Tag Archives: Rice University

A 244-atom submarine powered by light

James Tour lab researchers at Rice University announce in a Nov. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Though they’re not quite ready for boarding a lá “Fantastic Voyage,” nanoscale submarines created at Rice University are proving themselves seaworthy.

Each of the single-molecule, 244-atom submersibles built in the Rice lab of chemist James Tour has a motor powered by ultraviolet light. With each full revolution, the motor’s tail-like propeller moves the sub forward 18 nanometers.
And with the motors running at more than a million RPM, that translates into speed. Though the sub’s top speed amounts to less than 1 inch per second, Tour said that’s a breakneck pace on the molecular scale.

“These are the fastest-moving molecules ever seen in solution,” he said.

Expressed in a different way, the researchers reported this month in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters that their light-driven nanosubmersibles show an “enhancement in diffusion” of 26 percent. That means the subs diffuse, or spread out, much faster than they already do due to Brownian motion, the random way particles spread in a solution.

While they can’t be steered yet, the study proves molecular motors are powerful enough to drive the sub-10-nanometer subs through solutions of moving molecules of about the same size.

“This is akin to a person walking across a basketball court with 1,000 people throwing basketballs at him,” Tour said.

A Nov. 16, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides context and details about the research,

Tour’s group has extensive experience with molecular machines. A decade ago, his lab introduced the world to nanocars, single-molecule cars with four wheels, axles and independent suspensions that could be “driven” across a surface.

Tour said many scientists have created microscopic machines with motors over the years, but most have either used or generated toxic chemicals. He said a motor that was conceived in the last decade by a group in the Netherlands proved suitable for Rice’s submersibles, which were produced in a 20-step chemical synthesis.

“These motors are well-known and used for different things,” said lead author and Rice graduate student Victor García-López. “But we were the first ones to propose they can be used to propel nanocars and now submersibles.”

The motors, which operate more like a bacteria’s flagellum than a propeller, complete each revolution in four steps. When excited by light, the double bond that holds the rotor to the body becomes a single bond, allowing it to rotate a quarter step. As the motor seeks to return to a lower energy state, it jumps adjacent atoms for another quarter turn. The process repeats as long as the light is on.

For comparison tests, the lab also made submersibles with no motors, slow motors and motors that paddle back and forth. All versions of the submersibles have pontoons that fluoresce red when excited by a laser, according to the researchers. (Yellow, sadly, was not an option.)

“One of the challenges was arming the motors with the appropriate fluorophores for tracking without altering the fast rotation,” García-López said.

Once built, the team turned to Gufeng Wang at North Carolina State University to measure how well the nanosubs moved.

“We had used scanning tunneling microscopy and fluorescence microscopy to watch our cars drive, but that wouldn’t work for the submersibles,” Tour said. “They would drift out of focus pretty quickly.”

The North Carolina team sandwiched a drop of diluted acetonitrile liquid containing a few nanosubs between two slides and used a custom confocal fluorescence microscope to hit it from opposite sides with both ultraviolet light (for the motor) and a red laser (for the pontoons).

The microscope’s laser defined a column of light in the solution within which tracking occurred, García-López said. “That way, the NC State team could guarantee it was analyzing only one molecule at a time,” he said.

Rice’s researchers hope future nanosubs will be able to carry cargoes for medical and other purposes. “There’s a path forward,” García-López said. “This is the first step, and we’ve proven the concept. Now we need to explore opportunities and potential applications.”

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

Unimolecular Submersible Nanomachines. Synthesis, Actuation, and Monitoring by Víctor García-López, Pinn-Tsong Chiang, Fang Chen, Gedeng Ruan, Angel A. Martí, Anatoly B. Kolomeisky, Gufeng Wang, and James M. Tour. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b03764 Publication Date (Web): November 5, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is an illustration of the 244-atom submersible,

Rice University scientists have created light-driven, single-molecule submersibles that contain just 244 atoms. Illustration by Loïc Samuel

Rice University scientists have created light-driven, single-molecule submersibles that contain just 244 atoms. Illustration by Loïc Samuel

Snake venom as a healing agent in hydrogels

The Brazilian lancehead is one of several South American pit vipers that produce venom that has proven to be a powerful blood coagulant. Scientists at Rice University have combined a derivative of the venom with their injectable hydrogels to create a material that can quickly stop bleeding and protect wounds, even in patients who take anti-coagulant medications. (Credit: Photo by Greg Hume via Wikipedia)

The Brazilian lancehead is one of several South American pit vipers that produce venom that has proven to be a powerful blood coagulant. Scientists at Rice University have combined a derivative of the venom with their injectable hydrogels to create a material that can quickly stop bleeding and protect wounds, even in patients who take anti-coagulant medications. (Credit: Photo by Greg Hume via Wikipedia)

Mesmerizing and beautiful in their way, venomous snakes are healers, as well as, killers. An Oct. 27, 2015 news item on Azonano describes a new healing use for their venom,

A nanofiber hydrogel infused with snake venom may be the best material to stop bleeding quickly, according to Rice University scientists.

The hydrogel called SB50 incorporates batroxobin, a venom produced by two species of South American pit viper. It can be injected as a liquid and quickly turns into a gel that conforms to the site of a wound, keeping it closed, and promotes clotting within seconds.

An Oct. 26, 2015 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

Rice chemist Jeffrey Hartgerink, lead author Vivek Kumar and their colleagues reported their discovery in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering. The hydrogel may be most useful for surgeries, particularly for patients who take anti-coagulant drugs to thin their blood.

“It’s interesting that you can take something so deadly and turn it into something that has the potential to save lives,” Hartgerink said.

Batroxobin was recognized for its properties as a coagulant – a substance that encourages blood to clot – in 1936. It has been used in various therapies as a way to remove excess fibrin proteins from the blood to treat thrombosis and as a topical hemostat. It has also been used as a diagnostic tool to determine blood-clotting time in the presence of heparin, an anti-coagulant drug.

“From a clinical perspective, that’s far and away the most important issue here,” Hartgerink said. “There’s a lot of different things that can trigger blood coagulation, but when you’re on heparin, most of them don’t work, or they work slowly or poorly. That obviously causes problems if you’re bleeding.

