Tag Archives: nanowires

Electrical conductivity in bacterial nanowires

I like this art work; it reminds me of squid,

Caption: Bacteria producing nanowires made up of cytochrome OmcS. Credit: Ella Maru Studio

A May 11, 2022 news item on Nanowerk describes the research being illustrated,

The ground beneath our feet and under the ocean floor is an electrically-charged grid, the product of bacteria “exhaling” excess electrons through tiny nanowires in an environment lacking oxygen.

Yale University researchers have been studying ways to enhance this natural electrical conductivity within nanowires 1/100,000th width of a human hair by identifying the mechanism of electron flow.

A May 11, 2022 Yale University news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides a little more detail,

In a new study published in Science Advances, a team led by graduate student Peter Dahl with Nikhil Malvankar, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry in the Microbial Sciences Institute, and Victor Batista, Professor of Chemistry, found that nanowires move 10 billion electrons per second without any energy loss. These studies explain the remarkable capacity of these bacteria to send electrons over long distances. The team also found that cooling the environment around the nanowires of Geobacter from room temperature to freezing increases conductivity 300-fold. This is very surprising because cooling typically freezes electrons and slows them down in organic materials. By combining experiments with theory, the researchers found that the colder temperatures restructure hydrogen bonds and flatten heme proteins within nanowires, thus enhancing the flow of electricity. Leveraging this naturally occurring electrical grid might one day lead to the development of living and self-repairing electrical circuits, new sources of electricity and bioremediation strategies.  

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

A 300-fold conductivity increase in microbial cytochrome nanowires due to temperature-induced restructuring of hydrogen bonding networks by Peter J. Dahl, Sophia M. Yi, Yangqi GuAtanu Acharya, Catharine Shipps, Jens Neu, Patrick O’Brien, Uriel N. Morzan, Subhajyoti Chaudhuri, Matthew J. Guberman-Pfeffer, Dennis Vu, Sibel Ebru Yalcin, Victor S. Batista and Nikhil S. Malvankar. Science Advances • 11 May 2022 • Vol 8, Issue 19 • DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7193

This paper is open access.

Nanowires with fast infrared light (IR) response and more

An April 10, 2019 news item on Nanowerk points the way to improved high-speed communication with nanowires (Note: A link has been removed),

Chinese scientists have synthesized new nanowires with high carrier mobility and fast infrared light (IR) response, which could help in high-speed communication. Their findings were published in Nature Communications (“Ultra-fast photodetectors based on high-mobility indium gallium antimonide nanowires”).

Below, you will find an image illustrating the researchers’ work ,

Caption: The growth mechanism and fast 1550 nm IR detection of the single-crystalline In0.28Ga0.72Sb ternary nanowires Credit: HAN Ning

An April 10, 2019 Chinese Academy of Sciences news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Nowadays, effective optical communications use 1550 nm IR, which is received and converted into an electrical signal for computer processing. Fast light-to-electrical conversion is thus essential for high-speed communications.

According to quantum theory, 1550 nm IR has energy of ~ 0.8 eV, and can only be detected by semiconductors with bandgaps lower than 0.8 eV, such as germanium (0.66 eV) and III-V compound materials such as InxGa1-xAs (0.35-1.42 eV) and InxGa1-xSb (0.17-0.73 eV). However, those materials usually have huge crystal defects, which cause substantial degradation of photoresponse performance.

Scientists from the Institute of Process Engineering (IPE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, City University of Hong Kong (CityU) and their collaborators synthesized highly crystalline ternary In0.28Ga0.72Sb nanowires to demonstrate high carrier mobility and fast IR response.

In this study, the In0.28Ga0.72Sb nanowires (bandgap 0.69 eV) showed a high responsivity of 6000 A/W to IR with high response and decay times of 0.038ms and 0.053ms, respectively, which are some of the best times so far. The fast IR response speed can be attributed to the minimized crystal defects, as also illustrated by a high hole mobility of up to 200 cm2/Vs, according to Prof. Johnny C. Ho from CityU.

The minimized crystal defect is achieved by a “catalyst epitaxy technology” first established by Ho’s group. Briefly, the III-V compound nanowires are catalytically grown by a metal catalyst such as gold, nickel, etc.

“These catalyst nanoparticles play a key role in nanowire growth as the nanowires are synthesized layer by layer with the atoms well aligned with those in the catalyst,” said HAN Ning, a professor at IPE and senior author of the paper.

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

Ultra-fast photodetectors based on high-mobility indium gallium antimonide nanowires by Dapan Li, Changyong Lan, Arumugam Manikandan, SenPo Yip, Ziyao Zhou, Xiaoguang Liang, Lei Shu, Yu-Lun Chueh, Ning Han & Johnny C. Ho. Nature Communicationsvolume 10, Article number: 1664 (2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-09606-y Published 10 April 2019

This paper is open access.

