Tag Archives: UK

Molecular robots (nanobots/nanorobots): a promising start at Oxford University

‘Baby steps’ is how they are describing the motion and the breakthrough in functional molecular robots at the University of Oxford. From a Dec. 11, 2014 news item on phys.org,

A walking molecule, so small that it cannot be observed directly with a microscope, has been recorded taking its first nanometre-sized steps.

It’s the first time that anyone has shown in real time that such a tiny object – termed a ‘small molecule walker’ – has taken a series of steps. The breakthrough, made by Oxford University chemists, is a significant milestone on the long road towards developing ‘nanorobots’.

‘In the future we can imagine tiny machines that could fetch and carry cargo the size of individual molecules, which can be used as building blocks of more complicated molecular machines; imagine tiny tweezers operating inside cells,’ said Dr Gokce Su Pulcu of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry. ‘The ultimate goal is to use molecular walkers to form nanotransport networks,’ she says.

A Dec. 10, 2014 University of Oxford science blog post by Pete Wilton, which originated the news item, describes one of the problem with nanorobots,

However, before nanorobots can run they first have to walk. As Su explains, proving this is no easy task.

For years now researchers have shown that moving machines and walkers can be built out of DNA. But, relatively speaking, DNA is much larger than small molecule walkers and DNA machines only work in water.

The big problem is that microscopes can only detect moving objects down to the level of 10–20 nanometres. This means that small molecule walkers, whose strides are 1 nanometre long, can only be detected after taking around 10 or 15 steps. It would therefore be impossible to tell with a microscope whether a walker had ‘jumped’ or ‘floated’ to a new location rather than taken all the intermediate steps.

The post then describes how the researchers solved the problem,

… Su and her colleagues at Oxford’s Bayley Group took a new approach to detecting a walker’s every step in real time. Their solution? To build a walker from an arsenic-containing molecule and detect its motion on a track built inside a nanopore.

Nanopores are already the foundation of pioneering DNA sequencing technology developed by the Bayley Group and spinout company Oxford Nanopore Technologies. Here, tiny protein pores detect molecules passing through them. Each base disrupts an electric current passed through the nanopore by a different amount so that the DNA base ‘letters’ (A, C, G or T) can be read.

In this new research, they used a nanopore containing a track formed of five ‘footholds’ to detect how a walker was moving across it.

‘We can’t ‘see’ the walker moving, but by mapping changes in the ionic current flowing through the pore as the molecule moves from foothold to foothold we are able to chart how it is stepping from one to the other and back again,’ Su explains.

To ensure that the walker doesn’t float away, they designed it to have ‘feet’ that stick to the track by making and breaking chemical bonds. Su says: ‘It’s a bit like stepping on a carpet with glue under your shoes: with each step the walker’s foot sticks and then unsticks so that it can move to the next foothold.’ This approach could make it possible to design a machine that can walk on a variety of surfaces.

There is a video illustrating the molecular walker’s motion, (courtesy University of Oxford),

There is as noted in Wilton’s post, more work to do,

It’s quite an achievement for such a tiny machine but, as Su is the first to admit, there are many more challenges to be overcome before programmable nanorobots are a reality.

‘At the moment we don’t have much control over which direction the walker moves in; it moves pretty randomly,’ Su tells me. ‘The protein track is a bit like a mountain slope; there’s a direction that’s easier to walk in so walkers will tend to go this way. We hope to be able to harness this preference to build tracks that direct a walker where we want it to go.’

The next challenge after that will be for a walker to make itself useful by, for instance, carrying a cargo: there’s already space for it to carry a molecule on its ‘head’ that it could then take to a desired location to accomplish a task.

Su comments: ‘We should be able to engineer a surface where we can control the movement of these walkers and observe them under a microscope through the way they interact with a very thin fluorescent layer. This would make it possible to design chips with different stations with walkers ferrying cargo between these stations; so the beginnings of a nanotransport system.’

These are the first tentative baby steps of a new technology, but they promise that there could be much bigger strides to come.

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

Continuous observation of the stochastic motion of an individual small-molecule walker by Gökçe Su Pulcu, Ellina Mikhailova, Lai-Sheung Choi, & Hagan Bayley. Nature Nanotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.264 Published online 08 December 2014

This paper is behind a paywall.

Do Tenebrionind beetles collect dew or condensation—a water issue at the nanoscale

Up until now, the research I’ve stumbled across about Tenebrionind beetles and their water-collecting ways has been from the US but this latest work comes from a France/Spain,/UK collaboration which focused on a specific question, exactly where do these beetles harvest their water from? A Dec. 8, 2014 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes this latest research,

Understanding how a desert beetle harvests water from dew could improve drinking water collection in dew condensers

Insects are full of marvels – and this is certainly the case with a beetle from the Tenebrionind family, found in the extreme conditions of the Namib desert. Now, a team of scientists has demonstrated that such insects can collect dew on their backs – and not just fog as previously thought. This is made possible by the wax nanostructure on the surface of the beetle’s elytra. … They bring us a step closer to harvesting dew to make drinking water from the humidity in the air. This, the team hopes, can be done by improving the water yield of man-made dew condensers that mimick the nanostructure on the beetle’s back.

A Dec. 8, 2014  Springer press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes how this research adds to the body of knowledge about the ability to harvest water from the air,

It was not clear from previous studies whether water harvested by such beetles came from dew droplets, in addition to fog. Whereas fog is made of ready-made microdroplets floating in the air, dew appears following the cooling of a substrate below air temperature. This then turns the humidity of air into tiny droplets of water because more energy – as can be measured through infrared emissions – is sent to the atmosphere than received by it. The cooling capability is ideal, they demonstrated, because the insect’s back demonstrates near-perfect infrared emissivity.

