The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water. …
The electronics industry has a waste problem – currently over 100 million electronic units are discarded annually in the UK alone, making it one of the fastest growing waste streams.
It was estimated in a DTI [Dept. of Trade and Industry]-funded report, that around 85% of all PCB scrap board waste goes to landfill. Around 70% of this being of non-metallic content with little opportunity for recycling. This amounts to around 1 million tonnes in the UK annually equivalent to 81 x HMS Belfasts [ships]
This revolutionary materials technology allows a staggering 90% of the original structure to be re-used. For comparison, less than 2% of traditional PCB material can be re-used. The developed technology lends itself readily to rigid, flexible and 3D structures, which will enable the electronics industry to pursue new design philosophies – with the emphasis on using less materials and improving sustainability.
Here’s a video demonstrating the technology, from the ReUSE project news page,
I had to look at this twice to confirm what I was seeing. (I worked for a company that manufactured circuit boards for its products and the idea of immersing one of those in hot water is pretty shocking to me [pun intended].)
Researchers in Norway have created a semiconductor on a graphene substrate—absolutely no silicon in the substrate. From the Sept. 28, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,
Norwegian researchers are the world’s first to develop a method for producing semiconductors from graphene. This finding may revolutionise the technology industry.
The method involves growing semiconductor-nanowires on graphene. To achieve this, researchers “bomb” the graphene surface with gallium atoms and arsenic molecules, thereby creating a network of minute nanowires.
The result is a one-micrometre thick hybrid material which acts as a semiconductor. By comparison, the silicon semiconductors in use today are several hundred times thicker. The semiconductors’ ability to conduct electricity may be affected by temperature, light or the addition of other atoms.
Graphene is the thinnest material known, and at the same time one of the strongest. It consists of a single layer of carbon atoms and is both pliable and transparent. The material conducts electricity and heat very effectively. And perhaps most importantly, it is very inexpensive to produce.
“Given that it’s possible to make semiconductors out of graphene instead of silicon, we can make semiconductor components that are both cheaper and more effective than the ones currently on the market,” explains Helge Weman of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Dr Weman is behind the breakthrough discovery along with Professor Bjørn-Ove Fimland.
“A material comprising a pliable base that is also transparent opens up a world of opportunities, one we have barely touched the surface of,” says Dr Weman. “This may bring about a revolution in the production of solar cells and LED components. Windows in traditional houses could double as solar panels or a TV screen. Mobile phone screens could be wrapped around the wrist like a watch. In short, the potential is tremendous.”
The researchers have patented this work and founded a startup company, CrayoNano. They provide a video animation of the process,
The narrator mentions epataxial growth and the gallium arsenide nanowires being grown on the graphene substrate. For anyone not familiar with ‘epataxial growth’, I found a definition in another Sept. 28, 2012 news item about graphene research on Nanowerk,
One of the best ways of producing high quality graphene is to grow it epitaxially (in layers) from crystals of silicon carbide. For use in electronic devices, it is important to be able to count the number of graphene layers that are grown, as single and double layers of graphene have different electrical properties.
This research out of the UK is based on using silicon as a substrate and you can find out more (excerpted from the news item about the National Physical Laboratory’s graphene research on Nanowerk),
Getting back to graphene substrates, the Research Council of Norway’s news release provides the reminder that this research is about business,
The researchers will now begin to create prototypes directed towards specific areas of application. They have been in contact with giants in the electronics industry such as Samsung and IBM. “There is tremendous interest in producing semiconductors out of graphene, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find collaborative partners,” Dr Weman adds.
The researchers are hoping to have the new semiconductor hybrid materials on the commercial market in roughly five years.
Dexter Johnson in a Sept. 28, 2012 posting on his Nanoclast blog, which is hosted by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), provides some business perspective,
Weman notes: “Companies like IBM and Samsung are driving this development in the search for a replacement for silicon in electronics as well as for new applications, such as flexible touch screens for mobile phones. Well, they need not wait any more. Our invention fits perfectly with the production machinery they already have. We make it easy for them to upgrade consumer electronics to a level where design has no limits.”