‘Xuan paper’ made fire-resistant with nanowires

Xuan paper is special being both rare and used for calligraphy and art works. Before getting to the ‘fire-resistant’ news, it might be helpful to get some details about Xuan paper as it is typically prepared and used (from a Dec. 29, 2018 news item on xinhuanet.com),

Today’s Chinese artists now have the opportunity to preserve their works much longer than the masters who painted hundreds of years ago.

Chinese researchers have developed a non-flammable version of Xuan paper that has high thermal stability, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Xuan paper, a type of handmade paper, was originally produced in ancient China and used for both Chinese calligraphy and paintings. The procedure of making Xuan paper was listed as a world intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2009.

The raw materials need to produce Xuan paper are found in Jingxian County, east China’s Anhui Province and as of late, are in short supply.

The traditional handmade method of Xuan paper involves more than 100 steps and takes nearly two years [emphasis mine]. It has a low output and high cost. Xuan paper made with organic materials often suffers from degradation, yellowing and deteriorating properties during the long-term natural aging process.

Furthermore, the most lethal problem of traditional Xuan paper is its high flammability.

A January 18, 2019 news item on Nanowerk adds a few more details about the traditional paper while describing the ‘new’ Xuan paper (Note: A link has been removed),

Xuan paper is an excellent example of the traditional handmade paper, and features excellent properties of durability, ink wetting, and resistance to insects and mildew. Its excellent durability is attributed to its unique raw materials and handmade manufacturing process under mild conditions.

The bark of pteroceltis tatarinowii, a common species of elm in the area, is used as the main raw material to produce Xuan paper. Limestone particles are deposited on the surface of pteroceltis bark fibers, which can neutralize acids produced by the hydrolysis of plant fibers and from the environment.

Since the raw materials are only produced in Jing County, Anhui Province, China, Xuan paper suffers from a severe shortage. Also, it has the shortcomings such as complicated traditional hand making process and flammability. In a recent paper published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (“Fire-Resistant Inorganic Analogous Xuan Paper with Thousands of Years’ Super-Durability”), a team led by Prof. ZHU Yingjie from Shanghai Institute of Ceramics of Chinese Academy of Sciences developed a new kind of “fire-resistant Xuan paper” based on ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires.

A January 18, 2019 Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) press release, which originated the news item, provides more technical details,

The unique integral structure of the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” with excellent mechanical properties and high flexibility was designed to be similar to the reinforced concrete structure in tall buildings. Ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires are used as the main building material and are similar to the concrete. Silica glass fibers with micrometer-sized diameters are used as the reinforcing framework material and are similar to supporting steel bars.
In addition, a new kind of inorganic adhesive composed of amorphous nanoparticles was designed, prepared and used as the binder in the “fire-resistant Xuan paper”.

The as-prepared “fire-resistant Xuan paper” well keeps its properties even after the simulated aging for up to 3000 years.

The original whiteness of the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” is 92%, and its whiteness has a slight decrease to 91.6%, with the whiteness retention as high as 99.6% after the simulated aging for 2000 years. Even after the simulated aging for 3000 years, its whiteness only decreases to 86.7% with 94.2% of the whiteness retention. It is much higher than that of the traditional Xuan paper. The whiteness of the traditional unprocessed Xuan paper decreases from initial 70.5% to 47.3% with 67.1% of the whiteness retention after the simulated aging for 2000 years. Its whiteness decreases to 42.2% with 59.9% of the whiteness retention after the simulated aging for 3000 years.

The “fire-resistant Xuan paper” exhibits superior mechanical properties during the simulated aging process.

The retention percentage of tensile strength of the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” is as high as 95.2% aging for 2000 years, and 81.3% aging for 3000 years. In contrast, the average retention percentage of tensile strength of the unprocessed Xuan paper is only 54.9% aging for 2000 years, and 40.4% aging for 3000 years. Furthermore, the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” has an excellent ink wetting performance, which is mainly attributed to the nanoscale porous structure and hydroxyl groups of utralong hydroxyapatite nanowires.

The prevention of mould growth on the paper is a great challenge, because the mould can cause the deterioration of the Xuan paper. In this study, experiments showed that different kinds of mould spores do not breed and spread on the “fire-resistant Xuan paper”, and it is able to maintain a clean surface without the growth of any mould, indicating the excellent anti-mildew performance of the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” even exposure to the external nutrients. On the contrary, the growth and spread of mould are obviously observed on the traditional Xuan paper in the presence of external nutrients, indicating that its anti-mildew performance is not satisfactory.