Guadarrama-Cetina [José Guadarrama-Cetina] and colleagues also performed an image analysis of dew drops forming on the insect’s back on the surface of the elytra, which appears as a series of bumps and valleys. Dew primarily forms in the valleys endowed with a hexagonal microstructure, they found, unlike the smooth surface of the bumps. This explains how drops can slide to the insect’s mouth when they reach a critical size.

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

Dew condensation on desert beetle skin by J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina, A. Mongruel, M.-G. Medici, E. Baquero, A.R. Parker, I. Milimouk-Melnytchuk, W. González-Viñas, and D. Beysens. Eur. Phys. J. E (European Physics Journal E 2014) 37: 109, DOI 10.1140/epje/i2014-14109-y

This paper is currently (Dec. 8, 2014) open access. I do not know if this will be permanent or if access rights will change over time.

My previous postings on the topic of water and beetles have focused on US research of the Stenocara beetle (aka Namib desert beetle) which appears to be a member of the Tenebrionind family of beetles mentioned in this latest research.

The European researchers have provided an image of the beetle they were examining,

A preserved specimen of the Tenebrionind beetle (Physasterna cribripes) was used for this study, displaying the insect’s mechanisms of dew harvesting. © J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina et al.

A preserved specimen of the Tenebrionind beetle (Physasterna cribripes) was used for this study, displaying the insect’s mechanisms of dew harvesting. © J.M. Guadarrama-Cetina et al.

As for my other pieces on this topic, there’s a July 29, 2014 post, a June 18, 2014 post, and a Nov. 26, 2012 post.

Graphene not so impermeable after all

I saw the news last week but it took reading Dexter Johnson’s Dec. 2, 2014 post for me to achieve a greater understanding of why graphene’s proton permeability is such a big deal and of the tensions underlying graphene research in the UK.

Let’s start with the news, from a Nov. 26, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Published in the journal Nature (“Proton transport through one-atom-thick crystals”), the discovery could revolutionise fuel cells and other hydrogen-based technologies as they require a barrier that only allow protons – hydrogen atoms stripped off their electrons – to pass through.

In addition, graphene membranes could be used to sieve hydrogen gas out of the atmosphere, where it is present in minute quantities, creating the possibility of electric generators powered by air.

A Nov. 26, 2014 University of Manchester news release, which originated the news item, describes the research in greater detail,

One-atom thick material graphene, first isolated and explored in 2004 by a team at The University of Manchester, is renowned for its barrier properties, which has a number of uses in applications such as corrosion-proof coatings and impermeable packaging.

For example, it would take the lifetime of the universe for hydrogen, the smallest of all atoms, to pierce a graphene monolayer.

Now a group led by Sir Andre Geim tested whether protons are also repelled by graphene. They fully expected that protons would be blocked, as existing theory predicted as little proton permeation as for hydrogen.

Despite the pessimistic prognosis, the researchers found that protons pass through the ultra-thin crystals surprisingly easily, especially at elevated temperatures and if the films were covered with catalytic nanoparticles such as platinum.

The discovery makes monolayers of graphene, and its sister material boron nitride, attractive for possible uses as proton-conducting membranes, which are at the heart of modern fuel cell technology. Fuel cells use oxygen and hydrogen as a fuel and convert the input chemical energy directly into electricity. Without membranes that allow an exclusive flow of protons but prevent other species to pass through, this technology would not exist.

Despite being well-established, fuel-cell technology requires further improvements to make it more widely used. One of the major problems is a fuel crossover through the existing proton membranes, which reduces their efficiency and durability.

The University of Manchester research suggests that the use of graphene or monolayer boron nitride can allow the existing membranes to become thinner and more efficient, with less fuel crossover and poisoning. This can boost competitiveness of fuel cells.

The Manchester group also demonstrated that their one-atom-thick membranes can be used to extract hydrogen from a humid atmosphere. They hypothesise that such harvesting can be combined together with fuel cells to create a mobile electric generator that is fuelled simply by hydrogen present in air.

Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo, a PhD student and corresponding author of this paper, said: “When you know how it should work, it is a very simple setup. You put a hydrogen-containing gas on one side, apply small electric current and collect pure hydrogen on the other side. This hydrogen can then be burned in a fuel cell.

“We worked with small membranes, and the achieved flow of hydrogen is of course tiny so far. But this is the initial stage of discovery, and the paper is to make experts aware of the existing prospects. To build up and test hydrogen harvesters will require much further effort.”

Dr Sheng Hu, a postdoctoral researcher and the first author in this work, added: “It looks extremely simple and equally promising. Because graphene can be produced these days in square metre sheets, we hope that it will find its way to commercial fuel cells sooner rather than later”.

The work is an international collaboration involving groups from China and the Netherlands who supported theoretical aspects of this research. Marcelo Lozada-Hidalgo is funded by a PhD studentship programme between the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico and The University of Manchester.

Here’s more about the research and its implications from Dexter Johnson’s Dec. 2, 2014 post on the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) website (Note: Links have been removed),

This latest development alters the understanding of one of the key properties of graphene: that it is impermeable to all gases and liquids. Even an atom as small as hydrogen would need billions of years for it to pass through the dense electronic cloud of graphene.  In fact, it is this impermeability that has made it attractive for use in gas separation membranes.

But as Geim and his colleagues discovered, in research that was published in the journal Nature, monolayers of graphene and boron nitride are highly permeable to thermal protons under ambient conditions. So hydrogen atoms stripped of their electrons could pass right through the one-atom-thick materials.