“Heparin blocks the function of thrombin, an enzyme that begins a cascade of reactions that lead to the clotting of blood,” he said. “Batroxobin is also an enzyme with similar function to thrombin, but its function is not blocked by heparin. This is important because surgical bleeding in patients taking heparin can be a serious problem. The use of batroxobin allows us to get around this problem because it can immediately start the clotting process, regardless of whether heparin is there or not.”

The batroxobin combined with the Rice lab’s hydrogels isn’t taken directly from snakes, Hartgerink said. The substance used for medicine is produced by genetically modified bacteria and then purified, avoiding the risk of other contaminant toxins.

The Rice researchers combined batroxobin with their synthetic, self-assembling nanofibers, which can be loaded into a syringe and injected at the site of a wound, where they reassemble themselves into a gel.

Tests showed the new material stopped a wound from bleeding in as little as six seconds, and further prodding of the wound minutes later did not reopen it. The researchers also tested several other options: the hydrogel without batroxobin, the batroxobin without the hydrogel, a current clinical hemostat known as GelFoam and an alternative self-assembling hemostat known as Puramatrix and found that none were as effective, especially in the presence of anti-coagulants.

The new work builds upon the Rice lab’s extensive development of injectable hydrogel scaffolds that help wounds heal and grow natural tissue. The synthetic scaffolds are built from the peptide sequences to mimic natural processes.

“To be clear, we did not discover nor do any of the initial investigations of batroxobin,” Hartgerink said. “Its properties have been well-known for many decades. What we did was combine it with the hydrogel we’ve been working on for a long time.

“We think SB50 has great potential to stop surgical bleeding, particularly in difficult cases in which the patient is taking heparin or other anti-coagulants,” he said. “SB50 takes the powerful clotting ability of this snake venom and makes it far more effective by delivering it in an easily localized hydrogel that prevents possible unwanted systemic effects from using batroxobin alone.”

SB50 will require FDA approval before clinical use, Hartgerink said. While batroxobin is already approved, the Rice lab’s hydrogel has not yet won approval, a process he expects will take several more years of testing.

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

Nanofibrous Snake Venom Hemostat by Vivek A. Kumar, Navindee C. Wickremasinghe, Siyu Shi, and Jeffrey D. Hartgerink. ACS Biomater. Sci. Eng., Article ASAP
DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.5b00356 Publication Date (Web): October 22, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Inadvertent carbon nanotube production from your car

It’s disconcerting to find out that cars inadvertently produce carbon nanotubes which are then spilled into the air we breathe. Researchers at Rice University (US) and Paris-Saclay University (France) have examined matter from car exhausts and dust in various parts of Paris finding carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Further, they also studied the lungs of Parisian children who have asthma and found CNTs there too.

The scientists have carefully stated that CNTs have been observed in lung cells but they are not claiming causality (i.e., they don’t claim the children’s asthma was caused by CNTs).

An Oct. 20, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now introduces the research,

Cars appear to produce carbon nanotubes, and some of the evidence has been found in human lungs.

Rice University scientists working with colleagues in France have detected the presence of man-made carbon nanotubes in cells extracted from the airways of Parisian children under routine treatment for asthma. Further investigation found similar nanotubes in samples from the exhaust pipes of Paris vehicles and in dust gathered from various places around the city.

The researchers reported in the journal EBioMedicine this month that these samples align with what has been found elsewhere, including Rice’s home city of Houston, in spider webs in India and in ice cores.

An Oct. 19, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, painstakingly describes the work and initial conclusions,

The research in no way ascribes the children’s conditions to the nanotubes, said Rice chemist Lon Wilson, a corresponding author of the new paper. But the nanotubes’ apparent ubiquity should be the focus of further investigation, he said.

“We know that carbon nanoparticles are found in nature,” Wilson said, noting that round fullerene molecules like those discovered at Rice are commonly produced by volcanoes, forest fires and other combustion of carbon materials. “All you need is a little catalysis to make carbon nanotubes instead of fullerenes.”

A car’s catalytic converter, which turns toxic carbon monoxide into safer emissions, bears at least a passing resemblance to the Rice-invented high-pressure carbon monoxide, or HiPco, process to make carbon nanotubes, he said. “So it is not a big surprise, when you think about it,” Wilson said.

The team led by Wilson, Fathi Moussa of Paris-Saclay University and lead author Jelena Kolosnjaj-Tabi, a graduate student at Paris-Saclay, analyzed particulate matter found in the alveolar macrophage cells (also known as dust cells) that help stop foreign materials like particles and bacteria from entering the lungs.

The researchers wrote that their results “suggest humans are routinely exposed” to carbon nanotubes. They also suggested previous studies that link the carbon content of airway macrophages and the decline of lung function should be reconsidered in light of the new findings. Moussa confirmed his lab will continue to study the impact of man-made nanotubes on health.

The cells were taken from 69 randomly selected asthma patients aged 2 to 17 who underwent routine fiber-optic bronchoscopies as part of their treatment. For ethical reasons, no cells from healthy patients were analyzed, but because nanotubes were found in all of the samples, the study led the researchers to conclude that carbon nanotubes are likely to be found in everybody.

The study notes but does not make definitive conclusions about the controversial proposition that carbon nanotube fibers may act like asbestos, a proven carcinogen. But the authors reminded that “long carbon nanotubes and large aggregates of short ones can induce a granulomatous (inflammation) reaction.”

The study partially answers the question of what makes up the black material inside alveolar macrophages, the original focus of the study. The researchers found single-walled and multiwalled carbon nanotubes and amorphous carbon among the cells, as well as in samples swabbed from the tailpipes of cars in Paris and dust from various buildings in and around the city.

The news release goes on to detail how the research was conducted,

“The concentrations of nanotubes are so low in these samples that it’s hard to believe they would cause asthma, but you never know,” Wilson said. “What surprised me the most was that carbon nanotubes were the major component of the carbonaceous pollution we found in the samples.”

The nanotube aggregates in the cells ranged in size from 10 to 60 nanometers in diameter and up to several hundred nanometers in length, small enough that optical microscopes would not have been able to identify them in samples from former patients. The new study used more sophisticated tools, including high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, X-ray spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy and near-infrared fluorescence microscopy to definitively identify them in the cells and in the environmental samples.

