Posts about Nanotechnology

Building A Better Bed Bug Trap Using Bean Leaves

Building A Better Bed Bug Trap

An old folk remedy involving hairy bean leaves strewn around the bedroom may have a new life as a modern bed bug trap, according to new research from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Kentucky.

Although its mechanisms weren’t known at the time, the tactic dates back to at least 1678, when the English philosopher John Locke wrote of placing kidney bean leaves under the pillow or around the bed to keep bed bugs from biting as he traveled through Europe.

In the early twentieth century, the approach was also common throughout the Balkans, according to a 1927 report from the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Army. That report suggested the leaves stunned the bloodsucking bugs as they traveled from hiding places to their sleeping hosts during the night; in the morning, the bug-covered leaves were removed and burned.

“The inconvenience of bean leaves is that not everyone wants them scattered around their bed room.” Synthetics mimicking the surface of the bean leaf, however, could be placed “as a ring around the bed legs, a floor mat at the door, a strip on the bed board, it could be something one put’s in one’s suitcase,”

Very cool. The chemical assault on bed buds is failing all over the world. A new vector to assist in the fight against bed bugs will be most welcome. It is interesting to learn the scientific reasons that explain why some folk remedies work.

Related: Bed Bugs, Science and the MediaAntibiotics Breed Superbugs Faster Than ExpectedPigs Instead of Pesticides

Solar Powered Water Jug to Purify Drinking Water

Deepika Kurup, a 14-year-old New York student, won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her invention of a solar-powered water jug that changes dirty water into purified drinking water. She won the top prize of $25,000.

During “the 5 minutes of my presentation 15 children have died from lack of clean drinking water.”

I am thankful we have kids like this to create solutions for us that will make the world a better place. We rely on hundreds of thousands of such people to use science and engineering methods to benefit society.

Related: Strawjet: Invention of the YearCheap Drinking Water From SeawaterWater and Electricity for AllThanksgiving, Appropriately (power of capitalism and people to provide long term increases in standards of living)

Using Nanocomposites to Improve Dental Filling Performance

After a dentist drills out a decayed tooth, the cavity still contains residual bacteria. Professor Huakun (Hockin) Xu says it is not possible for a dentist to remove all the damaged tissue, so it’s important to neutralize the harmful effects of the bacteria, which is just what the new nanocomposites are able to do.

Rather than just limiting decay with conventional fillings, the new composite he has developed is a revolutionary dental weapon to control harmful bacteria, which co-exist in the natural colony of microorganisms in the mouth.

“Tooth decay means that the mineral content in the tooth has been dissolved by the organic acids secreted by bacteria residing in biofilms or plaques on the tooth surface. These organisms convert carbohydrates to acids that decrease the minerals in the tooth structure,” says Xu, director of the Division of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering in the School’s Department of Endodontics, Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry.

The researchers also have built antibacterial agents into primer used first by dentists to prepare a drilled-out cavity and into adhesives that dentists spread into the cavity to make a filling stick tight to the tissue of the tooth. “The reason we want to get the antibacterial agents also into primers and adhesives is that these are the first things that cover the internal surfaces of the tooth cavity and flow into tiny dental tubules inside the tooth,” says Xu.

The main reason for failures in tooth restorations, says Xu, is secondary caries or decay at the restoration margins. Applying the new primer and adhesive will kill the residual bacteria, he says.

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Bacteriophages Enter Bacteria Using an Iron Tipped Spike

Bacteria-Killing Viruses Wield an Iron Spike

Forget needles in haystacks. Try finding the tip of a needle in a virus. Scientists have long known that a group of viruses called bacteriophages have a knack for infiltrating bacteria and that some begin their attack with a protein spike. But the tip of this spike is so small that no one knew what it was made of or exactly how it worked. Now a team of researchers has found a single iron atom at the head of the spike, a discovery that suggests phages enter bacteria in a different way than surmised.

Wherever there are bacteria you will find bacteriophages; digestive tracts, contaminated water, and feces are usually a good start. These viruses begin their dirty work by drilling into the outer membrane of bacteria. Once completely through all of a bug’s defenses, the phages inject their DNA, which essentially turns the bacterium into phage-producing factories. Eventually, the microbes become filled with so many viruses that they burst, releasing a new horde of phages into the environment.