The surprising discovery that protons could breach these materials means that that they could be used in proton-conducting membranes (also known as proton exchange membranes), which are central to the functioning of fuel cells. Fuel cells operate through chemical reactions involving hydrogen fuel and oxygen, with the result being electrical energy. The membranes used in the fuel cells are impermeable to oxygen and hydrogen but allow for the passage of protons.

Dexter goes into more detail about hydrogen fuel cells and why this discovery is so exciting. He also provides some insight into the UK’s graphene community (Note: A link has been removed),

While some have been frustrated that Geim has focused his attention on fundamental research rather than becoming more active in the commercialization of graphene, he may have just cracked open graphene’s greatest application possibility to date.

I recommend reading Dexter’s post if you want to learn more about fuel cell technology and the impact this discovery may have.

Richard Van Noorden’s Nov. 27, 2014 article for Nature provides another perspective on this work,

Fuel-cell experts say that the work is proof of principle, but are cautious about its immediate application. Factors such as to how grow a sufficiently clean, large graphene sheet, and its cost and lifetime, would have to be taken into account. “It may or may not be a better membrane for a fuel cell,” says Andrew Herring, a chemical engineer at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

Van Noorden also writes about another graphene discovery from last week, which won’t be featured here. Where graphene is concerned I have to draw a line or else this entire blog would be focused on that material alone.

Getting back back to permeability, graphene, and protons, here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Proton transport through one-atom-thick crystals by S. Hu, M. Lozada-Hidalgo, F. C. Wang, A. Mishchenko, F. Schedin, R. R. Nair, E. W. Hill, D. W. Boukhvalov, M. I. Katsnelson, R. A. W. Dryfe, I. V. Grigorieva, H. A. Wu, & A. K. Geim. Nature (2014 doi:10.1038/nature14015 Published online 26 November 2014

This article is behind a paywall.

December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite (from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features last day (Dec. 1, 2014) to apply for NanoDays 2015 physical kit and a bit about a medieval cleric who* ‘unwove’ light

Depending on your timezone, there are still a few hours left to submit an online application for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit. From a Sept. 15, 2014 posting by Catherine McCarthy for NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network),

Apply now for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit!
NanoDays 2015 will be held from March 28 through April 5, 2015. NanoDays is a week of community-based educational outreach events to raise public awareness of nanoscale science, technology and engineering throughout the United States. NanoDays kits are currently in production and will be ready for distribution in early 2015. We invite you to fill out an online application for a physical kit containing all of the materials and resources you need to start planning your community events; applications are due December 1, 2014.


We’re in Year 10 of funding for NISE Net, what’s going to happen to NanoDays?

This is the final NanoDays physical kit that will be funded through the current NISE Net award. Beyond 2015, we encourage you to continue to host NanoDays and strengthen local partnerships by using this kit (and any previous kits you have). We’ve set dates for the next five years to promote national participation in NanoDays in the years to come.

Future NanoDays will be held:

  • 2016: March 26-April 3
  • 2017: March 25-April 2
  • 2018: March 31-April 8
  • 2019: March 30-April 7
  • 2020: March 28-April 5

The NISE Network leadership is seeking opportunities to continue NanoDays after 2015, so stay tuned for further information!

Who can participate in NanoDays?
NanoDays kits are intended for use in public events; most host organizations are informal science education institutions and public outreach programs of nanoscience research centers. We invite you and your organization to participate in NanoDays 2015, whether or not you have previous experience with nano-related public outreach activities.

For anyone unfamiliar with the NanoDays programs, the post goes on to provide more details.

Here’s more about the upcoming International Year of Light (IYL)  mentioned in my Nov. 7, 2014 post,

What’s Nano about Light?
The United Nations has declared that 2015 is the International Year of Light (IYL) and light-based technologies. This global initiative helps to highlight for the public the importance of light and optical technologies in ones’ everyday life and it’s role in the development of society and the future. Endorsed by the International Council of Science, the International Year of Light 2015 has more than 100 partners from more than 85 countries!

Are you looking for ways to get involved?

There’s this tidbit about a special event featuring the University of Vermont physics department, light, and a local watershed (from the newsletter),

A Bi-Polar Affair Captivates Visitors with EnLIGHTening Nanoscale Science

By Luke Donforth, The University of Vermont

The University of Vermont (UVM) Physics Department and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center have a long collaborative relationship, through which the NISE Network has provided an excellent framework to help strengthen and deepen. Although an institution of formal learning, UVM values and contributes to informal education in the surrounding community.

Recently, the UVM Physics Department and ECHO received a NISE Net mini-grant to develop a daylong event outside the purview of NanoDays. ECHO focuses on the Lake Champlain watershed, and the Physics Department wanted to show how basic science is a useful tool for investigating, understanding, and caring for the lake and world around us. Light, and specifically polarization, gave us a unifying theme to bring a number of activities and concepts to ECHO. Visible light, something most museum visitors have experience with, has wavelengths in the hundreds of nanometers. This provides a comfortable entry point to familiarize visitors with “nano,” and from there we can highlight how interacting with light at the length scale of its wavelength allows us to investigate both light and the world around us.


Polarization, the orientation of components of light, provides a tool with uses ranging from telling the time of day to monitoring invasive species in Lake Champlain. As an example of the later, Professor J. Ellen Marsden (an ichthyologist with UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and long-time ECHO collaborator) supplied samples of larval zebra mussels from Lake Champlain. Zebra mussels, an invasive species actively monitored in the lake, are more easily distinguished and detected earlier with the thoughtful application polarized light.