“We collected samples from the exhaust pipes of cars in Paris as well as from busy and non-busy intersections there and found the same type of structures as in the human samples,” Wilson said.

“It’s kind of ironic. In our laboratory, working with carbon nanotubes, we wear facemasks to prevent exactly what we’re seeing in these samples, yet everyone walking around out there in the world probably has at least a small concentration of carbon nanotubes in their lungs,” he said.

The researchers also suggested that the large surface areas of nanotubes and their ability to adhere to substances may make them effective carriers for other pollutants.

The study followed one released by Rice and Baylor College of Medicine earlier this month with the similar goal of analyzing the black substance found in the lungs of smokers who died of emphysema. That study found carbon black nanoparticles that were the product of the incomplete combustion of such organic material as tobacco.

Here’s an image of a sample,

 Caption: Carbon nanotubes (the long rods) and nanoparticles (the black clumps) appear in vehicle exhaust taken from the tailpipes of cars in Paris. The image is part of a study by scientists in Paris and at Rice University to analyze carbonaceous material in the lungs of asthma patients. They found that cars are a likely source of nanotubes found in the patients. Credit: Courtesy of Fathi Moussa/Paris-Saclay University

Caption: Carbon nanotubes (the long rods) and nanoparticles (the black clumps) appear in vehicle exhaust taken from the tailpipes of cars in Paris. The image is part of a study by scientists in Paris and at Rice University to analyze carbonaceous material in the lungs of asthma patients. They found that cars are a likely source of nanotubes found in the patients.
Credit: Courtesy of Fathi Moussa/Paris-Saclay University

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

Anthropogenic Carbon Nanotubes Found in the Airways of Parisian Children by Jelena Kolosnjaj-Tabi, Jocelyne Just, Keith B. Hartman, Yacine Laoudi, Sabah Boudjemaa, Damien Alloyeau, Henri Szwarc, Lon J. Wilson, & Fathi Moussa. EBioMedicine doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2015.10.012 Available online 9 October 2015

This paper is open access.

ETA Oct. 26, 2015: Dexter Johnson, along with Dr. Andrew Maynard, provides an object lesson on how to read science research in an Oct. 23, 2015 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]),

“From past studies, the conditions in combustion engines seem to favor the production of at least some CNTs (especially where there are trace metals in lubricants that can act as catalysts for CNT growth),” explained Andrew Maynard Director, Risk Innovation Lab and Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, in an e-mail interview. Says Maynard:

What, to my knowledge, is still not known, is the relative concentrations of CNT in ambient air that may be inhaled, the precise nature of these CNT in terms of physical and chemical structure, and the range of sources that may lead to ambient CNT. This is important, as the potential for fibrous particles to cause lung damage depends on characteristics such as their length—and many of the fibers shown in the paper appear too short to raise substantial concerns.”

Nonetheless, Maynard praises the research for establishing that these carbon nanotube-like fibers are part of the urban aerosol and therefore end up in the lungs of anyone who breathes it in. However, he cautions that the findings don’t provide information on the potential health risks associated with these exposures.

It’s a good read not only for the information but the mild snarkiness (assuming you find that kind of thing amusing) that spices up the piece.

Lloyd’s Register and nanotechnology-enabled safety on the high seas, on land, and in the air

On seeing the name Lloyd’s Register and noting the funding is for a university in the UK, Lloyd’s of London, the venerable insurance company leaped to mind. Although there is a connection of sorts, it is somewhat attenuated. First, here’s the news from a Sept. 4, 2015 news item on Azonano,

The University of Southampton has been awarded a multi-million grant from Lloyd’s Register Foundation to bring together some of the world’s brightest early career researchers to find new ways of using nanotechnologies to improve safety at sea, on land and in the air.

A Sept. 3, 2015 University of Southampton press release, which originated the news item, describes plans for the funding,

Dr Themis Prodromakis, from the Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnologies Group at Southampton, is leading the £3m programme, which will receive match funding from partner organisations. He says: “Researchers are always looking for funding for high risk, high reward ideas. They want to collaborate with the best scientists and engineers in the world and gain access to state-of-art facilities. The Lloyd’s Register Foundation International COnsortium in Nanotechnologies (ICON) [Note: This is not to be confused with the now defunct {since Sept. 2014} International Council on Nanotechnology {ICON} at Rice University in Texas, US] will assemble the world’s leading universities, research institutions and innovative companies to help them tackle many of today’s most challenging issues by recruiting talented PhD students from every continent.”

Applications will soon be invited from scientists and engineers keen to pioneer research across a range of industries. Nanotechnologies are already widely used, for example in smart phones, cameras and gadgets. Breakthroughs already being developed include cars, boats and planes built from lightweight materials stronger than steel with new functions such as self-cleaning and repairing; flexible textiles that can become rigid and shockproof to protect the wearer; sensors in hostile environments such as the deep ocean and space; tiny implants for real-time monitoring to aid diagnoses for doctors; and smart devices that harvest energy from their environment.

ICON will support more than 50 PhD students to undertake research at leading global universities, aided by matched funding. They will work together with partners from industry on interdisciplinary projects and access world-leading facilities, such as the £120m Southampton Nanofabrication Centre. The doctoral researchers will meet every year to present their findings and share ideas and concepts, becoming part of a global doctoral cohort addressing the Foundation’s safety mission.

Professor Richard Clegg, Managing Director of Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “We are pleased to support the University of Southampton in developing this global cohort of scientists. Their research will develop applications to further the Foundation’s safety goals whilst also providing training and building technical capacity in support of our educational mission. The doctoral students joining this consortium will gain an understanding of how their research can benefit society whilst developing international research networks at an early stage in their careers.”

“The support of Lloyd’s Register Foundation is key to our mission,” adds Dr Prodromakis. “Lloyd’s Register itself is well-known for promoting safety worldwide for more than 250 years. Its Global Technology Centre is now based in Southampton and its Foundation has become a catalyst to support research, training and education for the benefit of society. We are delighted to work alongside them.”

