protector “Nine” dons a Nanosuit for strength to save a kidnapping victim. And Liu’s “Nanoman” fights the malignant crab-monster, “Cancer.”
“These three finalists tell a great story — all while they exemplify the combination of a sound technical basis for use of nanotechnology and artistic presentation,” said Lisa Friedersdorf, deputy director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. “I think these comics will inspire other students to learn more about what is possible with nanotechnology.”
When it comes to applications for nanotechnology, “The possibilities abound,” said Mihail C. Roco, NSF senior advisor for science and engineering and key architect of NNI.
“Since these high school students were born, more discoveries have come from nanotechnology than any other field of science, with its discoveries penetrating all aspects of society — new industries, medicine, agriculture and the management of natural resources,” Roco said. “It is so exciting that these kids are getting in on the ground floor of progress. The competition inspires young people to dream high and create solutions in a way that may change their lives and those around them. We need this new talent; the future of emerging technologies, including nanotechnology depends on it.”
Those of us who cannot attend the festival, can vote online,