We’re going to be hearing a lot more about light as we gear up for 2015. Meanwhile, you can read the entire December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite here.

In keeping with my previous comment, there’s this bit about a medieval cleric who helped us to understand light and optics. From a Nov. 27, 2014 posting by Michael Brooks, on the Guardian science blog, concerning his recent participation in a Festival of Humanities event held at the medieval Durham Cathedral,

Robert Grosseteste was a medieval pioneer of science. And, despite having died in 1253, the good bishop is up for an award on Thursday night [Nov. 27, 2014]. The shortlist for the Times Higher Education’s 2014 Research Project of the Year includes the researchers from Durham University who laid on last week’s activities in the cathedral’s Chapter House and Deanery, and they openly describe Grosseteste as one of their collaborators.

They made this clear in a paper they published in the prestigious journal Nature Physics in July. The scientists are re-examining Grosseteste’s work, and finding he made contributions to the field of optics that have yet to be assimilated into the canon of science. So they’ve come on board to help complete the record.

Grosseteste’s insight into the physics of rainbows has, for instance, enabled the researchers in the Ordered Universe collaboration to create a new co-ordinate system for colour. Anyone who has tried to calibrate a computer monitor knows that we now talk in terms of hue (a particular ratio of red, green and blue), saturation and brightness. Examination of Grosseteste’s writings has inspired an equally valid rainbow-based colour system.

It is based on the angle through which sunlight is scattered by the water drops, the “purity” of the medium – related to the size of the water drops – and the distance of the sun above the horizon. Grosseteste’s three-dimensional scheme outlines what Durham physicist Tom McLeish calls “the space of all possible rainbows”.

Here’s an image of a rainbow over Durham Cathedral,

 Rainbow over Durham Cathedral by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]

Rainbow over Durham Cathedral
by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]

Here’s where you can find more of StephieBee‘s work.

Sadly, GrosseTeste did not win top prize but I’m sure if he were still around, he’d say something like, “It was an honour to be nominated and I thank God.” As for the Festival of Humanities (Being Human), there’s more here about its 2014 inaugural year.

*Changed ‘on’ to ‘who’ in headline on Dec. 2, 2014.

Remotely controlling bone regeneration with metallic nanoparticles

A Nov. 24, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily heralds some bone regeneration research which was published back in Sept. 2014,

Researchers in bone tissue regeneration believe they have made a significant breakthrough for sufferers of bone trauma, disease or defects such as osteoporosis.

Medical researchers from Keele University and Nottingham University have found that magnetic nanoparticles coated with targeting proteins can stimulate stem cells to regenerate bone. Researchers were also able to deliver the cells directly to the injured area, remotely controlling the nanoparticles to generate mechanical forces and maintain the regeneration process through staged releases of a protein growth stimulant.

A Nov. 17, 2014 Keele University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the issues the researchers are addressing and their research approach,

The current method for repairing bone that can’t heal itself is through a graft taken from the patient. Unfortunately, this can be a painful, invasive procedure, and when the area that needs repair is too large or the patient has a skeletal disorder such as there can sometimes be a lack of healthy bone for grafting.

For this reason, spurring the growth of new bone through injected stem cells is an area of great interest to medical researchers. Much progress has been made, but a major hurdle remains – finding an appropriate means to stimulate the differentiation of the stem cells so they become the quality of bone tissue needed in a quantity large enough to treat patients effectively.

James Henstock, Ph.D. led the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded study, alongside Alicia El Haj, Ph.D., and colleagues at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, as well as Kevin Shakesheff, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy.

James Henstock said: “Injectable therapies for regenerative medicine show great potential as a minimally invasive route for introducing therapeutic stem cells, drug delivery vehicles and biomaterials efficiently to wound sites.”

“In our investigation we coated magnetic nanoparticles with specific targeting proteins then controlled them remotely with an external magnetic field to simulate exercise. We wanted to learn how this might affect the injected stem cells and their ability to restore functional bone.”

The team of researchers conducted their test using two models: chicken foetal femurs and tissue-engineered collagen hydrogels. In both instances the results showed an increase in bone formation and density without causing any mechanical stress to the construct or surrounding tissue.

“This work demonstrates that providing the appropriate mechanical cues in conjunction with controlled release of growth factors to these injectable cell therapies can have a significant impact on improving bone growth. It also could potentially improve tissue engineering approaches for translational medicine” Dr. Henstock said.

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

Remotely Activated Mechanotransduction via Magnetic Nanoparticles Promotes Mineralization Synergistically With Bone Morphogenetic Protein 2: Applications for Injectable Cell Therapy by James R. Henstock, Michael Rotherham, Hassan Rashidi, Kevin M. Shakesheff, and Alicia J. El Haja. Stem Cells Trans Med September 2014 sctm.2014-0017  (First Published Online September 22, 2014 doi: 10.5966/sctm.2014-0017)

This paper is open access but you do need to sign up for a free registration for access to the website.

Nanodiamond alternative to organic fluorophores to view inside living human cells

No sooner is a Nobel prize (2014) awarded for nanoscopy which makes use of fluorescence to observe processes in living cells than there is an announcement about a new technique that avoids fluorescence and its attendant shortcomings. From an Oct. 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Nanodiamonds are providing scientists with new possibilities for accurate measurements of processes inside living cells with potential to improve drug delivery and cancer therapeutics.

Published in Nature Nanotechnology (“Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering microscopy of single nanodiamonds”), researchers from Cardiff University have unveiled a new method for viewing nanodiamonds inside human living cells for purposes of biomedical research.