As for the connection between Lloyd’s Register and Lloyd’s of London, let’s start with the Lloyd’s Register Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The organisation’s name came from the 17th-century coffee house in London [emphasis mine] frequented by merchants, marine underwriters, and others, all associated with shipping. The coffee house owner, Edward Lloyd [emphasis mine], helped them to exchange information by circulating a printed sheet of all the news he heard. In 1760, the Register Society was formed by the customers of the coffee house who assembled the Register of Shipping, the first known register of its type. Between 1800 and 1833, a dispute between shipowners and underwriters caused them to publish a list each—the “Red Book” and the “Green Book”.[3] This brought both parties to the verge of bankruptcy. Agreement was reached in 1834 when they united to form Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, establishing a General Committee and charitable values. In 1914, with an increasingly international outlook, the organisation changed its name to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping.

Now here’s what Lloyd’s of London has to say on its History webpage,

In the 17th century, London’s importance as a trade centre led to an increasing demand for ship and cargo insurance. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house [emphasis mine] became recognised as the place for obtaining marine insurance and this is where the Lloyd’s that we know today began.

From those beginnings in a coffee house in 1688, Lloyd’s has been a pioneer in insurance and has grown over 325 years to become the world’s leading market for specialist insurance

Today, Lloyd’s Register describes itself this way (from the Lloyd’s Register homepage),

Lloyd’s Register (LR) is a global engineering, technical and business services organisation wholly owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a UK charity dedicated to research and education in science and engineering. Founded in 1760 as a marine classification society, LR now operates across many industry sectors, with over 9,000 employees based in 78 countries.

We have a long-standing reputation for integrity, impartiality and technical excellence. Our compliance, risk and technical consultancy services give clients confidence that their assets and businesses are safe, sustainable and dependable. Through our global technology centres and research network, we are at the forefront of understanding the application of new science and technology to future-proof our clients’ businesses.

Well, future-proofing sounds good doesn’t it? It seems like a way of saying you might be able to ‘insure’ yourself against future turmoil.

Carbon sequestration and buckyballs (aka C60 or buckminsterfullerenes)

Sometime in the last few years I was asked about carbon sequestration (or carbon capture) and nanotechnology and had no answer for the question until now (drat!). A July 13, 2015 Rice University (Texas, US) news release (also on EurekAlert) describes some research into buckyballs and the possibility they could be used to confine greenhouse gases,

Rice University scientists are forging toward tunable carbon-capture materials with a new study that shows how chemical changes affect the abilities of enhanced buckyballs to confine greenhouse gases.

The lab of Rice chemist Andrew Barron found last year that carbon-60 molecules (aka buckyballs, discovered at Rice in the 1980s) gain the ability to sequester carbon dioxide when combined with a polymer known as polyethyleneimine (PEI).

Two critical questions – how and how well – are addressed in a new paper in the American Chemical Society journal Energy and Fuels.

The news release expands on the theme,

The amine-rich combination of C60 and PEI showed its potential in the previous study to capture emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from such sources as industrial flue gases and natural-gas wells.

In the new study, the researchers found pyrolyzing the material – heating it in an oxygen-free environment – changes its chemical composition in ways that may someday be used to tune what the scientists call PEI-C60 for specific carbon-capture applications.

“One of the things we wanted to see is at what point, chemically, it converts from being something that absorbed best at high temperature to something that absorbed best at low temperature,” Barron said. “In other words, at what point does the chemistry change from one to the other?”

Lead author Enrico Andreoli pyrolyzed PEI-C60 in argon at various temperatures from 100 to 1,000 degrees Celsius (212 to 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) and then evaluated each batch for carbon uptake.

He discovered the existence of a transition point at 200 C, a boundary between the material’s ability to soak in carbon dioxide through chemical means as opposed to physical absorption.

The material that was pyrolyzed at low temperatures became gooey and failed at pulling in carbon from high-temperature sources by chemical means. The opposite was true for PEI-C60 pyrolyzed at high heat. The now-porous, brittle material became better in low-temperature environments, physically soaking up carbon dioxide molecules.

At 200 C, they found the heat treatment breaks the polymer’s carbon-nitrogen bonds, leading to a drastic decrease in carbon capture by any means.

“One of the goals was to see if can we make this a little less gooey and still have chemical uptake, and the answer is, not really,” Barron said. “It flips from one process to the other. But this does give us a nice continuum of how to get from one to the other.”

Andreoli found that at its peak, untreated PEI-C60 absorbed more than a 10th of its weight in carbon dioxide at high temperatures (0.13 grams per gram of material at 90 C). Pyrolyzed PEI-C60 did nearly as well at low temperatures (0.12 grams at 25 C).

The researchers, with an eye on potential environmental benefits, continue to refine their process. “This has definitely pointed us in the right direction,” Barron said.

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

Correlating Carbon Dioxide Capture and Chemical Changes in Pyrolyzed Polyethylenimine-C60 by Enrico Andreoli and Andrew R. Barron. Energy Fuels, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.5b00778 Publication Date (Web): July 2, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

“This is the best microscope we could ever dream of”—Rice University (US) gets new microscope

I believe it’s Emilie Ringe who’s hosting this video about the new microscope at Rice University (Texas, US) and, as you will be able to tell, she’s thrilled.

A June 29, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now explains some of Ringe’s excitement,

Rice University, renowned for nanoscale science, has installed microscopes that will allow researchers to peer deeper than ever into the fabric of the universe.

The Titan Themis scanning/transmission electron microscope, one of the most powerful in the United States, will enable scientists from Rice as well as academic and industrial partners to view and analyze materials smaller than a nanometer — a billionth of a meter — with startling clarity.

The microscope has the ability to take images of materials at angstrom-scale (one-tenth of a nanometer) resolution, about the size of a single hydrogen atom.

Images will be captured with a variety of detectors, including X-ray, optical and multiple electron detectors and a 4K-resolution camera, equivalent to the number of pixels in the most modern high-resolution televisions. The microscope gives researchers the ability to create three-dimensional structural reconstructions and carry out electric field mapping of subnanoscale materials.

“Seeing single atoms is exciting, of course, and it’s beautiful,” said Emilie Ringe, a Rice assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of chemistry. “But scientists saw single atoms in the ’90s, and even before. Now, the real breakthrough is that we can identify the composition of those atoms, and do it easily and reliably.” Ringe’s research group will operate the Titan Themis and a companion microscope that will image larger samples.

