Tag Archives: University of Vienna

Unraveling carbyne (one-dimensional carbon)

An international group of researchers has developed a technique for producing a record-breaking length of one-dimensional carbon (carbon chain) according to an April 4, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

Elemental carbon appears in many different modifications, including diamond, fullerenes and graphene. Their unique structural, electronic, mechanical, transport and optical properties have a broad range of applications in physics, chemistry and materials science, including composite materials, nanoscale light emitting devices and energy harvesting materials. Within the “carbon family”, only carbyne, the truly one-dimensional form of carbon, has not yet been synthesized despite having been studied for more than 50 years. Its extreme instability in ambient conditions rendered the final experimental proof of its existence elusive.

An international collaboration of researchers now succeeded in developing a novel route for the bulk production of carbon chains composed of more than 6,400 carbon atoms by using thin double-walled carbon nanotubes as protective hosts for the chains.

An April 4, 2016 University of Vienna press release (also on EurekAlert) provides another perspective on the research,

Even in its elemental form, the high bond versatility of carbon allows for many different well-known materials, including diamond and graphite. A single layer of graphite, termed graphene, can then be rolled or folded into carbon nanotubes or fullerenes, respectively. To date, Nobel prizes have been awarded for both graphene (2010) and fullerenes (1996). Although the existence of carbyne, an infinitely long carbon chain, was proposed in 1885 by Adolf von Baeyer (Nobel laureate for his overall contributions in organic chemistry, 1905), scientists have not yet been able to synthesize this material. Von Baeyer even suggested that carbyne would remain elusive as its high reactivity would always lead to its immediate destruction. Nevertheless, carbon chains of increasing length have been successfully synthesized over the last 50 years, with a record of around 100 carbon atoms (2003). This record has now been broken by more than one order of magnitude, with the demonstration of micrometer length-scale chains.

The new record

Researchers from the University of Vienna, led by Thomas Pichler, have presented a novel approach to grow and stabilize carbon chains with a record length of 6,000 carbon atoms, improving the previous record by more than one order of magnitude. They use the confined space inside a double-walled carbon nanotube as a nano-reactor to grow ultra-long carbon chains on a bulk scale. In collaboration with the groups of Kazu Suenaga at the AIST Tsukuba [National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology] in Japan, Lukas Novotny at the ETH Zürich [Swiss Federal Institute of Technology] in Switzerland and Angel Rubio at the MPI [Max Planck Institute] Hamburg in Germany and UPV/EHU [University of the Basque Country] San Sebastian in Spain, the existence of the chains has been unambiguously confirmed by using a multitude of sophisticated, complementary methods. These are temperature dependent near- and far-field Raman spectroscopy with different lasers (for the investigation of electronic and vibrational properties), high resolution transmission electron spectroscopy (for the direct observation of carbyne inside the carbon nanotubes) and x-ray scattering (for the confirmation of bulk chain growth).

The researchers present their study in the latest edition of Nature Materials. “The direct experimental proof of confined ultra-long linear carbon chains, which are more than an order of magnitude longer than the longest proven chains so far, can be seen as a promising step towards the final goal of unraveling the “holy grail” of carbon allotropes, carbyne”, explains the lead author, Lei Shi.

Application potential

Carbyne is very stable inside double-walled carbon nanotubes. This property is crucial for its eventual application in future materials and devices. According to theoretical models, carbyne’s mechanical properties exceed all known materials, outperforming both graphene and diamond. Carbyne’s electrical properties suggest novel nanoelectronic applications in quantum spin transport and magnetic semiconductors.