An Oct. 27, 2014 Cardiff University (Wales) news release, which originated the news item, explains why the use of nanodiamonds is superior to the use of organic flurophores,

Nanodiamonds are very small particles (a thousand times smaller than human hair) and because of their low toxicity they can be used as a carrier to transport drugs inside cells. They also show huge promise as an alternative to the organic fluorophores usually used by scientists to visualise processes inside cells and tissues.

A major limitation of organic fluorophores is that they have the tendency to degrade and bleach over time under light illumination. This makes it difficult to use them for accurate measurements of cellular processes. Moreover, the bleaching and chemical degradation can often be toxic and significantly perturb or even kill cells.

There is a growing consensus among scientists that nanodiamonds are one of the best inorganic material alternatives for use in biomedical research, because of their compatibility with human cells, and due to their stable structural and chemical properties.

Previous attempts by other research teams to visualise nanodiamonds under powerful light microscopes have run into the obstacle that the diamond material per se is transparent to visible light. Locating the nanodiamonds under a microscope had relied on tiny defects in the crystal lattice, which fluoresce under light illumination.

Production of the defects proved both costly and difficult to realise in a controlled way. Furthermore, the fluorescence light emitted by these defects, and in turn the image gleaned from the microscopic exploration of these flawed nanodiamonds, is sometimes also unstable.

In their latest paper, researchers from Cardiff University’s Schools of Biosciences and Physics showed that non-fluorescing nanodiamonds (diamonds without defects) can be imaged optically and far more stably via the interaction between the illuminating light and the vibrating chemical bonds in the diamond lattice structure which results in scattered light at a different colour.

The paper describes how two laser beams beating at a specific frequency are used to drive chemical bonds to vibrate in sync. One of these beams is then used to probe this vibration and generate a light, called coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS).

By focusing these laser beams onto the nanodiamond, a high-resolution CARS image is generated. Using an in-house built microscope, the research team was able to measure the intensity of the CARS light on a series of single nanodiamonds of different sizes.

The nanodiamond size was accurately measured by means of electron microscopy and other quantitative optical contrast methods developed within the researcher’s lab. In this way, they were able to quantify the relationship between the CARS light intensity and the nanoparticle size.

Consequently, the calibrated CARS signal enabled the team to analyse the size and number of nanodiamonds that had been delivered into living cells, with a level of accuracy hitherto not achieved by other methods.

Professor Paola Borri from the School of Biosciences, who led the study, said: “This new imaging modality opens the exciting prospect of following complex cellular trafficking pathways quantitatively with important applications in drug delivery. The next step for us will be to push the technique to detect nanodiamonds of even smaller sizes than what we have shown so far and to demonstrate a specific application in drug delivery.”

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

Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering microscopy of single nanodiamonds by Iestyn Pope, Lukas Payne, George Zoriniants, Evan Thomas, Oliver Williams, Peter Watson, Wolfgang Langbein, & Paola Borri. Nature Nanotechnology (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.210 Published online 12 October 2014

The paper is behind a paywall but there is a free preview with ReadCube Access.

For anyone who’d like to read more about fluorescence and its use in nanoscopy there’s my Oct. 8, 2014 posting about the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and in my Oct. 27, 2014 posting about a specific use for determining how bipolar disorder may affect the brain.

Feathered flight and nanoscale research

Today (Oct. 24, 2014) is a day for flight as I posted this earlier, NASA, super-black nanotechnology, and an International Space Station livestreamed event. With that in mind, here’s an Oct. 23, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about feathers,

Scientists from the University of Southampton [UK] have revealed that feather shafts are made of a multi-layered fibrous composite material, much like carbon fibre, which allows the feather to bend and twist to cope with the stresses of flight.

Since their appearance over 150 million years ago, feather shafts (rachises) have evolved to be some of the lightest, strongest and most fatigue resistant natural structures. However, relatively little work has been done on their morphology, especially from a mechanical perspective and never at the nanoscale.

An Oct. 22, 2014 University of Southampton news release, which originated the news item, describes the study, which may have paleontological implications, in more detail,

The study, which is published by the Royal Society in the journal Interface, is the first to use nano-indentation, a materials testing technique, on feathers. It reveals the number, proportion and relative orientation of rachis layers is not fixed, as previously thought, and varies according to flight style.

Christian Laurent, from Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, lead author of the study, says: “We started looking at the shape of the rachis and how it changes along the length of it to accommodate different stresses. Then we realised that we had no idea how elastic it was, so we indented some sample feathers.

“Previously, the only mechanical work on feathers was done in the 1970s but under the assumption that the material properties of feathers are the same when tested in different directions, known as isotropic – our work has now invalidated this.”

The researchers tested the material properties of feathers from three birds of different species with markedly different flight styles; the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and the partridge (Perdix perdix).

Christian, who led the study as part of his research degree (MRes) in Vertebrate Palaeontology, adds: “Our results indicate that the number, and the relative thickness, of layers around the circumference of the rachis and along the feather’s length are not fixed, and may vary either in order to cope with the stresses of flight particular to the bird or to the lineage that the individual belongs to.”

The researchers soon hope to fully model feather functions and link morphological aspects to particular flight styles and lineages, which has several palaeontogical implications and engineering applications.

Christian says: “We hope to be able to scan fossil feathers and finally answer a number of questions – What flew first? Did flight start from the trees down, or from the ground up? Could Archaeopteryx fly? Was Archaeopteryx the first flying bird?

“In terms of engineering, we hope to apply our future findings in materials science to yacht masts and propeller blades, and to apply the aeronautical findings to build better micro air vehicles in a collaboration [with] engineers at the University.”