Bacteriophages are amazing. It is so interesting to learn about amazingly creative solutions that have evolved over time. Real-life science is not easy to match with fiction that springs from our imaginations.

Related: Bacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on EarthViruses Eating BacteriaWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes

NASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body

Very cool innovation from NASA. The biocapsule monitors the environment (the body it is in) and responds with medical help. Basically it is acting very much like your body, which does exactly that: monitors and then responds based on what is found.

The Miraculous NASA Breakthrough That Could Save Millions of Lives

The Biocapsules aren’t one-shot deals. Each capsule could be capable of delivering many metred doses over a period of years. There is no “shelf-life” to the Biocapsules. They are extremely resilient, and there is currently no known enzyme that can break down their nanostructures. And because the nanostructures are inert, they are extremely well-tolerated by the body. The capsules’ porous natures allow medication to pass through their walls, but the nanostructures are strong enough to keep the cells in one place. Once all of the cells are expended, the Biocapsule stays in the body, stable and unnoticed, until it is eventually removed by a doctor back on Earth.

Dr. Loftus [NASA] thinks we could realistically see wildspread usage on Earth within 10 to 15 years.

The cells don’t get released from the capsule. The cells inside the capsule secrete therapeutic molecules (proteins, peptides), and these agents exit the capsule by diffusion across the capsule wall.

NASA plans to use the biocapsules in space, but they also have very promising uses on earth. They can monitor a diabetes patient and if insulin is needed, deliver it. No need for the person to remember, or give themselves a shot of insulin. The biocapsule act just like out bodies do, responding to needs without us consciously having to think about it. They can also be used to provide high dose chemotherapy directly to the tumor site (thus decreasing the side effects and increasing the dosage delivered to the target location. Biocapsules could also respond to severe allergic reaction and deliver epinephrine (which many people know have to carry with them to try and survive an attack).

It would be great if this were to have widespread use 15 years from now. Sadly, these innovations tend to take far longer to get into productive use than we would hope. But not always, so here is hoping this innovation from NASA gets into ourselves soon.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsNanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadSelf-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver MedicineNanoengineers Use Tiny Diamonds for Drug Delivery

How Lysozyme Protein in Our Tear-Drops Kill Bacteria

A disease-fighting protein in our teardrops has been tethered to a tiny transistor, enabling UC Irvine scientists to discover exactly how it destroys dangerous bacteria. The research could prove critical to long-term work aimed at diagnosing cancers and other illnesses in their very early stages.

Ever since Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming found that human tears contain antiseptic proteins called lysozymes about a century ago, scientists have tried to solve the mystery of how they could relentlessly wipe out far larger bacteria. It turns out that lysozymes have jaws that latch on and chomp through rows of cell walls like someone hungrily devouring an ear of corn.

“Those jaws chew apart the walls of the bacteria that are trying to get into your eyes and infect them,” said molecular biologist and chemistry professor Gregory Weiss, who co-led the project with associate professor of physics & astronomy Philip Collins.

The researchers decoded the protein’s behavior by building one of the world’s smallest transistors – 25 times smaller than similar circuitry in laptop computers or smartphones. Individual lysozymes were glued to the live wire, and their eating activities were monitored.

“Our circuits are molecule-sized microphones,” Collins said. “It’s just like a stethoscope listening to your heart, except we’re listening to a single molecule of protein.”

It took years for the UCI scientists to assemble the transistor and attach single-molecule teardrop proteins. The scientists hope the same novel technology can be used to detect cancerous molecules. It could take a decade to figure out but would be well worth it, said Weiss, who lost his father to lung cancer.

“If we can detect single molecules associated with cancer, then that means we’d be able to detect it very, very early,” Weiss said. “That would be very exciting, because we know that if we treat cancer early, it will be much more successful, patients will be cured much faster, and costs will be much less.”

The project was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the National Science Foundation. Co-authors of the Science paper are Yongki Choi, Issa Moody, Patrick Sims, Steven Hunt, Brad Corso and Israel Perez.

Related: full press releaseWhy ‘Licking Your Wounds’ WorksHow Bleach Kills BacteriaAlgorithmic Self-Assembly

Using a Virus to Improve Solar-cell Efficiency Over 30%

Solar and wind energy are making great strides, and are already contributing significantly to providing relatively clean energy.

Researchers at MIT have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by enlisting the services of tiny viruses to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level.