The most important property is that the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” is fire resistant and highly thermal stable. Thus it can prevent the precious calligraphy and painting works as well as books, documents, and archives from the damage by fire. In addition, the production process of the “fire-resistant Xuan paper” is simple, highly efficient, and it only needs 3~4 days to produce.

Xuan paper is the best material carrier for the calligraphy and painting arts, many of which have been well preserved for hundreds of years.

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

Fire-Resistant Inorganic Analogous Xuan Paper with Thousands of Years’ Super-Durability by Li-Ying Dong and Ying-Jie Zhu. ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2018, 6 (12), pp 17239–17251 DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b04630 Publication Date (Web): November 7, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

One last thing, the researchers have made an image illustrating their work available,

Courtesy: CAS and American Chemical Society

Create gold nanoparticles and nanowires with water droplets.

For some reason it took a lot longer than usual to find this research paper despite having the journal (Nature Communications), the title (Spontaneous formation …), and the authors’ names. Thankfully, success was wrested from the jaws of defeat (I don’t care if that is trite; it’s how I felt) and links, etc. follow at the end as usual.

An April 19, 2018 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert) spins fascinating tale,

An experiment that, by design, was not supposed to turn up anything of note instead produced a “bewildering” surprise, according to the Stanford scientists who made the discovery: a new way of creating gold nanoparticles and nanowires using water droplets.

The technique, detailed April 19 [2018] in the journal Nature Communications, is the latest discovery in the new field of on-droplet chemistry and could lead to more environmentally friendly ways to produce nanoparticles of gold and other metals, said study leader Richard Zare, a chemist in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a co-founder of Stanford Bio-X.

“Being able to do reactions in water means you don’t have to worry about contamination. It’s green chemistry,” said Zare, who is the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science at Stanford.

Noble metal

Gold is known as a noble metal because it is relatively unreactive. Unlike base metals such as nickel and copper, gold is resistant to corrosion and oxidation, which is one reason it is such a popular metal for jewelry.

Around the mid-1980s, however, scientists discovered that gold’s chemical aloofness only manifests at large, or macroscopic, scales. At the nanometer scale, gold particles are very chemically reactive and make excellent catalysts. Today, gold nanostructures have found a role in a wide variety of applications, including bio-imaging, drug delivery, toxic gas detection and biosensors.

Until now, however, the only reliable way to make gold nanoparticles was to combine the gold precursor chloroauric acid with a reducing agent such as sodium borohydride.

The reaction transfers electrons from the reducing agent to the chloroauric acid, liberating gold atoms in the process. Depending on how the gold atoms then clump together, they can form nano-size beads, wires, rods, prisms and more.

A spritz of gold

Recently, Zare and his colleagues wondered whether this gold-producing reaction would proceed any differently with tiny, micron-size droplets of chloroauric acid and sodium borohydide. How large is a microdroplet? “It is like squeezing a perfume bottle and out spritzes a mist of microdroplets,” Zare said.

From previous experiments, the scientists knew that some chemical reactions proceed much faster in microdroplets than in larger solution volumes.

Indeed, the team observed that gold nanoparticle grew over 100,000 times faster in microdroplets. However, the most striking observation came while running a control experiment in which they replaced the reducing agent – which ordinarily releases the gold particles – with microdroplets of water.

“Much to our bewilderment, we found that gold nanostructures could be made without any added reducing agents,” said study first author Jae Kyoo Lee, a research associate.

Viewed under an electron microscope, the gold nanoparticles and nanowires appear fused together like berry clusters on a branch.

The surprise finding means that pure water microdroplets can serve as microreactors for the production of gold nanostructures. “This is yet more evidence that reactions in water droplets can be fundamentally different from those in bulk water,” said study coauthor Devleena Samanta, a former graduate student in Zare’s lab and co-author on the paper.

If the process can be scaled up, it could eliminate the need for potentially toxic reducing agents that have harmful health side effects or that can pollute waterways, Zare said.

It’s still unclear why water microdroplets are able to replace a reducing agent in this reaction. One possibility is that transforming the water into microdroplets greatly increases its surface area, creating the opportunity for a strong electric field to form at the air-water interface, which may promote the formation of gold nanoparticles and nanowires.

“The surface area atop a one-liter beaker of water is less than one square meter. But if you turn the water in that beaker into microdroplets, you will get about 3,000 square meters of surface area – about the size of half a football field,” Zare said.

The team is exploring ways to utilize the nanostructures for various catalytic and biomedical applications and to refine their technique to create gold films.

“We observed a network of nanowires that may allow the formation of a thin layer of nanowires,” Samanta said.

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

Spontaneous formation of gold nanostructures in aqueous microdroplets by Jae Kyoo Lee, Devleena Samanta, Hong Gil Nam, & Richard N. Zare. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 1562 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04023-z Published online: 19 April 2018

Not unsurprisingly given Zare’s history as recounted in the news release, this paper is open access.