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

Nanomechanical properties of bird feather rachises: exploring naturally occurring fibre reinforced laminar composites by Christian M. Laurent, Colin Palmer, Richard P. Boardman, Gareth Dyke, and Richard B. Cook. J. R. Soc. [Journal of the Royal Society] Interface 6 December 2014 vol. 11 no. 101 20140961 doi: 10.1098/​rsif.2014.0961  Published 22 October 2014

This is an open access paper.

Nanotechnology for better treatment of eye conditions and a perspective on superhuman sight

There are three ‘eye’-related items in this piece, two of them concerning animal eyes and one concerning a camera-eye or the possibility of superhuman sight.

Earlier this week researchers at the University of Reading (UK) announced they have achieved a better understanding of how nanoparticles might be able to bypass some of the eye’s natural barriers in the hopes of making eye drops more effective in an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

Sufferers of eye disorders have new hope after researchers at the University of Reading discovered a potential way of making eye drops more effective.

Typically less than 5% of the medicine dose applied as drops actually penetrates the eye – the majority of the dose will be washed off the cornea by tear fluid and lost.

The team, led by Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, has developed novel nanoparticles that could attach to the cornea and resist the wash out effect for an extended period of time. If these nanoparticles are loaded with a drug, their longer attachment to the cornea will ensure more medicine penetrates the eye and improves drop treatment.

An Oct. 6, 2014 University of Reading press release, which originated the news item, provides more information about the hoped for impact of this work while providing few details about the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The research could also pave the way for new treatments of currently incurable eye-disorders such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of visual impairment with around 500,000 sufferers in the UK.

There is currently no cure for this condition but experts believe the progression of AMD could be slowed considerably using injections of medicines into the eye. However, eye-drops with drug-loaded nanoparticles could be a potentially more effective and desirable course of treatment.

Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, from the University of Reading’s School of Pharmacy, said: “Treating eye disorders is a challenging task. Our corneas allow us to see and serve as a barrier that protects our eyes from microbial and chemical intervention. Unfortunately this barrier hinders the effectiveness of eye drops. Many medicines administered to the eye are inefficient as they often cannot penetrate the cornea barrier. Only the very small molecules in eye drops can penetrate healthy cornea.

“Many recent breakthroughs to treat eye conditions involve the use of drugs incorporated into nano-containers; their role being to promote drug penetration into the eye.  However the factors affecting this penetration remain poorly understood. Our research also showed that penetration of small drug molecules could be improved by adding enhancers such as cyclodextrins. This means eye drops have the potential to be a more effective, and a more comfortable, future treatment for disorders such as AMD.”

The finding is one of a number of important discoveries highlighted in a paper published today in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics. The researchers revealed fascinating insights into how the structure of the cornea prevents various small and large molecules, as well as nanoparticles, from entering into the eye. They also examined the effects any damage to the eye would have in allowing these materials to enter the body.

Professor Khutoryanskiy continued: “There is increasing concern about the safety of environmental contaminants, pollutants and nanoparticles and their potential impacts on human health. We tested nanoparticles whose sizes ranged between 21 – 69 nm, similar to the size of viruses such as polio, or similar to airborn particles originating from building industry and found that they could not penetrate healthy and intact cornea irrespective of their chemical nature.

“However if the top layer of the cornea is damaged, either after surgical operation or accidentally, then the eye’s natural defence may be compromised and it becomes susceptible to viral attack which could result in eye infections.

“The results show that our eyes are well-equipped to defend us against potential airborne threats that exist in a fast-developing industrialised world. However we need to be aware of the potential complications that may arise if the cornea is damaged, and not treated quickly and effectively.”

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

On the Barrier Properties of the Cornea: A Microscopy Study of the Penetration of Fluorescently Labeled Nanoparticles, Polymers, and Sodium Fluorescein by Ellina A. Mun, Peter W. J. Morrison, Adrian C. Williams, and Vitaliy V. Khutoryanskiy. Mol. Pharmaceutics, 2014, 11 (10), pp 3556–3564 DOI: 10.1021/mp500332m Publication Date (Web): August 28, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

There’s a little more information to be had in the paper’s abstract, which is, as these things go, is relatively accessible,

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

[downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/mp500332m]

Overcoming the natural defensive barrier functions of the eye remains one of the greatest challenges of ocular drug delivery. Cornea is a chemical and mechanical barrier preventing the passage of any foreign bodies including drugs into the eye, but the factors limiting penetration of permeants and nanoparticulate drug delivery systems through the cornea are still not fully understood. In this study, we investigate these barrier properties of the cornea using thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles, sodium fluorescein, and two linear polymers (dextran and polyethylene glycol). Experiments used intact bovine cornea in addition to bovine cornea de-epithelialized or tissues pretreated with cyclodextrin. It was shown that corneal epithelium is the major barrier for permeation; pretreatment of the cornea with β-cyclodextrin provides higher permeation of low molecular weight compounds, such as sodium fluorescein, but does not enhance penetration of nanoparticles and larger molecules. Studying penetration of thiolated and PEGylated (750 and 5000 Da) nanoparticles into the de-epithelialized ocular tissue revealed that interactions between corneal surface and thiol groups of nanoparticles were more significant determinants of penetration than particle size (for the sizes used here). PEGylation with polyethylene glycol of a higher molecular weight (5000 Da) allows penetration of nanoparticles into the stroma, which proceeds gradually, after an initial 1 h lag phase.

The paper is behind a paywall. No mention is made in the abstract or in the press release as to how the bovine (ox, cow, or buffalo) eyes were obtained but I gather these body parts are often harvested from animals that have been previously slaughtered for food.