As magnanimous as Weman’s invitation sounds, one can’t help but think it comes from concern. The prospect of a five-year-development period before a product gets to market might be somewhat worrying for a group of scientists who just launched a new startup. A nice licensing agreement from one of the big electronics companies must look appealing right about now.
When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 2004 annual meeting in Seattle, I read the abstract for a presentation about making diagnoses from saliva. Although I never did make it to the presentation, I remained fascinated by the idea especially as it seemed to promise the end of blood tests and urine samples. Well, the end is not quite in sight yet but a handheld diagnostic device that can make a diagnosis from a single sample of blood, urine, or saliva (!) is being made available to elite UK athletes. From the Dec. 9, 2010 news release,
A new hand-held medical device will help UK athletes reach the top of their game when preparing for upcoming sporting competitions. UK Sport, the UK’s high performance sports agency, has reached an agreement to become the first organisation to use cutting edge technology developed by Argento Diagnostics to improve training programmes for athletes.
Elite athletes will be able to monitor various proteins which reveal details about the condition of the body – known as biomarkers – before, during and after training sessions. These biomarkers can give a clear indication of their physical health and the effectiveness of a particular training programme. Everyone reacts differently to training, so understanding how activities affect the body helps ensure that athletes follow the best programmes for them and avoid injury. This is particularly important for elite level athletes, where small changes in fitness can mean the difference between success and failure.
I’m willing to bet that this initiative has something to do with the 2012 Olympic Summer Games being held in London. Still, I’m more interested in the device itself and how nanotechnology enables it (from the news release),
Argento’s portable device uses nanotechnology to analyse the sample. The sample is mixed with silver nanoparticles coated with a binding unit, an antibody, against a specific biological compound, the biomarker, which is indicative of the condition being tested for. If the biomarker is present the silver nanoparticles will stick to magnetic beads with the biomarkers sandwiched in-between.
Magnets pull these compounds into the measurement zone, where the silver nanoparticles are dislodged off, drawn down to the sensor and measured. The number of nanoparticles measured by the sensor will be directly proportional to the expressed amount of biomarker. The device can therefore quickly analyse the biomarker level and, using a computer programme, summarise it in a meaningful way on an on-screen readout.
For the first time ever, utilising the Argento technology we will be able to offer fully quantitative analysis of multiple analytes from a single sample in a truly portable handheld device which adds the benefits of modern mobile phone, WiFi and Bluetooth technology to store and communicate the results of the tests to maximise the impact and efficiency of testing.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about precisely how the samples are conveyed to the device for diagnostic purposes, i.e., do you spit on it, do you sprinkle it with urine, or do you stab yourself and dip the device into your blood? Yes, I suspect that medical professionals will be drawing blood or scraping your mouth with a Q-tip or getting you to donate a urine sample in the usual way and that somehow this sample is conveyed to the device which will, an unspecified amount of time later, provide a readout. I just wish the people who put together the news release and information materials on the company’s website (BTW, the company is a spin-off from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory) had thought to add these details.
Closer to home, the PROOF (Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre of Excellence, located in Vancouver, Canada, is working on a type of test that could conceivably extend the use of devices such as Argento beyond elite athletes. The PROOF team is working on a test for individuals who have received a transplant. If you get a new organ such as a kidney, a biopsy is required on a monthly basis for diagnostic purposes. The new PROOF test would be much less invasive, much faster and based on biomarkers, just like the tests that can be run on the Argento device. As far as I understand, the team is currently searching for capital to further develop their biomarker tests.
I’m not sure if this is “applying nanotechnology to health problems” or if it’s nanomedicine but that’s what Ananth Annapragada, Ph.D., holder of the Robert H. Graham Professorship of Entrepreneurial Biomedical Informatics and Bioengineering at the University of Texas (UT) Health School of Biomedical Informatics and fellow at the IC² Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit of The University of Texas at Austi (also on the faculty of the UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and UT Austin Department of Biomedical Engineering [that's a lot of job titles]), is teaching distance education students via 2nd Life.