In a solar cell, sunlight hits a light-harvesting material, causing it to release electrons that can be harnessed to produce an electric current. The research, is based on findings that carbon nanotubes — microscopic, hollow cylinders of pure carbon — can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell’s surface.

Previous attempts to use the nanotubes, however, had been thwarted by two problems. First, the making of carbon nanotubes generally produces a mix of two types, some of which act as semiconductors (sometimes allowing an electric current to flow, sometimes not) or metals (which act like wires, allowing current to flow easily). The new research, for the first time, showed that the effects of these two types tend to be different, because the semiconducting nanotubes can enhance the performance of solar cells, but the metallic ones have the opposite effect. Second, nanotubes tend to clump together, which reduces their effectiveness.

And that’s where viruses come to the rescue. Graduate students Xiangnan Dang and Hyunjung Yi — working with Angela Belcher, the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy, and several other researchers — found that a genetically engineered version of a virus called M13, which normally infects bacteria, can be used to control the arrangement of the nanotubes on a surface, keeping the tubes separate so they can’t short out the circuits, and keeping the tubes apart so they don’t clump.

The system the researchers tested used a type of solar cell known as dye-sensitized solar cells, a lightweight and inexpensive type where the active layer is composed of titanium dioxide, rather than the silicon used in conventional solar cells. But the same technique could be applied to other types as well, including quantum-dot and organic solar cells, the researchers say. In their tests, adding the virus-built structures enhanced the power conversion efficiency to 10.6% from 8% — almost a one-third improvement.

Read the full press release

Related: Using Virus to Build BatteriesUsing Viruses to Construct ElectrodesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

MIT Engineers Design New Type of Nanoparticle for Vacines

MIT engineers have designed a new type of nanoparticle that could safely and effectively deliver vaccines for diseases such as HIV and malaria. The new particles, described in the Feb. 20 issue of Nature Materials, consist of concentric fatty spheres that can carry synthetic versions of proteins normally produced by viruses. These synthetic particles elicit a strong immune response – comparable to that produced by live virus vaccines – but should be much safer, says Darrell Irvine, author of the paper and an associate professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering.

Such particles could help scientists develop vaccines against cancer as well as infectious diseases. In collaboration with scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Irvine and his students are now testing the nanoparticles’ ability to deliver an experimental malaria vaccine in mice.

Vaccines protect the body by exposing it to an infectious agent that primes the immune system to respond quickly when it encounters the pathogen again. In many cases, such as with the polio and smallpox vaccines, a dead or disabled form of the virus is used. Other vaccines, such as the diphtheria vaccine, consist of a synthetic version of a protein or other molecule normally made by the pathogen.

When designing a vaccine, scientists try to provoke at least one of the human body’s two major players in the immune response: T cells, which attack body cells that have been infected with a pathogen; or B cells, which secrete antibodies that target viruses or bacteria present in the blood and other body fluids.

For diseases in which the pathogen tends to stay inside cells, such as HIV, a strong response from a type of T cell known as “killer” T cell is required. The best way to provoke these cells into action is to use a killed or disabled virus, but that cannot be done with HIV because it’s difficult to render the virus harmless.

To get around the danger of using live viruses, scientists are working on synthetic vaccines for HIV and other viral infections such as hepatitis B. However, these vaccines, while safer, do not elicit a very strong T cell response. Recently, scientists have tried encasing the vaccines in fatty droplets called liposomes, which could help promote T cell responses by packaging the protein in a virus-like particle. However, these liposomes have poor stability in blood and body fluids.

Irvine, who is a member of MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, decided to build on the liposome approach by packaging many of the droplets together in concentric spheres. Once the liposomes are fused together, adjacent liposome walls are chemically “stapled” to each other, making the structure more stable and less likely to break down too quickly following injection. However, once the nanoparticles are absorbed by a cell, they degrade quickly, releasing the vaccine and provoking a T cell response.

read the full press release

Related: New and Old Ways to Make Flu VaccinesEngineering Mosquitoes to be Flying VaccinatorsNew nanoparticles could improve cancer treatmentVaccines Can’t Provide Miraculous Results if We Don’t Take Them

Atomic Force Microscopy Image of a Molecule

image of a pentacene moleculeThe delicate inner structure of a pentacene molecule imaged with an atomic force microscope. For the first time, scientists achieved a resolution that revealed the chemical structure of a molecule. The hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings in the pentacene molecule are clearly resolved. Even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be deduced from the image. (Pixels correspond to actual data points). Image courtesy of IBM Research – Zurich

IBM scientists have been able to image the “anatomy” — or chemical structure — inside a molecule with unprecedented resolution. “Though not an exact comparison, if you think about how a doctor uses an x-ray to image bones and organs inside the human body, we are using the atomic force microscope to image the atomic structures that are the backbones of individual molecules,” said IBM Researcher Gerhard Meyer. “Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for prototyping complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale.”