A June 29, 2015 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about electron microscopes, incident electron beams, and the specifics of the second new piece of equipment being installed,

Electron microscopes use beams of electrons rather than rays of light to illuminate objects of interest. Because the wavelength of electrons is so much smaller than that of photons, the microscopes are able to capture images of much smaller things with greater detail than even the highest-resolution optical microscope.

“The beauty of these newer instruments is their analytical capabilities,” Ringe said. “Before, in order to see single atoms, we had to work a machine for an entire day and get it just right and then take a picture and hold our breath. These days, seeing atoms is routine.

“And now we can probe a particular atom’s chemical composition. Through various techniques, either via scattering intensity, X-rays emission or electron-beam absorption, we can figure out, say, that we’re looking at a palladium atom or a carbon atom. We couldn’t do that before.”

Ringe said when an electron beam ejects a bound electron from a target atom, it creates an empty site. “That can be filled by another electron within the atom, and the energy difference between this electron and the missing electron is emitted as an X-ray,” she said. “That X-ray is like a fingerprint, which we can read. Different types of atoms have different energies.”

She said the incident electron beam loses a bit of energy when it knocks an atom’s electron loose, and that energy loss can also be measured with a spectroscope to identify the atom. The X-ray and electron techniques are independent but complementary. “Typically, you use either/or, and it depends on what element you’re looking at,” Ringe said.

The second instrument, a Helios NanoLab 600 DualBeam microscope, will be used for three-dimensional imaging, analysis of larger samples and preparation of thin slices of samples for the more powerful Titan next door.

Both tools reside in the university’s Brockman Hall for Physics, which opened in 2011 and features sophisticated vibration-dampening capabilities. The microscopes require the best possible isolation from vibration, electric fields and acoustic noise to produce the best images, Ringe said.

“We have wanted a high-end microscopy facility at Rice because so many of us are working on nanomaterials,” said Pulickel Ajayan, a professor and founding chair of Rice’s Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering. “This has been an issue because in order to be competitive you have to have the best atomic-scale characterization techniques. This will put us in business in terms of imaging and understanding new materials.”

He said the facility will position Rice as one of the most competitive institutions to recruit students and faculty, attract grants and publish groundbreaking results.

“A visual image of something on an atomic level can give you so much more information than a few numbers can,” said Peter Rossky, a theoretical chemist and dean of Rice’s Wiess School of Natural Sciences. Comparing images of the same material taken by an older electron microscope and the Titan Themis was like “the difference between a black-and-white TV and high-definition color,” he said.

Ringe said Rice’s Titan is a fourth-generation model manufactured in the Netherlands. It’s the latest and most powerful model and the first to be installed in the United States.

“Taking a complex image — not just a picture but a spectrum image that has lots of energy information — in the older model would take about 35 minutes,” she said. “By that time, the electron beam has destroyed whatever you were trying to look at.

“With this generation, you have the data you need in about two minutes. You can generate a lot more data more quickly. It’s not just better; it’s enabling.”

Edwin Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, expects the new instruments to ignite the already strong research culture at the university. “This is going to influence the kind of people who will be attracted to apply to and then come to Rice,” said Thomas, a materials scientist. “I’m sure there will be people on campus who, once they find out the capabilities, are going to shift their compasses and take advantage of these machines. The whole point is to have an impact on science and society.”

Rice plans to host a two-day workshop in September to introduce the microscopes and their capabilities to the research community at the university and beyond. [emphasis mine] Beginning this summer, Ringe said, the electron microscopy center will be open to Rice students and faculty as well as researchers from other universities and industry.

Ringe looks forward to bringing researchers into the new microscopy lab — and to the research that will emerge.

“I hope everyone’s going to come out with a blockbuster paper with images from these instruments,” she said. “I would like every paper from Rice to have fantastic, crystal-clear, atomic-resolution images and the best possible characterization.”

To sum this up, there are two new pieces of equipment (Titan Themis scanning/transmission electron microscope and Helios NanoLab 600 DualBeam microscope) in Rice University’s 2011 facility, Brockman Hall for Physics. They are very excited about having the most powerful microscope in the US (the Titan) and hope to be holding a two-day workshop on these new microscopes for the research community at Rice and at other institutions.

US White House establishes new initiatives to commercialize nanotechnology

As I’ve noted several times, there’s a strong push in the US to commercialize nanotechnology and May 20, 2015 was a banner day for the efforts. The US White House announced a series of new initiatives to speed commercialization efforts in a May 20, 2015 posting by Lloyd Whitman, Tom Kalil, and JJ Raynor,

Today, May 20 [2015], the National Economic Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy held a forum at the White House to discuss opportunities to accelerate the commercialization of nanotechnology.

In recognition of the importance of nanotechnology R&D, representatives from companies, government agencies, colleges and universities, and non-profits are announcing a series of new and expanded public and private initiatives that complement the Administration’s efforts to accelerate the commercialization of nanotechnology and expand the nanotechnology workforce:

  • The Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany, NY and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are launching the Nano Health & Safety Consortium to advance research and guidance for occupational safety and health in the nanoelectronics and other nanomanufacturing industry settings.
  • Raytheon has brought together a group of representatives from the defense industry and the Department of Defense to identify collaborative opportunities to advance nanotechnology product development, manufacturing, and supply-chain support with a goal of helping the U.S. optimize development, foster innovation, and take more rapid advantage of new commercial nanotechnologies.
  • BASF Corporation is taking a new approach to finding solutions to nanomanufacturing challenges. In March, BASF launched a prize-based “NanoChallenge” designed to drive new levels of collaborative innovation in nanotechnology while connecting with potential partners to co-create solutions that address industry challenges.
  • OCSiAl is expanding the eligibility of its “iNanoComm” matching grant program that provides low-cost, single-walled carbon nanotubes to include more exploratory research proposals, especially proposals for projects that could result in the creation of startups and technology transfers.
  • The NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA) is partnering with Venture for America and working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote entrepreneurship in nanotechnology.  Three companies (PEN, NanoMech, and SouthWest NanoTechnologies), are offering to support NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program with mentorship for entrepreneurs-in-training and, along with three other companies (NanoViricides, mPhase Technologies, and Eikos), will partner with Venture for America to hire recent graduates into nanotechnology jobs, thereby strengthening new nanotech businesses while providing needed experience for future entrepreneurs.
  • TechConnect is establishing a Nano and Emerging Technologies Student Leaders Conference to bring together the leaders of nanotechnology student groups from across the country. The conference will highlight undergraduate research and connect students with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders.  Five universities have already committed to participating, led by the University of Virginia Nano and Emerging Technologies Club.
  • Brewer Science, through its Global Intern Program, is providing more than 30 students from high schools, colleges, and graduate schools across the country with hands-on experience in a wide range of functions within the company.  Brewer Science plans to increase the number of its science and engineering interns by 50% next year and has committed to sharing best practices with other nanotechnology businesses interested in how internship programs can contribute to a small company’s success.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology is expanding its partnership with the National Science Foundation to provide hands-on experience for students in NSF’s Advanced Technology Education program. The partnership will now run year-round and will include opportunities for students at Hudson Valley Community College and the University of the District of Columbia Community College.
  • Federal agencies participating in the NNI [US National Nanotechnology Initiative], supported by the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office [NNCO], are launching multiple new activities aimed at educating students and the public about nanotechnology, including image and video contests highlighting student research, a new webinar series focused on providing nanotechnology information for K-12 teachers, and a searchable web portal on nano.gov of nanoscale science and engineering resources for teachers and professors.