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

Confined linear carbon chains as a route to bulk carbyne by Lei Shi, Philip Rohringer, Kazu Suenaga, Yoshiko Niimi, Jani Kotakoski, Jannik C. Meyer, Herwig Peterlik, Marius Wanko, Seymur Cahangirov, Angel Rubio, Zachary J. Lapin, Lukas Novotny, Paola Ayala, & Thomas Pichler. Nature Materials (2016) doi:10.1038/nmat4617 Published online 04 April 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

But, there is this earlier and open access version on arXiv.org,

Confined linear carbon chains: A route to bulk carbyne
Lei Shi, Philip Rohringer, Kazu Suenaga, Yoshiko Niimi, Jani Kotakoski, Jannik C. Meyer, Herwig Peterlik, Paola Ayala, Thomas Pichler (Submitted on 17 Jul 2015 (v1), last revised 20 Jul 2015 (this version, v2))

Quantum physics experiments designed by an algorithm

A Feb. 22, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now describes research into quantum physics performed by an algorithm,

Quantum physicist Mario Krenn and his colleagues in the group of Anton Zeilinger from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed an algorithm which designs new useful quantum experiments. As the computer does not rely on human intuition, it finds novel unfamiliar solutions.

The researchers have provided an image illustrating their work,

Caption: The algorithm Melvin found out that the most simple realization can be asymmetric and therefore counterintuitive. Credit: Copyright: Robert Fickler, Universität Wien (University of Vienna)

Caption: The algorithm Melvin found out that the most simple realization can be asymmetric and therefore counterintuitive. Credit: Copyright: Robert Fickler, Universität Wien (University of Vienna)

A Feb. 22, 2016 University of Vienna press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The idea was developed when the physicists wanted to create new quantum states in the laboratory, but were unable to conceive of methods to do so. “After many unsuccessful attempts to come up with an experimental implementation, we came to the conclusion that our intuition about these phenomena seems to be wrong. We realized that in the end we were just trying random arrangements of quantum building blocks. And that is what a computer can do as well – but thousands of times faster”, explains Mario Krenn, PhD student in Anton Zeilinger’s group and first author research.

After a few hours of calculation, their algorithm – which they call Melvin – found the recipe to the question they were unable to solve, and its structure surprised them. Zeilinger says: “Suppose I want build an experiment realizing a specific quantum state I am interested in. Then humans intuitively consider setups reflecting the symmetries of the state. Yet Melvin found out that the most simple realization can be asymmetric and therefore counterintuitive. A human would probably never come up with that solution.”

The physicists applied the idea to several other questions and got dozens of new and surprising answers. “The solutions are difficult to understand, but we were able to extract some new experimental tricks we have not thought of before. Some of these computer-designed experiments are being built at the moment in our laboratories”, says Krenn.

Melvin not only tries random arrangements of experimental components, but also learns from previous successful attempts, which significantly speeds up the discovery rate for more complex solutions. In the future, the authors want to apply their algorithm to even more general questions in quantum physics, and hope it helps to investigate new phenomena in laboratories.

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

Automated Search for new Quantum Experiments by Mario Krenn, Mehul Malik, Robert Fickler, Radek Lapkiewicz, Anton Zeilinger. arXiv (Submitted on 9 Sep 2015 (v1), last revised 20 Feb 2016 (this version, v2))

The version of the paper on arXiv.org is open access. The paper has also been accepted by Physical Review Letters but does not seem to have been published online or in print yet,

Automated search for new quantum experiments
by Mario Krenn, Mehul Malik, Robert Fickler, Radek Lapkiewicz, and Anton Zeilinger. Phys. Rev. Lett. Accepted 27 January 2016

There is a copy of the abstract available on the Physical Review Letters site.

Access (virtual) to a quantum lab for everybody

I love the idea behind this project “find a way to make research equipment available to everyone” and that’s what the researchers at the University of Vienna (Austria) hope they have achieved according to a Sept. 16, 2015 University of Vienna press release (also on EurekAlert),

Topical research experiments are often too expensive or too complex to be rebuilt and incorporated in teaching. How can one, nevertheless, make modern science accessible to the public? This challenge was tackled in the research group Quantum Nanophysics led by Markus Arndt at the University of Vienna. For the first time, two research laboratories were created as complete, photorealistic computer simulations allowing university and high-school students as well as the general public to virtually access unique instruments. “One could describe it as a flight simulator of quantum physics”, says Mathias Tomandl who designed and implemented the essential elements of the simulation in the course of his PhD studies.