The AFM uses a sharp metal tip to measure the tiny forces between the tip and the sample, such as a molecule, to create an image. In the present experiments, the molecule investigated was pentacene. Pentacene is an oblong organic molecule consisting of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms measuring 1.4 nanometers in length. The spacing between neighboring carbon atoms is only 0.14 nanometers—roughly 1 million times smaller then the diameter of a grain of sand. In the experimental image, the hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings as well as the carbon atoms in the molecule are clearly resolved. Even the positions of the hydrogen atoms of the molecule can be deduced from the image.

Related: MRI That Can See Bacteria, Virus and Proteinsimages of the naphthalocyanine molecule in the ‘on’ and the ‘off’ stateWhat is a Molecule?

Read full press release: IBM Scientists First to Image the “Anatomy” of a Molecule
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Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria

Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of Bacteria

Researchers in Canada have created a solar-powered micro-machine that is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. The tiny machine can carry out basic sensing tasks and can indirectly control the movement of a swarm of bacteria in the same Petri dish.

Sylvain Martel, Director of the NanoRobotics Laboratory at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, previously showed a way to control bacteria attached to microbeads using an MRI machine. His new micro-machine, which measure 300×300 microns and carry tiny solar panels, will be presented this week at ICRA ’09 in Japan.

On such a small device there is little room for batteries, sensors or transmitters. So the solar cell on top delivers power, sending an electric current to both a sensor and a communication circuit. The communication component sends tiny electromagnetic pulses that are detected by an external computer.

The sensor meanwhile detects surrounding pH levels–the higher the pH concentration, the faster the electromagnetic pulses emitted by the micro-machine. The external computer uses these signals to direct a swarm of about 3,000 magnetically-sensitive bacteria, which push the micro-machine around as it pulses. The bacteria push the micro-machine closer to the higher pH concentrations and change its direction if it pulses too slowly. This is more practical than trying to attach the bacteria onto the micro-machines, says Martel, since the bacteria only have a lifespan of a few hours. “It’s like having a propulsion engine on demand,” he says…

Related: Self-assembling Nanofibers Heal Spinal Cords in MiceNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer ChipsUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells

Graphene: Engineered Carbon

A material for all seasons

Graphene, a form of the element carbon that is just a single atom thick, had been identified as a theoretical possibility as early as 1947.

Its unique electrical characteristics could make graphene the successor to silicon in a whole new generation of microchips, surmounting basic physical constraints limiting the further development of ever-smaller, ever-faster silicon chips.

But that’s only one of the material’s potential applications. Because of its single-atom thickness, pure graphene is transparent, and can be used to make transparent electrodes for light-based applications such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or improved solar cells.

Graphene could also substitute for copper to make the electrical connections between computer chips and other electronic devices, providing much lower resistance and thus generating less heat. And it also has potential uses in quantum-based electronic devices that could enable a new generation of computation and processing.

“The field is really in its infancy,” says Michael Strano, associate professor of chemical engineering who has been investigating the chemical properties of graphene. “I don’t think there’s any other material like this.”

The mobility of electrons in graphene — a measure of how easily electrons can flow within it — is by far the highest of any known material. So is its strength, which is, pound for pound, 200 times that of steel. Yet like its cousin diamond, it is a remarkably simple material, composed of nothing but carbon atoms arranged in a simple, regular pattern.

“It’s the most extreme material you can think of,” says Palacios. “For many years, people thought it was an impossible material that couldn’t exist in nature, but people have been studying it from a theoretical point of view for more than 60 years.”

Related: Very Cool Wearable Computing Gadget from MITNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer ChipsCost Efficient Solar Dish by MIT StudentsSuperconducting Surprise

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