Interestingly, May 20, 2015 is also the day the NNCO held its second webinar for small- and medium-size businesses in the nanotechnology community. You can find out more about that webinar and future ones by following the links in my May 13, 2015 posting.

Since the US White House announcement, OCSiAl has issued a May 26, 2015 news release which provides a brief history and more details about its newly expanded NanoComm program,

OCSiAl launched the iNanoComm, which stands for the Integrated Nanotube Commercialization Award, program in February 2015 to help researchers lower the cost of their most promising R&D projects dedicated to SWCNT [single-walled carbon nanotube] applications. The first round received 33 applications from 28 university groups, including The Smalley-Curl Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University and the Concordia Center for Composites at Concordia University [Canada] among others. [emphasis mine] The aim of iNanoComm is to stimulate universities and research organizations to develop innovative market products based on nano-augmented materials, also known as clean materials.

Now the program’s criteria are being broadened to enable greater private sector engagement in potential projects and the creation of partnerships in commercializing nanotechnology. The program will now support early stage commercialization efforts connected to university research in the form of start-ups, technology transfers, new businesses and university spinoffs to support the mass commercialization of SWCNT products and technologies.

The announcement of the program’s expansion took place at the 2015 Roundtable of the US NanoBusiness Commercialization Association (NanoBCA), the world’s first non-profit association focused on the commercialization of nanotechnologies. NanoBCA is dedicated to creating an environment that nurtures research and innovation in nanotechnology, promotes tech-transfer of nanotechnology from academia to industry, encourages private capital investments in nanotechnology companies, and helps its corporate members bring innovative nanotechnology products to market.

“Enhancing iNanoComm as a ‘start-up incubator’ is a concrete step in promoting single-wall carbon nanotube applications in the commercial world,” said Max Atanassov, CEO of OCSiAl USA. “It was the logical thing for us to do, now that high quality carbon nanotubes have become broadly available and are affordably priced to be used on a mass industrial scale.”

Vince Caprio, Executive Director of NanoBCA, added that “iNanoComm will make an important contribution to translating fundamental nanotechnology research into commercial products. By facilitating the formation of more start-ups, it will encourage more scientists to pursue their dreams and develop their ideas into commercially successful businesses.”

For more information on the program expansion and how it can reduce the cost of early stage research connected to university projects, visit the iNanoComm website at www.inanocomm.org or contact info@inanocomm.org.

h/t Azonano May 27, 2015 news item

Memristor, memristor, you are popular

Regular readers know I have a long-standing interest in memristor and artificial brains. I have three memristor-related pieces of research,  published in the last month or so, for this post.

First, there’s some research into nano memory at RMIT University, Australia, and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara). From a May 12, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

RMIT University researchers have mimicked the way the human brain processes information with the development of an electronic long-term memory cell.

Researchers at the MicroNano Research Facility (MNRF) have built the one of the world’s first electronic multi-state memory cell which mirrors the brain’s ability to simultaneously process and store multiple strands of information.

The development brings them closer to imitating key electronic aspects of the human brain — a vital step towards creating a bionic brain — which could help unlock successful treatments for common neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

A May 11, 2015 RMIT University news release, which originated the news item, reveals more about the researchers’ excitement and about the research,

“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Dr Sharath said.

“The human brain is an extremely complex analog computer… its evolution is based on its previous experiences, and up until now this functionality has not been able to be adequately reproduced with digital technology.”

The ability to create highly dense and ultra-fast analog memory cells paves the way for imitating highly sophisticated biological neural networks, he said.

The research builds on RMIT’s previous discovery where ultra-fast nano-scale memories were developed using a functional oxide material in the form of an ultra-thin film – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Dr Hussein Nili, lead author of the study, said: “This new discovery is significant as it allows the multi-state cell to store and process information in the very same way that the brain does.

“Think of an old camera which could only take pictures in black and white. The same analogy applies here, rather than just black and white memories we now have memories in full color with shade, light and texture, it is a major step.”

While these new devices are able to store much more information than conventional digital memories (which store just 0s and 1s), it is their brain-like ability to remember and retain previous information that is exciting.

“We have now introduced controlled faults or defects in the oxide material along with the addition of metallic atoms, which unleashes the full potential of the ‘memristive’ effect – where the memory element’s behaviour is dependent on its past experiences,” Dr Nili said.

Nano-scale memories are precursors to the storage components of the complex artificial intelligence network needed to develop a bionic brain.

Dr Nili said the research had myriad practical applications including the potential for scientists to replicate the human brain outside of the body.

“If you could replicate a brain outside the body, it would minimise ethical issues involved in treating and experimenting on the brain which can lead to better understanding of neurological conditions,” Dr Nili said.

The research, supported by the Australian Research Council, was conducted in collaboration with the University of California Santa Barbara.

