The amount IBM is investing ($1.5B) is equal to the amount for nanotechnology in the US federal budget which was passed in June (I think, I’ll have to check it). IBM is investing the money in NY state where they’ll be building a research centre and they’ve promised to add 1000 jobs. There’s a brief article here in PC Mag or a more extended article here at newsday.com.
An atomic force microscope (AFM) on something called the Mars Lander (part of the Phoenix Mars mission) demonstrated full functionality on July 8, 2008. The AFM recorded a test grid as part of a calibration process and sent the image back to Earth proving it could function under the harsh conditions found on Mars. The image was 40 microns x 40 microns, “small enough to fit on an eyelash.” For more details, go here.
Nanotech BC is holding a breakfast meeting on July 23, 2008 featuring Dr. Kristen Kulinovsky from the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON). She will be focusing on their proposed nano safety practices wiki. I don’t know if they have that up and running yet and I’m guessing that she’s going to talk this up in the hope of getting people to participate.
Wednesday July 23, 2008 at the Listel Hotel, 1300 Robston St, 8 am to 10 am, $25 reserved seat, $30 at the door. More details and registration here.
A new website that lists nanotechnology conferences has opened. I checked out nanoconferences.com yesterday and they have a listing that could take you around the world. It looks like they’ve made a pretty decent start.The database is searchable by date, location, and, most importantly, keyword.
The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies has a new webcast scheduled (not the L’Oreal event from June which has yet to be rescheduled). This webcast is called Nanotechnology Oversight: an Agenda for the New Administration. David Rejeski and J. Clarence (Terry) Davies, both from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, are the speakers. It will be webcast live July 22, 2008 from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm (EST). I went to the site that they list, www.wilsoncenter.org/nano, but wasn’t able to find the event yet. I’ll keep checking.
I had two more questions for Dr. Li concerning the work in his latest published paper, ‘Chameleon Nanomaterial Can Transform from Spring to Shock Absorber, Back Again’ (Nature Nanotechnology, online edition, June 29, 2008)
- What stimulus needs to be applied to get the protein to respond as a shock absorber? And, what stimulus for a ‘spring’ response?
Response: spring and shock absorber are two states of the protein materials we constructed. External stimulus, in this case the addition of antibody fragment, is the one to trigger the switch of the protein between the two states.
I wish I could ask Dr. Li more about this. I have a feeling I didn’t word the question clearly enough as I was trying to find out how this would work at the macro level. In fact, my next and last question was the one where I was trying to find out how this would be applied in materials that I do or can encounter.
- You mention a specific application for your work in the Nanowerk article, hydrogels. Apparently they can be used in diapers and breast implants…I’m assuming that this is not what you have in mind. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I looked up hydrogels on Wikipedia and, while there were other applications, I thought these two were the funniest when thinking about shock absorbers and springs.) More seriously, do you have another hydrogel example or possibly another application?
Response: there are many more applications than the two you mentioned. Actually the two applications you mentions do not necessarily require hydrogels. Hydrogel can be used in applications ranging from drug delivery, synthetic extracellular matrix to smart materials.
A diaper that springs amuses me and I still don’t see a real life application. I guess I need more specificity, ‘drug delivery’ is too general for me. The Nanowerk article I’m to referring in my question is here.
Dr. Li is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of British Columbia and he is a Canada Research Chair in Molecular Nanoscience and Protein Engineering. He co-authored the paper with Chemistry graduate student, Yi Cao.
Here’s the interview I mentioned a few days ago. I now have the answers to some questions I sent Dr. Hongbin Li (University of British Columbia) about the work he recently had published in Nature Nanotechnology (June 29, 2008 online edition). (Note: I don’t usually give links to articles behind paywalls as a lot of people won’t have access.)
Short version: Dr. Li and his team have taken a protein G and attached the fragment of an antibody to one of the protein’s binding sites with the consequence that the protein can act as either a spring or a shock absorber. They’re calling it a ‘chameleon’ nanomaterial. You can read more about it here at UBC Science or here at Nanowerk.
Dr. Li kindly took the time to answer my questions before he leaves for China this Thursday (July 10, 2008). I don’t understand the details of Dr. Li’s work very well and so my questions were largely for clarification. He’s working with a protein G and I’ve come across G proteins in some literature research I was doing on morphine, and opioid receptors. So, my first question and Dr. Li’s response was this:
- There is a super family of G proteins made up of many subsets. You have used one of these G proteins adhering an antibody fragment at one of its receptor sites. Is this more or less correct?
Response: the protein GB1 we are using has nothing to do with G proteins! GB1 is from protein G, which is a bacterial surface protein and its biological function is not known. Protein G has been widely used for purifying IgG antibodies.
I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that somebody thought it would a good idea to give two different proteins identical names simply reversing the order in which the qualifier is applied with the consequence that there’s a G protein and a protein G They do that in French where some adjectives change their meaning based on the placement either before or after the noun (but I digress).
The next question had to do with the antibody:
- Is an antibody fragment what it sounds like? (i.e. It’s an antibody that’s been sliced up and you are using a fragment.)
Response: IgG antibody can be digested into fragments by proteases. For example, IgG antibody can be digested into Fc fragment and Fab fragment. We used Fc fragment in our study.
I was thinking that the antibody was being broken into fragments by some sort of mechanical process but this sounds like a biological process.
My final question in today’s posting:
- I’ve seen the terms ‘synthetic protein’ and ‘mutant protein’ in the various articles about your work. Do you have a preference for one of these terms over the other? And why?