Paving the way for hardware neural networks?

I’m glad the Imperial College of London (ICL; UK) translated this research into something I can, more or less, understand because the research team’s title for their paper would have left me ‘confuzzled’ .Thank you for this November 20, 2017 ICL press release (also on EurekAlert) by Hayley Dunning,

Researchers have shown how to write any magnetic pattern desired onto nanowires, which could help computers mimic how the brain processes information.

Much current computer hardware, such as hard drives, use magnetic memory devices. These rely on magnetic states – the direction microscopic magnets are pointing – to encode and read information.

Exotic magnetic states – such as a point where three south poles meet – represent complex systems. These may act in a similar way to many complex systems found in nature, such as the way our brains process information.

Computing systems that are designed to process information in similar ways to our brains are known as ‘neural networks’. There are already powerful software-based neural networks – for example one recently beat the human champion at the game ‘Go’ – but their efficiency is limited as they run on conventional computer hardware.

Now, researchers from Imperial College London have devised a method for writing magnetic information in any pattern desired, using a very small magnetic probe called a magnetic force microscope.

With this new writing method, arrays of magnetic nanowires may be able to function as hardware neural networks – potentially more powerful and efficient than software-based approaches.

The team, from the Departments of Physics and Materials at Imperial, demonstrated their system by writing patterns that have never been seen before. They published their results today [November 20, 2017] in Nature Nanotechnology.

Interlocking hexagon patterns with complex magnetisation

‘Hexagonal artificial spin ice ground state’ – a pattern never demonstrated before. Coloured arrows show north or south polarisation

Dr Jack Gartside, first author from the Department of Physics, said: “With this new writing method, we open up research into ‘training’ these magnetic nanowires to solve useful problems. If successful, this will bring hardware neural networks a step closer to reality.”

As well as applications in computing, the method could be used to study fundamental aspects of complex systems, by creating magnetic states that are far from optimal (such as three south poles together) and seeing how the system responds.

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

Realization of ground state in artificial kagome spin ice via topological defect-driven magnetic writing by Jack C. Gartside, Daan M. Arroo, David M. Burn, Victoria L. Bemmer, Andy Moskalenko, Lesley F. Cohen & Will R. Branford. Nature Nanotechnology (2017) doi:10.1038/s41565-017-0002-1 Published online: 20 November 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

*Odd spacing eliminated and a properly embedded video added on February 6, 2018 at 18:16 hours PT.

‘Nano-hashtags’ for Majorana particles?

The ‘nano-hashtags’ are in fact (assuming a minor leap of imagination) nanowires that resemble hashtags.

Scanning electron microscope image of the device wherein clearly a ‘hashtag’ is formed. Credit: Eindhoven University of Technology

An August 23, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily makes the announcement,

In Nature, an international team of researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology [Netherlands], Delft University of Technology [Netherlands] and the University of California — Santa Barbara presents an advanced quantum chip that will be able to provide definitive proof of the mysterious Majorana particles. These particles, first demonstrated in 2012, are their own antiparticle at one and the same time. The chip, which comprises ultrathin networks of nanowires in the shape of ‘hashtags’, has all the qualities to allow Majorana particles to exchange places. This feature is regarded as the smoking gun for proving their existence and is a crucial step towards their use as a building block for future quantum computers.

An August 23, 2017 Eindhoven University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides some context and information about the work,

In 2012 it was big news: researchers from Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology presented the first experimental signatures for the existence of the Majorana fermion. This particle had been predicted in 1937 by the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana and has the distinctive property of also being its own anti-particle. The Majorana particles emerge at the ends of a semiconductor wire, when in contact with a superconductor material.

Smoking gun

While the discovered particles may have properties typical to Majoranas, the most exciting proof could be obtained by allowing two Majorana particles to exchange places, or ‘braid’ as it is scientifically known. “That’s the smoking gun,” suggests Erik Bakkers, one of the researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology. “The behavior we then see could be the most conclusive evidence yet of Majoranas.”


In the Nature paper that is published today [August 23, 2017], Bakkers and his colleagues present a new device that should be able to show this exchanging of Majoranas. In the original experiment in 2012 two Majorana particles were found in a single wire but they were not able to pass each other without immediately destroying the other. Thus the researchers quite literally had to create space. In the presented experiment they formed intersections using the same kinds of nanowire so that four of these intersections form a ‘hashtag’, #, and thus create a closed circuit along which Majoranas are able to move.

Etch and grow

The researchers built their hashtag device starting from scratch. The nanowires are grown from a specially etched substrate such that they form exactly the desired network which they then expose to a stream of aluminium particles, creating layers of aluminium, a superconductor, on specific spots on the wires – the contacts where the Majorana particles emerge. Places that lie ‘in the shadow’ of other wires stay uncovered.