When he is not teaching students how to apply nanotechnology to health problems, Annapragada is building miniaturized drug delivery systems engineered to ferry agents through the bloodstream to specific targets. His nanocarriers are so small they are measured in billionths of a meter.
“It was a leap of faith to see if this would work,” said Annapragada, who is making his teaching debut in Second Life. “I’m getting the equivalent if not better class participation.”
Annapragada likes the fact that he can gather students from different locations in the same virtual classroom at the same time. “Everyone gets the same learning experience,” he said. “It reduces a geographically-distributed student group to the same interactive common denominator.”
Beginning the three-hour class with a short lecture, he then divides students into work groups. During the next hour or so, he “turns the students loose” to work on a nano problem. He normally concludes with a lecture.
Targeted drug delivery is a hot topic in nanomedicine and was the subject of a recent class. When medicine is injected into the bloodstream, often relatively little reaches its intended target.
One nano solution being researched by Annapragada and others in the field involves packaging drugs in tiny carriers designed to bind to diseased cells. It requires extensive knowledge of the interaction between the substances on the surfaces of both the drug carrier and the diseased cell.
The students’ nano problem that day was to develop a nanocarrier for targeting brain tumors. Their homework was to come up with the specifics.
There are students from UTHealth, UT Austin, Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine. Their degree programs include biology, biomedical engineering and physics. Some are enrolled in the Nanobiology Interdisciplinary Graduate Training Program operated by the Gulf Coast Consortia. There are 25 in the class.
“This is the only nanomedicine course in the UT System that I’m aware of,” Annapragada said. “It’s appropriate that I’m using the novel methodology of Second Life. Nanomedicine is an evolving field. There is no textbook. We are writing the textbook as we go.”
I heard a presentation by Dr. DeNel Rehberg Sedo about teaching in a 2nd Life classroom at a 2007 conference for the Association of Internet Researchers. Contrary to expectations, for the most part her students in Nova Scotia (Canada) at Mount St. Vincent University did not take to 2nd Life easily nor were they were particularly enthused about the experience.
There are a number of possibilities as to why that may have been the case. (1) The students were studying communication and/or public relations programmes; subjects which may not lend themselves easily to a virtual classroom. (2) The year 2007 would represent fairly early adoption of a new technology for the classroom (Brava DeNel! and students!) and early adoption is always littered with setbacks and problems as students and instructors “write the textbook as they go.” (3) Students in 2007 may not have had sufficiently powerful systems for the 2nd Life environment. (I was in a student programme and found that while I had a system that was the minimum required for 2nd Life participation, the minimum just wasn’t good enough.)
Another early adopter of 2nd Life was the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. They featured a nanotechnology outreach project, Nanolands which was in part designed by Troy McConaghy, a Canadian who amongst other activities produces science exhibits in 2nd Life. (my Sept. 3 2008 interview with Troy)
I find these bits of news and information intriguing as I am fascinated by the increasing inroads that new media and social media are making into how science and technology are communicated and discussed.
A new study is suggesting that flies exposed to nanoparticles in manufacturing areas or other places with heavy concentrations could accumulate the particles on their bodies and transport them elsewhere. From the media release on Nanowerk News,
During the experiments, the researchers noted that contaminated flies transferred nanoparticles to other flies, and realized that such transfer could also occur between flies and humans in the future. The transfer involved very low levels of nanoparticles, which did not have adverse effects on the fruit flies.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Flies pick up and transport all manner of entities so why wouldn’t they pick up nanoparticles in their vicinity?
In other news, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for comments on case studies of nanoscale titanium dioxide in water treatment and sunscreens. Presumably you have to be a US citizen to participate. For more information on the call for comments, check out this item on Nanowerk News. From the item,
EPA is announcing a 45-day public comment period for the draft document, Nanomaterial Case Studies: Nanoscale Titanium Dioxide in Water Treatment and Topical Sunscreen (External Review Draft), as announced in the July 31, 2009 Federal Register Notice. The deadline for comments is September 14, 2009.