The press release goes on to describe the process for using the laboratory and some real life events promoting the lab,

A learning path guides the visitors of the virtual quantum lab through the world of delocalized complex molecules. A series of lab tasks and essential background information on the experiments enable the visitors to gradually immerse into the quantum world. The engaging software was developed together with university and high-school students and was fine-tuned by periodic didactic input. The teaching concept and the accompanying studies have now been published in the renowned scientific journal Scientific Reports.

Wave-particle dualism with large molecules

The virtual laboratories provide an insight into the fundamental understanding and into the applications of quantum mechanics with macromolecules and nanoparticles. In recent years, the real-life versions of the experiments verified the wave-particle dualism with the most complex molecules to date. Now, everyone can conduct these experiments in the virtual lab for the first time.

The quantum lab on tour through Austria

Currrently, a light version of the virtual lab can be experienced as an interactive exhibit in the special exhibition “Das Wissen der Dinge” in the Natural History Museum Vienna. In the travelling exhibition “Wirkungswechsel” of the Science-Center-Netzwerk the exhibit will be available at various locations throughout Austria.

Here’s a video produced by the researchers to demonstrate their virtual quantum lab,

For more information about the exhibitions,

Special exhibition “Das Wissen der Dinge”: http://www.nhm-wien.ac.at/ausstellung/sonderausstellungen/das_wissen_der_dinge_1

Travelling exhibition “Wirkungswechsel”: http://www.wirkungswechsel.at/

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

Simulated Interactive Research Experiments as Educational Tools for Advanced Science by Mathias Tomandl, Thomas Mieling, Christiane M. Losert-Valiente Kroon, Martin Hopf, & Markus Arndt. Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 14108 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep14108 Published online: 15 September 2015

This paper is open access.

Violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics—temporarily—at the nanoscale

For anyone unfamiliar with the laws of thermodynamics or anyone who enjoys some satire with their music, here’s the duo of Flanders & Swann with the ‘First and Second Law’ in a 1964 performance,

According to a March 31, 2014 news item on Nanowerk, it seems, contrary to scientific thought and Flanders & Swann, the 2nd law can be violated, for a time, albeit at the nanoscale,

Objects with sizes in the nanometer range, such as the molecular building blocks of living cells or nanotechnological devices, are continuously exposed to random collisions with surrounding molecules. In such fluctuating environments the fundamental laws of thermodynamics that govern our macroscopic world need to be rewritten. An international team of researchers from Barcelona, Zurich and Vienna found that a nanoparticle trapped with laser light temporarily violates the famous second law of thermodynamics, something that is impossible on human time and length scale.

A March 31, 2014 University of Vienna news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the 2nd law and gives details about the research,

Watching a movie played in reverse often makes us laugh because unexpected and mysterious things seem to happen: glass shards lying on the floor slowly start to move towards each other, magically assemble and suddenly an intact glass jumps on the table where it gently gets to a halt. Or snow starts to from a water puddle in the sun, steadily growing until an entire snowman appears as if molded by an invisible hand. When we see such scenes, we immediately realize that according to our everyday experience something is out of the ordinary. Indeed, there are many processes in nature that can never be reversed. The physical law that captures this behavior is the celebrated second law of thermodynamics, which posits that the entropy of a system – a measure for the disorder of a system – never decreases spontaneously, thus favoring disorder (high entropy) over order (low entropy).

However, when we zoom into the microscopic world of atoms and molecules, this law softens up and looses its absolute strictness. Indeed, at the nanoscale the second law can be fleetingly violated. On rare occasions, one may observe events that never happen on the macroscopic scale such as, for example heat transfer from cold to hot which is unheard of in our daily lives. Although on average the second law of thermodynamics remains valid even in nanoscale systems, scientists are intrigued by these rare events and are investigating the meaning of irreversibility at the nanoscale.