Here’s a link to and a citation for this memristive nano device,

Donor-Induced Performance Tuning of Amorphous SrTiO3 Memristive Nanodevices: Multistate Resistive Switching and Mechanical Tunability by  Hussein Nili, Sumeet Walia, Ahmad Esmaielzadeh Kandjani, Rajesh Ramanathan, Philipp Gutruf, Taimur Ahmed, Sivacarendran Balendhran, Vipul Bansal, Dmitri B. Strukov, Omid Kavehei, Madhu Bhaskaran, and Sharath Sriram. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201501019 Article first published online: 14 APR 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

The second published piece of memristor-related research comes from a UC Santa Barbara and  Stony Brook University (New York state) team but is being publicized by UC Santa Barbara. From a May 11, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

In what marks a significant step forward for artificial intelligence, researchers at UC Santa Barbara have demonstrated the functionality of a simple artificial neural circuit (Nature, “Training and operation of an integrated neuromorphic network based on metal-oxide memristors”). For the first time, a circuit of about 100 artificial synapses was proved to perform a simple version of a typical human task: image classification.

A May 11, 2015 UC Santa Barbara news release (also on EurekAlert)by Sonia Fernandez, which originated the news item, situates this development within the ‘artificial brain’ effort while describing it in more detail (Note: A link has been removed),

“It’s a small, but important step,” said Dmitri Strukov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. With time and further progress, the circuitry may eventually be expanded and scaled to approach something like the human brain’s, which has 1015 (one quadrillion) synaptic connections.

For all its errors and potential for faultiness, the human brain remains a model of computational power and efficiency for engineers like Strukov and his colleagues, Mirko Prezioso, Farnood Merrikh-Bayat, Brian Hoskins and Gina Adam. That’s because the brain can accomplish certain functions in a fraction of a second what computers would require far more time and energy to perform.

… As you read this, your brain is making countless split-second decisions about the letters and symbols you see, classifying their shapes and relative positions to each other and deriving different levels of meaning through many channels of context, in as little time as it takes you to scan over this print. Change the font, or even the orientation of the letters, and it’s likely you would still be able to read this and derive the same meaning.

In the researchers’ demonstration, the circuit implementing the rudimentary artificial neural network was able to successfully classify three letters (“z”, “v” and “n”) by their images, each letter stylized in different ways or saturated with “noise”. In a process similar to how we humans pick our friends out from a crowd, or find the right key from a ring of similar keys, the simple neural circuitry was able to correctly classify the simple images.

“While the circuit was very small compared to practical networks, it is big enough to prove the concept of practicality,” said Merrikh-Bayat. According to Gina Adam, as interest grows in the technology, so will research momentum.

“And, as more solutions to the technological challenges are proposed the technology will be able to make it to the market sooner,” she said.

Key to this technology is the memristor (a combination of “memory” and “resistor”), an electronic component whose resistance changes depending on the direction of the flow of the electrical charge. Unlike conventional transistors, which rely on the drift and diffusion of electrons and their holes through semiconducting material, memristor operation is based on ionic movement, similar to the way human neural cells generate neural electrical signals.

“The memory state is stored as a specific concentration profile of defects that can be moved back and forth within the memristor,” said Strukov. The ionic memory mechanism brings several advantages over purely electron-based memories, which makes it very attractive for artificial neural network implementation, he added.

“For example, many different configurations of ionic profiles result in a continuum of memory states and hence analog memory functionality,” he said. “Ions are also much heavier than electrons and do not tunnel easily, which permits aggressive scaling of memristors without sacrificing analog properties.”

This is where analog memory trumps digital memory: In order to create the same human brain-type functionality with conventional technology, the resulting device would have to be enormous — loaded with multitudes of transistors that would require far more energy.

“Classical computers will always find an ineluctable limit to efficient brain-like computation in their very architecture,” said lead researcher Prezioso. “This memristor-based technology relies on a completely different way inspired by biological brain to carry on computation.”

To be able to approach functionality of the human brain, however, many more memristors would be required to build more complex neural networks to do the same kinds of things we can do with barely any effort and energy, such as identify different versions of the same thing or infer the presence or identity of an object not based on the object itself but on other things in a scene.

Potential applications already exist for this emerging technology, such as medical imaging, the improvement of navigation systems or even for searches based on images rather than on text. The energy-efficient compact circuitry the researchers are striving to create would also go a long way toward creating the kind of high-performance computers and memory storage devices users will continue to seek long after the proliferation of digital transistors predicted by Moore’s Law becomes too unwieldy for conventional electronics.

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

Training and operation of an integrated neuromorphic network based on metal-oxide memristors by M. Prezioso, F. Merrikh-Bayat, B. D. Hoskins, G. C. Adam, K. K. Likharev,    & D. B. Strukov. Nature 521, 61–64 (07 May 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14441

This paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available through ReadCube Access.

The third and last piece of research, which is from Rice University, hasn’t received any publicity yet, unusual given Rice’s very active communications/media department. Here’s a link to and a citation for their memristor paper,

2D materials: Memristor goes two-dimensional by Jiangtan Yuan & Jun Lou. Nature Nanotechnology 10, 389–390 (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.94 Published online 07 May 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available through ReadCube Access.

Dexter Johnson has written up the RMIT research (his May 14, 2015 post on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website). He linked it to research from Mark Hersam’s team at Northwestern University (my April 10, 2015 posting) on creating a three-terminal memristor enabling its use in complex electronics systems. Dexter strongly hints in his headline that these developments could lead to bionic brains.

For those who’d like more memristor information, this June 26, 2014 posting which brings together some developments at the University of Michigan and information about developments in the industrial sector is my suggestion for a starting point. Also, you may want to check out my material on HP Labs, especially prominent in the story due to the company’s 2008 ‘discovery’ of the memristor, described on a page in my Nanotech Mysteries wiki, and the controversy triggered by the company’s terminology (there’s more about the controversy in my April 7, 2010 interview with Forrest H Bennett III).

Changing the vibration of gold nanodisks (acoustic tuning) with light

A May 7, 2015 news item on phys.org describes research that could have a major impact on photonics applications,

In a study that could open doors for new applications of photonics from molecular sensing to wireless communications, Rice University [Texas, US] scientists have discovered a new method to tune the light-induced vibrations of nanoparticles through slight alterations to the surface to which the particles are attached.

n a study published online this week in Nature Communications, researchers at Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) used ultrafast laser pulses to induce the atoms in gold nanodisks to vibrate. These vibrational patterns, known as acoustic phonons, have a characteristic frequency that relates directly to the size of the nanoparticle. The researchers found they could fine-tune the acoustic response of the particle by varying the thickness of the material to which the nanodisks were attached.