Response: depending on different context, our engineered protein can be called as either synthetic protein or mutant protein. Mutant protein refers to the fact that GT18P and GV54P are mutants of GB1.
Part 2 tomorrow and thank you Dr. Hongbin Li.
Just got this info…Dr. Hongbin Li, a researcher at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is about to have his study about a nanomaterial that combines the characteristics of a shock absorber and the characteristics of a spring so it can t transform back and forth between the two published. It will be in Nature Nanotechnology this week. ‘Chameleon Nanomaterial Can Transform from Spring to Shock Absorber, Back Again’, a preview writeup with more details is available here. Oh, I may be able to get an interview with Dr. Li. Stay tuned.
Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston have re-reformulated an old drug, TNP-470, for potential use in cancer treatments. There’s a back story for this drug which smacks of the penicillin story. They discovered TNP-470 by accident when there was some sort of fungal contamination. Researchers found that TNP-470 could solve a problem with tumours. (Brief tumour discussion: tumours need a blood supply so if you cut that off the tumour stops growing and shrinks, hopefully dying in the process. The body delivers blood via vessels. These blood vessels sometimes need to be replaced or entirely new ones created for new growth e.g. tumours. The process for replacing or growing new blood vessels is called angiogenesis.) TNP-470 stopped angiogenesis or, in the parlance, it was a good angiogenesis inhibitor. Unfortunately there were many side effects ranging from unpleasant to dangerous.
The folks in Boston tinkered with TNP-470 at the nanoscale and experimented with short polymers. They found that “pom pom” shaped structures (polymeric micelles) with TNP-470 at the core proved successful as angiogenesis inhibitors with no observed side effects. They’re calling this new ‘old’ drug, Lodamin. Potentially, the drug could also be used for macular degeneration and other diseases where blood vessel growth should be controlled or stopped. The research results were published in the June 29, 2008 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
I am busy working on The Nanotech Mysteries and will be posting irregularly for the next few weeks.
Apparently* they call the process for shaping metal ‘beat and heat’. I love that because it so precisely describes the process and it has a great sound. It deserves a poem but not today. We’ve been beating and heating for millennia and now scientists at Cornell have come up with an alternative, self-assembling metal which is also porous. There’s a detailed description of the processes involved here in Nanotechnology Now (NN) and more information in the June 27, 2008 issue of Science. The quick version: they’ve found a way to coat metal nanoparticles (2 nm in diameter, roughly) with something called a ligand. Described in my first source (NN) as an organic material, it can also be described as a biomolecule. Hmmm, this suggests some interesting questions about crossing boundaries (scientists may not view them as boundaries but a lot of regular folks do). It’s a question that Richard Jones raised in the last chapters of his book, Soft Machines, what is our relationship to nature? It’s not a new question, we’ve been asking it for millenia.*
* ‘hApparently’ was changed to ‘Apparently’ and a period was added to the final sentence on Dec. 14, 2014.
They made the electrons behave. Of course, it will be written up in much loftier terms but that’s what it comes down to. (For purists who think that you can’t end a sentence in a preposition, you are wrong. One of these days I will dig up the appropriate references.) A team at the University of British Columbia (‘UBC] yes, there is Canadian nanotechnology) have found a way to manipulate electrons on ultra thin material, in this case, potassium atoms were laid over a a piece of superconductive copper oxide. (superconductive = no resistance to conducting electricity)
As to why this is good news, here’s what the lead researcher, Dr. Andrea Damascelli has to say, “The development of future electronics, such as quantum computer chips, hinges on extremely thin layers of material.” Sounds reasonable, so what’s the problem? He goes on, “Extremely thin layers and surfaces of superconducting material take on very different properties from the rest of the material. Electrons have been observed to rearrange, making it impossible for scientists to study.” Until recently. Damascelli adds, “The new technique opens the door to systematic studies not just of high-temperature superconductors, but many other materials where surfaces and interfaces control the physical properties.” He mentions fuel cells and lossless power lines as two potential applications. The journal, Nature Physics, is publishing Damascelli and team’s paper this week. (I imagine that you won’t be able to access the article unless you have a subscription or permission to use someone else’s subscription.) For more details you will find the press release here or at Phys.org here.
There is self-assembling gold according to Dr. Pulickel M. Ajayan at Rice University. His study will be published next month in Nano Letters. With the right conditions (exposure to magnets, chemicals, and light) Ajayan’s team coaxed nanorods into self-assembling as a giant structure (like a grain of rice). Go here for more details about the paper and an image of a giant gold droplet.
The folks at HP Labs have figured out a way to control memristors and the information is being published in the July issue of Nature Nanotechnology (article will be behind a paywall). Memristors first came up in May this year when scientists at HP Labs confirmed that they existed. (Take a look at my June 19 posting and May 9 postings for more about memristors.) Briefly, a memristor retains information (memory of value) about current that passes through it. They’ve now created a memristor switch (50nm x 50nm) which the can be set to ‘1’ or ‘0’ or something in between. That’s right it can be used in a binary (digital) fashion or an analogue fashion. One of the potential applications (noted in the earlier postings) is for saving energy and another is a computer that learns. There’s more info. here at HP Labs.
A friend told me about a report from Friends of the Earth called ‘Out of the Laboratory and Onto Our Plates’. It’s about nanotechnology being used in food packaging and agriculture. I find their approach a bit strident especially when taking into account their acronym, foe. Still, the report itself is well written, except for the strident bits, has a substantive set of references and can be downloaded from their website. There’s also a March 2008 article in Scientific American here which discusses the report and includes some commentary from other interested parties to provide some journalistic balance.