Yesterday, I came across an announcement about scientific collaboration in a virtual world (specifically Second Life). It’s the first professional scientific organization, Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA), based entirely in a virtual world.
This idea contrasts somewhat with the NanoLands concept from the National Physical Laboratory in the UK where an organization with a physical location creates a virtual location. (You can see my interview with Troy McConaghy, part of the original NanoLands design team, here.) The project blog seems to have been newly revived and you can find out more about NanoLands and their latest machinima movies. (If you want to see the machinima, you need a Second Life account.)
What I found particularly interesting about MICA is this bit from their media release on Physorg.com,
In addition to getting people together in a free and convenient way, virtual worlds can offer new possibilities for scientific visualization or “visual analytics.” As data sets become larger and more complex, visualization can help researchers better understand different phenomena. Virtual worlds not only offer visualization, but also enable researchers to become immersed in data and simulations, which may help scientists think differently about data and patterns. Multi-dimensional data visualization can provide further advantages for certain types of data. The researchers found that they can encode data in spaces with up to 12 dimensions, although they run into the challenge of getting the human mind to easily grasp the encoded content.
The Nano Lands project is the UK’s National Plysical Laboratory’s (NPL) Second Life Nanotechnology project. It’s a virtual environment where they’ve developed a whole series of nano displays and experiences. Troy McConaghy who helped to construct Nano Lands very kindly answered some questions about himself and the project,
What you do: I do projects in the virtual world Second Life.
Where are you located: (Ontario?) Yes, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
[How did you get the job?] I knew a guy working at NPL from our involvement with the International Spaceflight Museum, among other things. He wanted to hire me to do this job and I accepted the offer.
Did you know much about nanotech before you started? A little bit.
What did you learn about nanotech from working on this project? I learned a lot about nanotech, from the exhibits and events that happened while I was on that project: how MOSFETs are built, how AFMs work, the history of nanotubes, how the University of Waterloo set up the first undergraduate program in nanotechnology and much more.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to vast Nano Lands? Do you mean visit? You can visit them today – just open the “Map” in Second Life and look for “Nanotechnology” – it’s the name of the sim. Then teleport there.
What advantages does a virtual environment offer for someone wanting to find out about nanotech? You can see models and simulations that would either be impossible or very expensive in the physical world.
Is there anything you’d like to add? One should really be careful to distinguish nanoscience from nanotechnology. Science is not technology.
(Interview Edited [October 25, 2010] to change font size and increase readibility.) More about Troy McConaghy here. For those not familiar with the abbreviation AFM, that’s an atomic force microscope, which is often used when working at the nanoscale. I had to look up MOSFET and according to Wikipedia, it’s a metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect-transistor, which is used to amplify or switch electronic signals. My guess is that they use this device at the NPL and decided to reproduce it in Second Life.
That last comment of McConaghy’s about science and technology is interesting for a number of reasons. Nanotechnology in particular has a problem. While the idea was more or less defined by Richard Feynman, a physicist, in a talk he gave in 1959 (there’s some debate about where it really starts by literary theorists), The idea was named ‘nanotechnology’ by Norio Taniguchi, an engineer, in 1974. It then got popularized by another engineer, K. Erci Drexler in his 1986 book, ‘Engines of Creation’. I have more about the origins story on my wiki. (if you want to check it out, go to studentnanomysteries.pbwiki.com and either use the origins tag or View all pages and check out the ‘Storytellers create nano’ and the ‘Modern Times’ pages.
Back to science and technology, I think the genie is out of the bottle where nanotechnology is concerned. Personally, I don’t like the conflation and I don’t think the increasing pressure that scientists of all stripes are under to do only work that has commercial applications (the sooner, the better) is good for us as a society. We need the dreams and we need the ideas not just because they might be useful some day in the future but because it enriches us all in some indefinable, unquantifiable fashion.