Recently, a team of physicists of the University of Vienna, the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich succeeded in accurately predicting the likelihood of events transiently violating the second law of thermodynamics. They immediately put the mathematical fluctuation theorem they derived to the test using a tiny glass sphere with a diameter of less than 100 nm levitated in a trap of laser light. Their experimental set-up allowed the research team to capture the nano-sphere and hold it in place, and, furthermore, to measure its position in all three spatial directions with exquisite precision. In the trap, the nano-sphere rattles around due to collisions with surrounding gas molecules. By a clever manipulation of the laser trap the scientists cooled the nano-sphere below the temperature of the surrounding gas and, thereby, put it into a non-equilibrium state. They then turned off the cooling and watched the particle relaxing to the higher temperature through energy transfer from the gas molecules. The researchers observed that the tiny glass sphere sometimes, although rarely, does not behave as one would expect according to the second law: the nano-sphere effectively releases heat to the hotter surroundings rather than absorbing the heat. The theory derived by the researchers to analyze the experiment confirms the emerging picture on the limitations of the second law on the nanoscale.

Given the theoretical descriptions of the applications mentioned in the news release, it sounds like at least one of them might be a ‘quantum computing project’,

The experimental and theoretical framework presented by the international research team in the renowned scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology has a wide range of applications. Objects with sizes in the nanometer range, such as the molecular building blocks of living cells or nanotechnological devices, are continuously exposed to a random buffeting due to the thermal motion of the molecules around them. As miniaturization proceeds to smaller and smaller scales nanomachines will experience increasingly random conditions. Further studies will be carried out to illuminate the fundamental physics of nanoscale systems out of equilibrium. The planned research will be fundamental to help us understand how nanomachines perform under these fluctuating conditions.

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

Dynamic Relaxation of a Levitated Nanoparticle from a Non-Equilibrium Steady State by Jan Gieseler, Romain Quidant, Christoph Dellago, and Lukas Novotny. Nature Nanotechnology AOP, February 28, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2014.40

The paper is behind a paywall but a free preview is available via ReadCube access.

Journal of Responsible Innovation is launched and there’s a nanotechnology connection

According to an Oct. 30, 2013 news release from the Taylor & Francis Group, there’s a new journal being launched, which is good news for anyone looking to get their research or creative work (which retains scholarly integrity) published in a journal focused on emerging technologies and innovation,

Journal of Responsible Innovation will focus on intersections of ethics, societal outcomes, and new technologies: New to Routledge for 2014 [Note: Routledge is a Taylor & Francis Group brand]

Scholars and practitioners in the emerging interdisciplinary field known as “responsible innovation” now have a new place to publish their work. The Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will offer an opportunity to articulate, strengthen, and critique perspectives about the role of responsibility in the research and development process. JRI will also provide a forum for discussions of ethical, social and governance issues that arise in a society that places a great emphasis on innovation.

Professor David Guston, director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, is the journal’s founding editor-in-chief. [emphasis mine] The Journal will publish three issues each year, beginning in early 2014.

“Responsible innovation isn’t necessarily a new concept, but a research community is forming and we’re starting to get real traction in the policy world,” says Guston. “It is our hope that the journal will help solidify what responsible innovation can mean in both academic and industrial laboratories as well as in governments.”

“Taylor & Francis have been working with the scholarly community for over two centuries and over the past 20 years, we have launched more new journals than any other publisher, all offering peer-reviewed, cutting-edge research,” adds Editorial Director Richard Steele. “We are proud to be working with David Guston and colleagues to create a lively forum in which to publish and debate research on responsible technological innovation.”

An emerging and interdisciplinary field

The term “responsible innovation” is often associated with emerging technologies—for example, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and artificial intelligence—due to their uncertain but potentially revolutionary influence on society. [emphasis mine] Responsible innovation represents an attempt to think through the ethical and social complexities of these technologies before they become mainstream. And due to the broad impacts these technologies may have, responsible innovation often involves people working in a variety of roles in the innovation process.

Bearing this interdisciplinarity in mind, the Journal of Responsible Innovation (JRI) will publish not only traditional journal articles and research reports, but also reviews and perspectives on current political, technical, and cultural events. JRI will publish authors from the social sciences and the natural sciences, from ethics and engineering, and from law, design, business, and other fields. It especially hopes to see collaborations across these fields, as well.

“We want JRI to help organize a research network focused around complex societal questions,” Guston says. “Work in this area has tended to be scattered across many journals and disciplines. We’d like to bring those perspectives together and start sharing our research more effectively.”