Leap in quality

The entire process happens in a vacuum and at ultra-cold temperature (around -273 degree Celsius). “This ensures very clean, pure contacts,” says Bakkers, “and enables us to make a considerable leap in the quality of this kind of quantum device.” The measurements demonstrate for a number of electronic and magnetic properties that all the ingredients are present for the Majoranas to braid.

Quantum computers

If the researchers succeed in enabling the Majorana particles to braid, they will at once have killed two birds with one stone. Given their robustness, Majoranas are regarded as the ideal building block for future quantum computers that will be able to perform many calculations simultaneously and thus many times faster than current computers. The braiding of two Majorana particles could form the basis for a qubit, the calculation unit of these computers.

Travel around the world

An interesting detail is that the samples have traveled around the world during the fabrication, combining unique and synergetic activities of each research institution. It started in Delft with patterning and etching the substrate, then to Eindhoven for nanowire growth and to Santa Barbara for aluminium contact formation. Finally back to Delft via Eindhoven for the measurements.

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

Epitaxy of advanced nanowire quantum devices by Sasa Gazibegovic, Diana Car, Hao Zhang, Stijn C. Balk, John A. Logan, Michiel W. A. de Moor, Maja C. Cassidy, Rudi Schmits, Di Xu, Guanzhong Wang, Peter Krogstrup, Roy L. M. Op het Veld, Kun Zuo, Yoram Vos, Jie Shen, Daniël Bouman, Borzoyeh Shojaei, Daniel Pennachio, Joon Sue Lee, Petrus J. van Veldhoven, Sebastian Koelling, Marcel A. Verheijen, Leo P. Kouwenhoven, Chris J. Palmstrøm, & Erik P. A. M. Bakkers. Nature 548, 434–438 (24 August 2017) doi:10.1038/nature23468 Published online 23 August 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Dexter Johnson has some additional insight (interview with one of the researchers) in an Aug. 29, 2017 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website).

New electrical contact technology to exploit nanoscale catalytic effects

A Jan. 20,, 2017 news item on Nanotechnology Now announces research into nanoscale electrical contact technology,

Research by scientists at Swansea University [UK] is helping to meet the challenge of incorporating nanoscale structures into future semiconductor devices that will create new technologies and impact on all aspects of everyday life.

Dr Alex Lord and Professor Steve Wilks from the Centre for Nanohealth led the collaborative research published in Nano Letters. The research team looked at ways to engineer electrical contact technology on minute scales with simple and effective modifications to nanowires that can be used to develop enhanced devices based on the nanomaterials. Well-defined electrical contacts are essential for any electrical circuit and electronic device because they control the flow of electricity that is fundamental to the operational capability.

Everyday materials that are being scaled down to the size of nanometres (one million times smaller than a millimetre on a standard ruler) by scientists on a global scale are seen as the future of electronic devices. The scientific and engineering advances are leading to new technologies such as energy producing clothing to power our personal gadgets and sensors to monitor our health and the surrounding environment.

Over the coming years this will make a massive contribution to the explosion that is the Internet of Things connecting everything from our homes to our cars into a web of communication. All of these new technologies require similar advances in electrical circuits and especially electrical contacts that allow the devices to work correctly with electricity.

A Jan. 19, 2017 Swansea University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains in greater detail,

Professor Steve Wilks said: “Nanotechnology has delivered new materials and new technologies and the applications of nanotechnology will continue to expand over the coming decades with much of its usefulness stemming from effects that occur at the atomic- or nano-scale. With the advent of nanotechnology, new technologies have emerged such as chemical and biological sensors, quantum computing, energy harvesting, lasers, and environmental and photon-detectors, but there is a pressing need to develop new electrical contact preparation techniques to ensure these devices become an everyday reality.”

“Traditional methods of engineering electrical contacts have been applied to nanomaterials but often neglect the nanoscale effects that nanoscientists have worked so hard to uncover.  Currently, there isn’t a design toolbox to make electrical contacts of chosen properties to nanomaterials and in some respects the research is lagging behind our potential application of the enhanced materials.”

The Swansea research team1 used specialist experimental equipment and collaborated with Professor Quentin Ramasse of the SuperSTEM Laboratory, Science and Facilities Technology Council.  The scientists were able to physically interact with the nanostructures and measure how the nanoscale modifications affected the electrical performance.

Their experiments found for the first time, that simple changes to the catalyst edge can turn-on or turn-off the dominant electrical conduction and most importantly reveal a powerful technique that will allow nanoengineers to select the properties of manufacturable nanowire devices.

Dr Lord said: “The experiments had a simple premise but were challenging to optimise and allow atomic-scale imaging of the interfaces. However, it was essential to this study and will allow many more materials to be investigated in a similar way.”