This next item also concerns research about eye drops but this time the work comes from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada). From an Oct. 8, 2014 news item on Azonano,

For the millions of sufferers of dry eye syndrome, their only recourse to easing the painful condition is to use drug-laced eye drops three times a day. Now, researchers from the University of Waterloo have developed a topical solution containing nanoparticles that will combat dry eye syndrome with only one application a week.

An Oct. 8, 2014 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the results of the work without providing much detail about the nanoparticles used to deliver the treatment via eye drops,

The eye drops progressively deliver the right amount of drug-infused nanoparticles to the surface of the eyeball over a period of five days before the body absorbs them.  One weekly dose replaces 15 or more to treat the pain and irritation of dry eyes.

The nanoparticles, about 1/1000th the width of a human hair, stick harmlessly to the eye’s surface and use only five per cent of the drug normally required.

“You can’t tell the difference between these nanoparticle eye drops and water,” said Shengyan (Sandy) Liu, a PhD candidate at Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering, who led the team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Centre for Contact Lens Research. “There’s no irritation to the eye.”

Dry eye syndrome is a more common ailment for people over the age of 50 and may eventually lead to eye damage. More than six per cent of people in the U.S. have it. Currently, patients must frequently apply the medicine three times a day because of the eye’s ability to self-cleanse—a process that washes away 95 per cent of the drug.

“I knew that if we focused on infusing biocompatible nanoparticles with Cyclosporine A, the drug in the eye drops, and make them stick to the eyeball without irritation for longer periods of time, it would also save patients time and reduce the possibility of toxic exposure due to excessive use of eye drops,” said Liu.

The research team is now focusing on preparing the nanoparticle eye drops for clinical trials with the hope that this nanoparticle therapy could reach the shelves of drugstores within five years.

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

Phenylboronic acid modified mucoadhesive nanoparticle drug carriers facilitate weekly treatment of experimentallyinduced dry eye syndrome by Shengyan Liu, Chu Ning Chang, Mohit S. Verma, Denise Hileeto, Alex Muntz, Ulrike Stahl, Jill Woods, Lyndon W. Jones, and Frank X. Gu. Nano Research (October 2014) DOI: 10.1007/s12274-014-0547-3

This paper is behind a paywall. There is a partial preview available for free. As per the paper’s abstract, research was performed on healthy rabbit eyes.

The last ‘sight’ item I’m featuring here comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and does not appear to have been occasioned by the publication of a research paper or some other event. From an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano,

All through his childhood, Ramesh Raskar wished fervently for eyes in the back of his head. “I had the notion that the world did not exist if I wasn’t looking at it, so I would constantly turn around to see if it was there behind me.” Although this head-spinning habit faded during his teen years, Raskar never lost the desire to possess the widest possible field of vision.

Today, as director of the Camera Culture research group and associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, Raskar is realizing his childhood fantasy, and then some. His inventions include a nanocamera that operates at the speed of light and do-it-yourself tools for medical imaging. His scientific mission? “I want to create not just a new kind of vision, but superhuman vision,” Raskar says.

An Oct. 6, 2014 MIT news release, which originated the news item, provides more information about Raskar and his research,

He avoids research projects launched with a goal in mind, “because then you only come up with the same solutions as everyone else.” Discoveries tend to cascade from one area into another. For instance, Raskar’s novel computational methods for reducing motion blur in photography suggested new techniques for analyzing how light propagates. “We do matchmaking; what we do here can be used over there,” says Raskar.

Inspired by the famous microflash photograph of a bullet piercing an apple, created in 1964 by MIT professor and inventor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Raskar realized, “I can do Edgerton millions of times faster.” This led to one of the Camera Culture group’s breakthrough inventions, femtophotography, a process for recording light in flight.

Manipulating photons into a packet resembling Edgerton’s bullet, Raskar and his team were able to “shoot” ultrashort laser pulses through a Coke bottle. Using a special camera to capture the action of these pulses at half a trillion frames per second with two-trillionths of a second exposure times, they captured moving images of light, complete with wave-like shadows lapping at the exterior of the bottle.

Femtophotography opened up additional avenues of inquiry, as Raskar pondered what other features of the world superfast imaging processes might reveal. He was particularly intrigued by scattered light, the kind in evidence when fog creates the visual equivalent of “noise.”

In one experiment, Raskar’s team concealed an object behind a wall, out of camera view. By firing super-short laser bursts onto a surface nearby, and taking millions of exposures of light bouncing like a pinball around the scene, the group rendered a picture of the hidden object. They had effectively created a camera that peers around corners, an invention that might someday help emergency responders safely investigate a dangerous environment.

Raskar’s objective of “making the invisible visible” extends as well to the human body. The Camera Culture group has developed a technique for taking pictures of the eye using cellphone attachments, spawning inexpensive, patient-managed vision and disease diagnostics. Conventional photography has evolved from time-consuming film development to instantaneous digital snaps, and Raskar believes “the same thing will happen to medical imaging.” His research group intends “to break all the rules and be at the forefront. I think we’ll get there in the next few years,” he says.

Ultimately, Raskar predicts, imaging will serve as a catalyst of transformation in all dimensions of human life — change that can’t come soon enough for him. “I hate ordinary cameras,” he says. “They record only what I see. I want a camera that gives me a superhuman perspective.”

Following the link to the MIT news release will lead you to more information about Raskar and his work. You can also see and hear Raskar talk about his femtophotography in a 2012 TEDGlobal talk here.