Now accepting manuscripts

JRI is now soliciting submissions from scholars and practitioners interested in research questions and public issues related to responsible innovation. [emphasis mine] The journal seeks traditional research articles; perspectives or reviews containing opinion or critique of timely issues; and pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning responsible innovation. More information about the journal and the submission process can be found at www.tandfonline.com/tjri.

About The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU

The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU) is the world’s largest center on the societal aspects of nanotechnology. CNS-ASU develops programs that integrate academic and societal concerns in order to better understand how to govern new technologies, from their birth in the laboratory to their entrance into the mainstream.

About Taylor & Francis Group


Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

You can find out more about the Journal of Responsible Innovation here, including information for would-be contributors,

JRI invites three kinds of written contributions: research articles of 6,000 to 10,000 words in length, inclusive of notes and references, that communicate original theoretical or empirical investigations; perspectives of approximately 2,000 words in length that communicate opinions, summaries, or reviews of timely issues, publications, cultural or social events, or other activities; and pedagogy, communicating in appropriate length experience in or studies of teaching, training, and learning related to responsible innovation in formal (e.g., classroom) and informal (e.g., museum) environments.

JRI is open to alternative styles or genres of writing beyond the traditional research paper or report, including creative or narrative nonfiction, dialogue, and first-person accounts, provided that scholarly completeness and integrity are retained.[emphases mine] As the journal’s online environment evolves, JRI intends to invite other kinds of contributions that could include photo-essays, videos, etc. [emphasis mine]

I like to check out the editorial board for these things (from the JRI’s Editorial board webpage; Note: Links have been removed),,


David. H. Guston , Arizona State University, USA

Associate Editors

Erik Fisher , Arizona State University, USA
Armin Grunwald , ITAS , Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
Richard Owen , University of Exeter, UK
Tsjalling Swierstra , Maastricht University, the Netherlands
Simone van der Burg, University of Twente, the Netherlands

Editorial Board

Wiebe Bijker , University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
Francesca Cavallaro, Fundacion Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Spain
Heather Douglas , University of Waterloo, Canada
Weiwen Duan , Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China
Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna, Austria
Philippe Goujon , University of Namur, Belgium
Jonathan Hankins , Bassetti Foundation, Italy
Aharon Hauptman , University of Tel Aviv, Israel
Rachelle Hollander , National Academy of Engineering, USA
Maja Horst , University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Noela Invernizzi , Federal University of Parana, Brazil
Julian Kinderlerer , University of Cape Town, South Africa
Ralf Lindner , Frauenhofer Institut, Germany
Philip Macnaghten , Durham University, UK
Andrew Maynard , University of Michigan, USA
Carl Mitcham , Colorado School of Mines, USA
Sachin Chaturvedi , Research and Information System for Developing Countries, India
René von Schomberg, European Commission, Belgium
Doris Schroeder , University of Central Lancashire, UK
Kevin Urama , African Technology Policy Studies Network, Kenya
Frank Vanclay , University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Jeroen van den Hoven, Technical University, Delft, the Netherlands
Fern Wickson , Genok Center for Biosafety, Norway
Go Yoshizawa , Osaka University, Japan

Good luck to the publishers and to those of you who will be making submissions. As for anyone who may be as curious as I was about the connection between Routledge and Francis & Taylor, go here and scroll down about 75% of the page (briefly, Routledge is a brand).

Nano-pesticides or nanopesticides or nano pesticides

It’s the spelling that’s driving me nuts. In the last year it seems to have gotten quite higgledy piggledy and so we have this salad of one word, two words, and hyphenated words for anything  prepended by nano.  I hope it settles soon but in the meantime, here’s an Aug. 12, 2013 news item on Azonano concerning nano-pesticides,

Research is urgently needed to evaluate the risks and benefits of nano-pesticides to human and environmental health. Melanie Kah and Thilo Hofmann from the Department of Environmental Geosciences of the University of Vienna recently performed an extensive analysis of this emerging field of research.

The results were published June 6th in the internationally recognised journal “Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology”. The study presents the current scientific state of art on nano-pesticides and identifies direction priorities for future research.