“This research now gives us an understanding of these new effects and will allow engineers in the future to reliably produce electrical contacts to these nanomaterials which is essential for the materials to be used in the technologies of tomorrow.

“In the near future this work can help enhance current nanotechnology devices such as biosensors and also lead to new technologies such as Transient Electronics that are devices that diminish and vanish without a trace which is an essential property when they are applied as diagnostic tools inside the human body.”

1. Lord, A. M., Ramasse, Q. M., Kepaptsoglou, D. M., Evans, J. E., Davies, P. R., Ward, M. B. & Wilks, S. P. 2016 Modifying the Interface Edge to Control the Electrical Transport Properties of Nanocontacts to Nanowires. Nano Lett. (doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03699). http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.6b03699
2 .Lord, A. M. et al. 2015 Controlling the electrical transport properties of nanocontacts to nanowires. Nano Lett. 15, 4248–4254. (doi:10.1021/nl503743t) http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl503743t

Both papers are open access.

Skin-like electronic bandage

Not sure how I feel about an electronic bandage, presumably it won’t electrocute me should it encounter my blood. If the Nov. 17, 2016 news item on phys.org is to be believed, it’s more sensor than bandage,

A skin-like biomedical technology that uses a mesh of conducting nanowires and a thin layer of elastic polymer might bring new electronic bandages that monitor biosignals for medical applications and provide therapeutic stimulation through the skin.

The biomedical device mimics the human skin’s elastic properties and sensory capabilities.

“It can intimately adhere to the skin and simultaneously provide medically useful biofeedback such as electrophysiological signals,” said Chi Hwan Lee, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Purdue University. “Uniquely, this work combines high-quality nanomaterials into a skin-like device, thereby enhancing the mechanical properties.”

The device could be likened to an electronic bandage and might be used to treat medical conditions using thermotherapeutics, where heat is applied to promote vascular flow for enhanced healing, said Lee, who worked with a team that includes Purdue graduate student Min Ku Kim.

A November 17, 2016 Purdue University news release by Emil Venere, which originated the news item, provides more insight into the work,

Traditional approaches to developing such a technology have used thin films made of ductile metals such as gold, silver and copper.

“The problem is that these thin films are susceptible to fractures by over-stretching and cracking,” Lee said. “Instead of thin films we use nanowire mesh film, which makes the device more resistive to stretching and cracking than otherwise possible. In addition, the nanowire mesh film has very high surface area compared to conventional thin films, with more than 1,000 times greater surface roughness. So once you attach it to the skin the adhesion is much higher, reducing the potential of inadvertent delamination.”

Findings are detailed in a research publication appearing online in October [2016] in Advanced Materials. The paper is also available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.201603878/full and was authored by Kim; postdoctoral researcher Seungyong Han at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Purdue graduate student Dae Seung Wie; Oklahoma State University assistant professor Shuodao Wang and postdoctoral researcher Bo Wang; and Lee.

The conducting nanowires are around 50 nanometers in diameter and more than 150 microns long and are embedded inside a thin layer of elastomer, or elastic polymer, about 1.5 microns thick. To demonstrate its utility in medical diagnostics, the device was used to record electrophysiological signals from the heart and muscles. A YouTube video about the research is available at https://youtu.be/tYRebHNi6p4.

“Recording the electrophysiological signals from the skin can provide wearers and clinicians with quantitative measures of the heart’s activity or the muscle’s activity,” Lee said.

Much of the research was performed in the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

“The nanowires mesh film was initially formed on a conventional silicon wafer with existing micro- and nano-fabrication technologies. Our unique technique, called a crack-driven transfer printing technique, allows us to controllably peel off the device layer from the silicon wafer, and then apply onto the skin,” Lee said.

The Oklahoma State researchers contributed theoretical simulations related to the underlying mechanics of the devices, and Seungyong Han synthesized and provided the conducting nanowires.

Future research will be dedicated to developing a transdermal drug-delivery bandage that would transport medications through the skin in an electronically controlled fashion. Such a system might include built-in sensors to detect the level of injury and autonomously deliver the appropriate dose of drugs.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper mentioned in the news release,

Mechanically Reinforced Skin-Electronics with Networked Nanocomposite Elastomer by Seungyong Han, Min Ku Kim, Bo Wang, Dae Seung Wie, Shuodao Wang, and Chi Hwan Lee. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201603878 Version of Record online: 7 OCT 2016

© 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall but you can watch the video mentioned in the news release,

It seems that liquids won’t be a problem with regard to electrocution and I notice they keep calling it a biopatch not a bandaid.

