Press Releases: Research Funded by Agencies Participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy)

Although twisted sheets of double bilayer graphene have been studied extensively in the past few years, there are still pieces missing in the puzzle that is its phase diagram – the different undisturbed, ground states of the system. Now, an international team of researchers has found a new puzzle piece: an electronic nematic phase. A nematic phase occurs when particles in a material break an otherwise symmetrical structure and come to loosely orient with one another along the same axis. This phenomenon is the basis of the liquid-crystal display commonly used in televisions and computer monitors. 

(Funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have developed a color-coded test that quickly signals whether newly developed nanoparticles deliver their cargo into target cells. Historically, nanoparticles have a very low delivery rate to the cytosol, the inside compartment of cells, releasing only about 1%–2% of their contents. The new testing tool, engineered specifically to test nanoparticles, could advance the search for next-generation biological medicines.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy)

Researchers at Cornell University were surprised to find that the three-dimensional semiconductor particles can possess the electronic properties of two-dimensional materials – a finding that had never been envisioned and could not have been revealed without high-resolution imaging. This discovery could be leveraged for solar energy conversion technologies and could benefit renewable energy technologies that reduce carbon dioxide, convert nitrogen into ammonia, and produce hydrogen peroxide.

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy)

A team of scientists from Harvard University and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has developed a “smart” food packaging material that is biodegradable, sustainable, and kills harmful bacteria. The water-proof food packaging is composed of nanofibers – formed by electrospinning cellulose nanocrystals, a type of corn protein called zein, and starch – infused with a cocktail of natural antimicrobial compounds. When exposed to an increase in humidity or enzymes from harmful bacteria, the nanofibers release the natural antimicrobial compounds, killing common dangerous bacteria that contaminate food, such as E. Coli and Listeria, as well as fungi.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have investigated how neutrophils – the white blood cells responsible for detecting and eliminating harmful particles in the body – are able to differentiate between bacteria and other compounds in the bloodstream, such as cholesterol particles. They tested a library consisting of 23 different protein-based nanoparticles, which revealed a set of "rules" that predict uptake by neutrophils. Neutrophils don't take up symmetrical, rigid particles, such as viruses, but they take up nanoparticles that exhibit "protein clumping." 

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at Northwestern University and the Toyota Research Institute have successfully applied machine learning to guide the synthesis of new nanomaterials. The highly trained algorithm combed through a defined dataset to accurately predict new structures that could fuel processes in clean energy and in chemical and automotive industries.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers at Rice University have calculated how strains and stresses affect both individual nanotubes and those assembled into fibers. They found that while nanotube fibers can fail under cyclic loads over time, nanotubes may remain perfect. The researchers hope to give other researchers and industry a way to predict how long nanotube fibers and other assemblies can be expected to last under given conditions.

(Funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Physicists at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have shown that antiferromagnets can be used to store and process data in a way that would complement the digital electronics that are currently used in cell phones and computers. Antiferromagnets are a type of material that generate virtually no net magnetic field. In contrast, most spintronic memory components so far have relied on ferromagnets – materials with a permanent magnetic field. This discovery reveals that similar to ferromagnets, antiferrromagnets could be used to make nanometer-scale components of computer storage devices, and such devices would store and process data much faster than current storage devices.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a method to stabilize the edges of graphene nanoribbons and directly measure their unique magnetic properties. The researchers found that by substituting some of the carbon atoms along the ribbon's zigzag edges with nitrogen atoms, they could discretely tune the local electronic structure without disrupting the magnetic properties. 

(Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers at The Ohio State University have shown that atomic-scale magnetic patterns looking like a hedgehog's spikes could enable the future development of hard disks with massively larger capacities than today's devices. The researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope, which provided pictures of the magnetic patterns with atomic resolution. The images revealed that the "body" of the hedgehog was only 10 nanometers wide, which is smaller than today's magnetic bits (about 50 nanometers). This finding could help data centers keep up with the exponentially increasing demand for video and cloud data storage.