A May 7, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme (Note: A link has been removed),

Our results point toward a straightforward method for tuning the acoustic phonon frequency of a nanostructure in the gigahertz range by controlling the thickness of its adhesion layer,” said lead researcher Stephan Link, associate professor of chemistry and in electrical and computer engineering.

Light has no mass, but each photon that strikes an object imparts a miniscule amount of mechanical motion, thanks to a phenomenon known as radiation pressure. A branch of physics known as optomechanics has developed over the past decade to study and exploit radiation pressure for applications like gravity wave detection and low-temperature generation.

Link and colleagues at LANP specialize in another branch of science called plasmonics that is devoted to the study of light-activated nanostructures. Plasmons are waves of electrons that flow like a fluid across a metallic surface.

When a light pulse of a specific wavelength strikes a metal particle like the puck-shaped gold nanodisks in the LANP experiments, the light energy is converted into plasmons. These plasmons slosh across the surface of the particle with a characteristic frequency, in much the same way that each phonon has a characteristic vibrational frequency.

The study’s first author, Wei-Shun Chang, a postdoctoral researcher in Link’s lab, and graduate students Fangfang Wen and Man-Nung Su conducted a series of experiments that revealed a direct connection between the resonant frequencies of the plasmons and phonons in nanodisks that had been exposed to laser pulses.

“Heating nanostructures with a short light pulse launches acoustic phonons that depend sensitively on the structure’s dimensions,” Link said. “Thanks to advanced lithographic techniques, experimentalists can engineer plasmonic nanostructures with great precision. Based on our results, it appears that plasmonic nanostructures may present an interesting alternative to conventional optomechanical oscillators.”

Chang said plasmonics experts often rely on substrates when using electron-beam lithography to pattern plasmonic structures. For example, gold nanodisks like those used in the experiments will not stick to glass slides. But if a thin substrate of titanium or chromium is added to the glass, the disks will adhere and stay where they are placed.

“The substrate layer affects the mechanical properties of the nanostructure, but many questions remain as to how it does this,” Chang said. “Our experiments explored how the thickness of the substrate impacted properties like adhesion and phononic frequency.”

Link said the research was a collaborative effort involving research groups at Rice and the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia.

“Wei-Shun and Man-Nung from my lab did the ultrafast spectroscopy,” Link said. “Fangfang, who is in Naomi Halas’ group here at Rice, made the nanodisks. John Sader at the University of Melbourne, and his postdoc Debadi Chakraborty calculated the acoustic modes, and Yue Zhang, a Rice graduate student from Peter Nordlander’s group at Rice simulated the optical/plasmonic properties. Bo Shuang of the Landes’ research group at Rice contributed to the analysis of the experimental data.”

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

Tuning the acoustic frequency of a gold nanodisk through its adhesion layer by Wei-Shun Chang, Fangfang Wen, Debadi Chakraborty, Man-Nung Su, Yue Zhang, Bo Shuang, Peter Nordlander, John E. Sader, Naomi J. Halas, & Stephan Link. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7022 doi:10.1038/ncomms8022 Published 05 May 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available vie ReadCube Access.

Water is key component to making sub-10nm semiconducting wires

An April 6, 2015 news item on phys.org announces a new technique for making nanowires,

Water is the key component in a Rice University process to reliably create patterns of metallic and semiconducting wires less than 10 nanometers wide.

The technique by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour builds upon its discovery that the meniscus – the curvy surface of water at its edge – can be an effective mask to make nanowires.

The Rice team of Tour and graduate students Vera Abramova and Alexander Slesarev have now made nanowires between 6 and 16 nanometers wide from silicon, silicon dioxide, gold, chromium, tungsten, titanium, titanium dioxide and aluminum. They have also made crossbar structures of conducting nanowires from one or more of the materials.

An April 6, 2015 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains why this could have an impact on the semiconductor industry and provides a few more details about the process,

The process is promising for the semiconductor industry as it seeks to make circuits ever smaller. State-of-the-art integrated circuit fabrication allows for signal wires that approach 10 nanometers, visible only with powerful microscopes. These are the paths that connect the billions of transistors in modern electronic devices.

“This could have huge ramifications for chip production since the wires are easily made to sub-10-nanometer sizes,” Tour said of the Rice process. “There’s no other way in the world to do this en masse on a surface.”

Current approaches to making such tiny wires take several paths. Lithography, the standard method for etching integrated circuits, is approaching the physical limits of its ability to shrink them further. Bulk synthesis of semiconducting and metallic nanowires is also possible, but the wires are difficult to position in integrated circuits.

Water’s tendency to adhere to surfaces went from an annoyance to an advantage when the Rice researchers found they could use it as a mask to make patterns. The water molecules gather wherever a raised pattern joins the target material and forms a curved meniscus created by the surface tension of water.

The meniscus-mask process involves adding and then removing materials in a sequence that ultimately leaves a meniscus covering the wire and climbing the sidewall of a sacrificial metal mask that, when etched away, leaves the nanowire standing alone.

Tour said the process should work with modern fabrication technology with no modifications to existing equipment and minimal changes in fabrication protocols. No new tools or materials are needed.

The researchers have provided an image,

These nanowires were created at Rice University through a process called meniscus-mask lithography. From left, they’re made of silicon, silicon dioxide, gold, chromium, tungsten, titanium, titanium dioxide and aluminum. The scale bar is 1 micron for all images. (Credit: Tour Group/Rice University)

These nanowires were created at Rice University through a process called meniscus-mask lithography. From left, they’re made of silicon, silicon dioxide, gold, chromium, tungsten, titanium, titanium dioxide and aluminum. The scale bar is 1 micron for all images. (Credit: Tour Group/Rice University)

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

Meniscus-Mask Lithography for Fabrication of Narrow Nanowires by Vera V. Abramova, Alexander S Slesarev, and James M. Tour. Nano Lett., Just Accepted Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/nl504716u Publication Date (Web): March 31, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

The paper is freely available but you do need to register on the site for open access.