The University of Vienna June 20, 2012  press release, which originated the news item (I’ll explain the one year gap later in this posting), describes some of the concerns raised in the study,

Nano-pesticides encompass a great variety of products, some of which are already on the market. The application of nano-pesticides would be the only intentional diffuse input of large quantities of engineered nano-particles into the environment. Innovation always results in both drawbacks and benefits for human and environmental health. Nano-pesticides may reduce environmental contamination through the reduction in pesticide application rates and reduced losses. However, nano-pesticides may also create new kinds of contamination of soils and waterways due to enhanced transport, longer persistence and higher toxicity.

The current level of knowledge does not allow a fair assessment of the advantages and disadvantages that will result from the use of nano-pesticides. As a prerequisite for such assessment, a better understanding of the fate and effect of nano-pesticides after their application is required. The suitability of current regulations should also be analyzed so that refinements can be implemented if needed. Research on nano-pesticides is therefore a priority for preserving the quality of both the food chain and the environment.

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

Nano-pesticides: state of knowledge, environmental fate and exposure modeling: Melanie Kah, Sabine Beulke, Karen Tiede and Thilo Hofmann. Critical Reviews of Environmental Science and Technology, Volume 43, Issue 16, 2013 , pages 1823-1867 DOI: 10.1080/10643389.2012.671750


There was a 2012 version of this paper posted, which was when the press release was originally written and posted at the University of Vienna website, but June 2013 is when the paper was officially published. It is behind a paywall but thankfully one of the authors, Melanie Kah, gave Katy Edgington an interview about the study for Edgington’s June 26, 2012 article on scienceomega.com,

“Although some research is ongoing, one application that is fairly well-developed involves the injection of nanoscale zero-valent iron particles into groundwater to degrade certain contaminants. This is an example of something that is still under development but which is already being applied, as the technique is currently in use on a large scale in the United States.” [says Kah]

A project is underway in the department which aims to help make the technique more widely applicable, and another – at the complete opposite end of the scale in terms of its development – is looking at a potential application for carbon nanotubes.

“People have suggested that carbon nanotubes could be used to replace activated carbon, the material used worldwide to decontaminate water,” clarified Dr Kah. “It is suggested that carbon nanotubes have different properties which will complement activated carbon, but this is only at the laboratory scale so far.”

It is important to steer clear of making broad generalisations about the risks and benefits of nanopesticides as compared to conventional pesticides, Dr Kah emphasised. They cannot be considered as a single entity; rather each case must be taken on its own merits.

In their review of the literature on the topic, the authors also discuss how the adequacy of existing legislation and regulation may be affected in light of the development of nanopesticides in various forms.

“I think it is far too early to propose any amendments to the current regulation,” Dr Kah stated. “It appears from our analysis that a lot of nanopesticides would be well covered by the European regulation on plant protection products because this regulation is very thorough; indeed it is probably the strictest in the world.”

I imagine that since the initial publication of the paper and the interview, there may have been a few changes to the paper and refinements to Kah’s ideas but the Edgington article does provides some interesting insight, especially if you don’t have access to the paper.

Twirl your ‘carbon’ moustache

I like the imagery they offered in the May 16, 2013 University of Vienna news release on EurekAlert,

Scientists try to understand how to initiate and control the growth of nanomaterials and are exploring different ways to design and build up nanostructures with fine control over shapes. In nature, many organic forms grow bilaterally, that is, symmetrically in two distinct directions. An international team of researchers from the University of Vienna (Austria), the University of Surrey (UK) and the IFW Dresden (Germany) have now achieved such a bilateral formation of inorganic nanomaterials in a controlled environment by implementing a new method.

The scientists pressurized a gas consisting of carbon and iron atoms at an elevated temperature until they observed two arms of carbon atoms spontaneously started growing out of an iron core. When the iron core was small enough, the two carbon arms started spiraling at their ends so that the whole nanostructure bore a striking resemblance with a twirled moustache. [emphasis mine]  “The encouraging insights we gained from our experiments provide a very good starting point for the controlled production of extraordinary new materials with designed nanostructures”, expects Dr. Hidetsugu Shiozawa, leading author of the scientific publication and researcher at the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna.

