Archive for the 'Nanotech' Category


Single atom transistor. Whee!!

Researchers in Finland and Australia have submitted a research paper about their demonstration of a single-atom transistor. The report on says: “Researchers…have succeeded in building a working transistor, whose active region composes only of a single phosphorus atom in silicon.”

Why get excited about a geeky development like this?

I’ve made a big deal about how complex real world systems are such as a bacterium and the genetics of cancer and other bad diseases. The only way we’ll master them eventually is having more and more computing power for elaborate computer models and sensitive devices for looking deep within living things. To my mind these research reports are the early signals of progress forthcoming in development of electronic components, sensors, information storage and communication. These things are going to emerge in the not-too-distant-future.

The rapid development of computers, which created the present information society, has been mainly based on the reduction of the size of transistors. We have known for a long time that this development has to slow down critically during the future decades when the even tighter inexpensive packing of transistors would require them to shrink down to the atomic length scales.

These are not going to be transistors like we have in our laptops and mobiles; they’re going to be transistors for the next generation of computing: quantum computers. To be sure, there are enormous engineering challenges to getting to the next level, but there are frequent reports of developments like this one. It’ll happen and the impact will be great.

Unraveling the complexities of life processes and applying them to our day-to-day concerns is daunting. But developments like the single-atom transistor say to me that the forces of technology are converging to keep us moving ahead. We just need to persist.


Nanosensing Transistors Powered by Stress

From Technology Review:

ACS/Nano Letters

ACS/Nano Letters

…new sensors consist of freestanding nanowires made of zinc oxide. When placed under stress, the nanowires generate an electrical potential, functioning as transistors.

Zhong Lin Wang, professor of materials science at Georgia Tech, has previously used piezoelectric nanowires to make nanogenerators that can harvest biomechanical energy, which he hopes will eventually be used to power portable electronics. Now Wang’s group is taking advantage of the semiconducting properties of zinc oxide nanowires–the electrical potential generated when the new nanowires are bent, allowing them to act as transistors.

Gee, maybe the global energy problem is solved! There’s plenty of stress out there.


Nanodiamonds Advance Anticancer Gene Therapy

Nanodiamonds Advance Anticancer Gene Therapy.

diamondsIt turns out that tiny diamonds are biocompatible and efficient at delivering DNA into human cancer cells for gene therapy.

Wouldn’t you know! Do you pay by the carat?


More on computer modeling in medical biology

Last week I posted about how a group at the Burnham Institute, et al, had completed a full computer model of the metabolism of a bacterium. That probably doesn’t sound earth-shaking, but advances in computer modeing of biological systems at many levels will be a powerful scientific and medical tools.

So today funding for another modeling project was announced by Mt. Sinai Medical School. They’re getting a federal grant to model kidney tissue. The idea is to get greater understanding of some of the cellular changes that are part of kidney diseases and to learn how to generate kidney tissue through nanofabrication.  As their release puts it:

If successful, the research—which ties together several emerging technologies including virtual tissue modeling and nanofabrication—could lead to a more predictable way for researchers to engineer tissue outside the body and, consequently, to screen for new drugs. […]

These computational models, or virtual tissue, will form the basis for designing the device for recreating kidney function. The hope is to learn the rules of tissue organization as the team refines the device through testing the computer models and imaging the flow of cell signals within the reassembled tissue from both mouse and .

Bio-medical scientists have wanted to bring the power of computer modeling to research for a long time. It looks like some really substantial results are close at hand.


Eye sensors might contribute to health awareness

There’s an article from the IEEE Spectrum about how engineers at the University of Washington are in the early stages of making contact lenses that might eventually project “enhanced reality” onto our visual field. The idea is to overlay what we see out in the world with data or supplemental information. The usual example is the data that the Terminator (that’s Governor Terminator these days) could see when he was calculating how to blow a bunch of people away in the movies.

Research model of visual  augmentation lens

Research model of visual augmentation lens

Envisioned uses with less of a sci-fi bent include enabling pictures, graphs, and navigation cues to be in our field of vision. Think also about advertising and video games. The current devices are pretty crude (sort of optometry from Hell), but rapid advances are expected with semi-transparent circuits and LEDs.

But what I find most interesting is a use that appears to be secondary at this point: building sensors into the lenses to track biomarkers. In other words, contact lenses could be part of a body monitoring system. Babak Parviz, the article’s author and nanobiotechnology expert at U Washington, says:

Besides visual enhancement, noninvasive monitoring of the wearer’s biomarkers and health indicators could be a huge future market. We’ve built several simple sensors that can detect the concentration of a molecule, such as glucose. Sensors built onto lenses would let diabetic wearers keep tabs on blood-sugar levels without needing to prick a finger.

Since our ordinary senses aren’t much good at judging the level things in our blood like glucose, we’re forced to extract blood and test it to learn many things. But suppose our senses could be augmented with engineered devices? Perhaps we could have much more comprehensive, real-time information about a variety of health factors. Would that not give us a more integrated and perhaps fairly natural “sense” about what’s really going on both in the present and over time? Seems like it would be a huge aid to living with diabetes and keeping an eye on other conditions.

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