Atomic force microscope with nanowire sensors

Measuring the size and direction of forces may become reality with a nanotechnology-enabled atomic force microscope designed by Swiss scientists, according to an Oct. 17, 2016 news item on phys.org,

A new type of atomic force microscope (AFM) uses nanowires as tiny sensors. Unlike standard AFM, the device with a nanowire sensor enables measurements of both the size and direction of forces. Physicists at the University of Basel and at the EPF Lausanne have described these results in the recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

A nanowire sensor measures size and direction of forces (Image: University of Basel, Department of Physics)

A nanowire sensor measures size and direction of forces (Image: University of Basel, Department of Physics)

An Oct. 17, 2016 University of Basel press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Nanowires are extremely tiny filamentary crystals which are built-up molecule by molecule from various materials and which are now being very actively studied by scientists all around the world because of their exceptional properties.

The wires normally have a diameter of 100 nanometers and therefore possess only about one thousandth of a hair thickness. Because of this tiny dimension, they have a very large surface in comparison to their volume. This fact, their small mass and flawless crystal lattice make them very attractive in a variety of nanometer-scale sensing applications, including as sensors of biological and chemical samples, and as pressure or charge sensors.

Measurement of direction and size

The team of Argovia Professor Martino Poggio from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI) and the Department of Physics at the University of Basel has now demonstrated that nanowires can also be used as force sensors in atomic force microscopes. Based on their special mechanical properties, nanowires vibrate along two perpendicular axes at nearly the same frequency. When they are integrated into an AFM, the researchers can measure changes in the perpendicular vibrations caused by different forces. Essentially, they use the nanowires like tiny mechanical compasses that point out both the direction and size of the surrounding forces.

Image of the two-dimensional force field

The scientists from Basel describe how they imaged a patterned sample surface using a nanowire sensor. Together with colleagues from the EPF Lausanne, who grew the nanowires, they mapped the two-dimensional force field above the sample surface using their nanowire “compass”. As a proof-of-principle, they also mapped out test force fields produced by tiny electrodes.

The most challenging technical aspect of the experiments was the realization of an apparatus that could simultaneously scan a nanowire above a surface and monitor its vibration along two perpendicular directions. With their study, the scientists have demonstrated a new type of AFM that could extend the technique’s numerous applications even further.

AFM – today widely used

The development of AFM 30 years ago was honored with the conferment of the Kavli-Prize [2016 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience] beginning of September this year. Professor Christoph Gerber of the SNI and Department of Physics at the University of Basel is one of the awardees, who has substantially contributed to the wide use of AFM in different fields, including solid-state physics, materials science, biology, and medicine.

The various different types of AFM are most often carried out using cantilevers made from crystalline Si as the mechanical sensor. “Moving to much smaller nanowire sensors may now allow for even further improvements on an already amazingly successful technique”, Martino Poggio comments his approach.

I featured an interview article with Christoph Gerber and Gerd Binnig about their shared Kavli prize and about inventing the AFM in a Sept. 20, 2016 posting.

As for the latest innovation, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Vectorial scanning force microscopy using a nanowire sensor by Nicola Rossi, Floris R. Braakman, Davide Cadeddu, Denis Vasyukov, Gözde Tütüncüoglu, Anna Fontcuberta i Morral, & Martino Poggio. Nature Nanotechnology (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.189 Published online 17 October 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Small, soft, and electrically functional: an injectable biomaterial

This development could be looked at as a form of synthetic biology without the genetic engineering. From a July 1, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Ideally, injectable or implantable medical devices should not only be small and electrically functional, they should be soft, like the body tissues with which they interact. Scientists from two UChicago labs set out to see if they could design a material with all three of those properties.

The material they came up with, published online June 27, 2016, in Nature Materials, forms the basis of an ingenious light-activated injectable device that could eventually be used to stimulate nerve cells and manipulate the behavior of muscles and organs.

“Most traditional materials for implants are very rigid and bulky, especially if you want to do electrical stimulation,” said Bozhi Tian, an assistant professor in chemistry whose lab collaborated with that of neuroscientist Francisco Bezanilla on the research.

The new material, in contrast, is soft and tiny — particles just a few micrometers in diameter (far less than the width of a human hair) that disperse easily in a saline solution so they can be injected. The particles also degrade naturally inside the body after a few months, so no surgery would be needed to remove them.

A July 1, 2016 University of Chicago news release (also on EurekAlert) by , which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Each particle is built of two types of silicon that together form a structure full of nano-scale pores, like a tiny sponge. And like a sponge, it is squishy — a hundred to a thousand times less rigid than the familiar crystalline silicon used in transistors and solar cells. “It is comparable to the rigidity of the collagen fibers in our bodies,” said Yuanwen Jiang, Tian’s graduate student. “So we’re creating a material that matches the rigidity of real tissue.”