I’ll get back to the twirled moustache in a moment. In the meantime, here’s a citation for and a link to the researchers’ paper,

Microscopic insight into the bilateral formation of carbon spirals from a symmetric iron core
by Hidetsugu Shiozawa, Alicja Bachmatiuk, Andreas Stangl, David C. Cox, S. Ravi P. Silva, Mark H. Rümmeli & Thomas Pichler.  Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 1840
doi: 10.1038/srep01840

The paper is open access, which means finding this illustration (the one I think shows the twirling most clearly) was easy,

Figure 2: Spiralling and kinked bicones produced by a hodographic method using parameters (Δϕ, Δθ, and ΔTi) as a function of the cone length. [downloaded from http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130514/srep01840/full/srep01840.html]

Figure 2: Spiralling and kinked bicones produced by a hodographic method using parameters (Δϕ, Δθ, and ΔTi) as a function of the cone length. [downloaded from http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130514/srep01840/full/srep01840.html]

I believe the imagery associated with twirling moustaches, i.e., the villain in a silent movie cackling and twirling his moustaches as he watches over the heroine he’s tied the train tracks await the steaming train headed their way, is well known. Apparently, the trope was not as popular as most of us imagine. I found a fabulous website, The Bioscope; Formerly reporting on the world of early and silent cinema, which tells all in a Nov. 25, 2010 essay,

 It’s a mocking idea of a silent film, the kind of silent film that was never made. All those know [who?] don’t know silent films know one thing about them – that they featured evil villains who twirled their moustaches then tied a hapless female to the railway track. And all those who do know silent films know that such scenes were hackneyed even before films were invented, and the few films that did show them did so as parody.

It’s an issue that comes up time and time again, so let’s try and pin down the historical truth. The idea of an entertainment where someone is tied to a railway track and is rescued in the nick of time certainly predates cinema. The entertainment that put the idea into the popular imagination was an 1867 stage melodrama written by American playwright and theatre manager Augustin Daly entitled Under the Gaslight which featured a man tried to railway tracks who was rescued by a woman before he could be run over by the oncoming train (Victorian theatre revelled in such stage spectaculars).

There’s lots more to the essay along with some great stills and this very charming video animation that manages to poke fun at the trope and the modern UK rail system,


Virtual lego used to simulate self-assembling crystal structures

The Jan. 17, 2013 news release on EurekAlert describes a ‘soft’ or virtual lego computer simulation developed at the University of Vienna (Austria),

In developing these novel self-assembling materials, postdoc Barbara Capone has focused on the design of organic and inorganic building blocks, which are robust and can be produced at large scale. Capone has put forward, together with her colleagues at the Universities of Vienna and Mainz, a completely new pathway for the construction of building blocks at the nanoscale.

The team of researchers has shown that so-called block copolymer stars – that means polymers that consist of two different blocks and they are chemically anchored on a common point – have a robust and flexible architecture and they possess the ability to self-assemble at different levels. At the single-molecule level, they first order as soft patchy colloids which serve then as “soft Lego” for the emergence of larger structures. At the next level of self-assembly, the colloids form complex crystal structures, such as diamond or cubic phases.

The spatial ordering in the crystals can be steered through the architecture of the “soft Lego” and opens up the possibility for the construction of new materials at the macroscopic scale with desired structure. In this way, crystals can be built that have applications in, e.g., photonics, acting as filters for light of certain frequencies or as light guides.

You can find illustrations of the ‘diamond’ and the ‘cube’ produced by Capone and her colleagues with the news release on EurekAlert or here at the University of Vienna’s media portal where you may be able to find more information if you can read German. Alternatively, you can read the research paper,

Telechelic Star Polymers as Self-Assembling Units from the Molecular to the Macroscopic Scale by Barbara Capone, Ivan Coluzza, Federica LoVerso, Christos N. Likos, and Ronald Blaak in Physical Review Letters 109 [issue no. 23], 238301 (2012) [5 pages]DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.238301

This article is behind a paywall.