Female triathlete from Iran and a nanotechnology solution to water repellent gear

The style is a bit breathless, i.e., a high level of hype with very little about the technology, but it features an interesting partnership in the world of sport and a nanotechnology-enabled product (from an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano; Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin Gerami’s story is one which will go down in history. Shirin is the first Iranian female to represent her country in a triathlon and is paving the way for setting gender equality both in Iran and across the world.

In order to race for Iran, it was essential that Shirin respected the rules of her country, and raced in clothes that covered her body and hair. It was necessary to design clothes those both adhered to these conditions, whilst ensuring her performance was not affected.

An Oct. 7, 2014 P2i press release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe it role in Shirin Gerami athletic career,

Previously, waterproof fabrics Shirin had tried were uncomfortable, lacked breathability and slowed down her performance. Shirin contacted P2i upon hearing of the liquid repellent qualities of our patented nano-technology. Our nano-technology, a thousand times thinner than a human hair, has no effect on the look or feel of a product. This means we can achieve the highest levels of water repellency without affecting the quality of a fabric. A P2i coating on the kit meant it was water repellent whilst remaining highly breathable and light – essential when trying to remain as streamlined as possible!

Here’s a picture of Gerami wearing her new gear at a recently held triathlete event held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

The press release describes her first experience with her P2i-enabled running gear (Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin only received approval for her race kit from the Iranian government days before the race, so it was quite literally a race to the starting line. Consequently, Shirin did not have time to test the P2i coated kit before she began the World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. Shirin explains, ‘I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am that the coating worked exactly as I hoped it would. It was bone dry when I took my wetsuit off!’

I believe Gerami is using the term ‘wetsuit’ as a way of identifying the kit’s skintight properties similar to the ‘wetsuits’ that divers wear.

The press release concludes (Note: A link has been removed),

You can find out more about UK-based P2i on its website. I was not able to find more information about its products designed for use in sports gear but was able to find a May 11, 2012 press release about its partnership with UK Sport.

As for the Aug. 25 – Sept. 1, 2014 TransCanada Corp. World Triathlon Grand Final where Gerami tested her suit, you can find out more about the event here (scroll down).

Ingenuity Lab (Alberta, Canada) and The New Economy

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab has won an award from the UK-based magazine, The New Economy. More details about the magazine and the award follow but, first, from an Oct. 1, 2014 Ingenuity Lab news release,

Ingenuity Lab, Alberta’s first nanotechnology accelerator, has been named ‘Best Nanotechnology Research Organization 2014′ by The New Economy magazine, just under two years after its inception.

The award, which was presented to Ingenuity Lab Director, Carlo Montemagno, PhD last month at the London Stock Exchange studios, honours those who are breaking new ground across technology, energy, business and strategy landscapes.

Here’s a Sept. 15, 2014 video of Montemagno with The New Economy interviewer, Jenny Hammond,

The New Economy has provided a transcription of the video on its Using science to address global challenges: Ingenuity Lab on its progressive approach webpage which also hosts the video. (This particular question and answer interested me most,)

The New Economy: Well what problems do these areas [mining, agriculture, energy and health] pose, and what breakthroughs have you made in these areas?

Carlo Montemagno: We have been able to mimic the way nature works in the production of matter. We look around and we see the original nanotechnology machines of grass and green things. What we’ve figured out how to do is, how do you extract out the metabolism that’s found in those plants and those animals, and impart them inside materials that we engineer and produce. So it’s not alive, but it has the same metabolic pathways. So now we can take just CO2 that’s been emitted from a source, sunlight or another light source, and convert it directly into valuated dropping chemicals. We’ve identified 72 different chemicals that we can produce. That means that we can take an emission which is implicated in global warming and all those other problems, and now instead of emitting it, we use that to provide new products for that drive, and hopefully we’ll drive a new economic sector, and it will be deployable globally.

The New Economy has posted, as of today Oct. 2, 2014, a more substantive description of the work for which the Ingenuity Labs are being honoured, Ingenuity Lab: fighting blindness, influenza and water pollution. This article provides a bit a of a contrast to the video as it makes no mention of mining or emissions.

For anyone interested in the magazine, there’s this on their Contact page,

The New Economy is published quarterly and provided to Finance Directors, Chief Financial Officers and their legal and strategic advisers, corporate treasurers and leading bankers, institutional investors and compliance officers, regulators, Ministers of Finance, Energy/Environment Ministries and their senior council. The New Economy’s remit is to engender financial investment and encourage discussion and debate of appropriate strategies for the promotion of global economic growth in a concise and constructive format.

The approach is to create thought leaders in chosen content areas and invite them to knowledge share, providing a platform which allows their analysis and experience to be seen by enterprise Financial Strategists, whilst their presence identifies their organisations as Market Leaders.

On checking the editorial staff and contributors list on the Contact page I recognized a name,

Executive Editor:
Michael McCaw

Senior Assignment Editor:
Eleni Chalkidou

Donna Dickenson, Esther Dyson, Mohamed A El-Erian, Jules Gray, Rita Lobo, Bjorn Lomborg, David Orrell, Matthew Timms, Claire Vanner [emphasis mine]

Certainly that name gives The New Economy some added cachet (from her Wikipedia entry; Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

Esther Dyson (born 14 July 1951) is a former journalist and Wall Street technology analyst who is a leading angel investor, philanthropist, and commentator focused on breakthrough efficacy in healthcare, government transparency, digital technology, biotechnology, and space. She recently founded HICCup, which just launched its Way to Wellville contest of five places, five years, five metrics. Hiccup.co blog . Dyson is currently focusing her career on production of health and continues to invest in health and technology startups.

Returning to where this post started, the entire Ingenuity Labs news release about its 2014 award can be found here.