The material constitutes half of an electrical device that creates itself spontaneously when one of the silicon particles is injected into a cell culture, or, eventually, a human body. The particle attaches to a cell, making an interface with the cell’s plasma membrane. Those two elements together — cell membrane plus particle — form a unit that generates current when light is shined on the silicon particle.

“You don’t need to inject the entire device; you just need to inject one component,” João L. Carvalho-de-Souza , Bezanilla’s postdoc said. “This single particle connection with the cell membrane allows sufficient generation of current that could be used to stimulate the cell and change its activity. After you achieve your therapeutic goal, the material degrades naturally. And if you want to do therapy again, you do another injection.”

The scientists built the particles using a process they call nano-casting. They fabricate a silicon dioxide mold composed of tiny channels — “nano-wires” — about seven nanometers in diameter (less than 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair) connected by much smaller “micro-bridges.” Into the mold they inject silane gas, which fills the pores and channels and decomposes into silicon.

And this is where things get particularly cunning. The scientists exploit the fact the smaller an object is, the more the atoms on its surface dominate its reactions to what is around it. The micro-bridges are minute, so most of their atoms are on the surface. These interact with oxygen that is present in the silicon dioxide mold, creating micro-bridges made of oxidized silicon gleaned from materials at hand. The much larger nano-wires have proportionately fewer surface atoms, are much less interactive, and remain mostly pure silicon. [I have a note regarding ‘micro’ and ‘nano’ later in this posting.]

“This is the beauty of nanoscience,” Jiang said. “It allows you to engineer chemical compositions just by manipulating the size of things.”

Web-like nanostructure

Finally, the mold is dissolved. What remains is a web-like structure of silicon nano-wires connected by micro-bridges of oxidized silicon that can absorb water and help increase the structure’s softness. The pure silicon retains its ability to absorb light.

Transmission electron microscopy image shows an ordered nanowire array. The 100-nanometer scale bar is 1,000 times narrower than a hair. Courtesy of Tian Lab

Transmission electron microscopy image shows an ordered nanowire array. The 100-nanometer scale bar is 1,000 times narrower than a hair. Courtesy of
Tian Lab

The scientists have added the particles onto neurons in culture in the lab, shone light on the particles, and seen current flow into the neurons which activates the cells. The next step is to see what happens in living animals. They are particularly interested in stimulating nerves in the peripheral nervous system that connect to organs. These nerves are relatively close to the surface of the body, so near-infra-red wavelength light can reach them through the skin.

Tian imagines using the light-activated devices to engineer human tissue and create artificial organs to replace damaged ones. Currently, scientists can make engineered organs with the correct form but not the ideal function.

To get a lab-built organ to function properly, they will need to be able to manipulate individual cells in the engineered tissue. The injectable device would allow a scientist to do that, tweaking an individual cell using a tightly focused beam of light like a mechanic reaching into an engine and turning a single bolt. The possibility of doing this kind of synthetic biology without genetic engineering [emphasis mine] is enticing.

“No one wants their genetics to be altered,” Tian said. “It can be risky. There’s a need for a non-genetic system that can still manipulate cell behavior. This could be that kind of system.”

Tian’s graduate student Yuanwen Jiang did the material development and characterization on the project. The biological part of the collaboration was done in the lab of Francisco Bezanilla, the Lillian Eichelberger Cannon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, by postdoc João L. Carvalho-de-Souza. They were, said Tian, the “heroes” of the work.

I was a little puzzled about the use of the word ‘micro’ in a context suggesting it was smaller than something measured at the nanoscale. Dr. Tian very kindly cleared up my confusion with this response in a July 4, 2016 email,

In fact, the definition of ‘micro’ and ’nano’ have been quite ambiguous in literature. For example, microporous materials (e.g., zeolite) usually refer to materials with pore sizes of less than 2 nm — this is defined based on IUPAC [International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry] definition (http://goldbook.iupac.org/M03853.html). We used ‘micro-bridges’ because they come from the ‘micropores’ in the original template.

Thank you Dr. Tian for that very clear reply and Steve Koppes for forwarding my request to Dr. Tian!

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

Heterogeneous silicon mesostructures for lipid-supported bioelectric interfaces by Yuanwen Jiang, João L. Carvalho-de-Souza, Raymond C. S. Wong, Zhiqiang Luo, Dieter Isheim, Xiaobing Zuo, Alan W. Nicholls, Il Woong Jung, Jiping Yue, Di-Jia Liu, Yucai Wang, Vincent De Andrade, Xianghui Xiao, Luizetta Navrazhnykh, Dara E. Weiss, Xiaoyang Wu, David N. Seidman, Francisco Bezanilla, & Bozhi Tian. Nature Materials (2016)  doi:10.1038/nmat4673 Published online 27 June 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

I gather animal testing will be the next step as they continue to develop this exciting technology. Good luck!