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

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have found that flakes of lengenbachite, a mineral discovered 100 years ago in Switzerland, have strong anisotropic properties, meaning that the optical responses of the flakes vary along axis lines depending on the orientations of the flakes. This material could have implications for directional light-emitting devices, encrypted data transfer and signal processing, and polarization-sensitive photodetectors.

(Funded in part by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) in South Korea have devised a new method for manufacturing devices that requires precisely sized and positioned micro- and nanoscale particles. With this technique, engineers would be able to more efficiently manufacture and assemble photonic crystals, filtration devices, biological assays, and more sensitive sensing devices.

(Funded in part by the National Science Foundation)

For the past several years, engineers at the University of Michigan have been working on robotic devices that would mimic the sensitivity of fingertips for eventual robotic or prosthetic uses. Now, they report an improved method for tactile sensing that detects directionality and force with a high level of sensitivity. The engineers developed tactile sensors that are the first to integrate a highly sensitive sense of touch with directionality, using asymmetric nanopillars.

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

In collaboration with Raytheon BBN Technologies, engineers at Columbia University have recently demonstrated a superconducting qubit capacitor built with 2D materials that is a fraction of previous sizes. First, the engineers sandwiched an insulating layer of boron nitride between two charged plates of superconducting niobium diselenide. These layers are each just a single atom thick and held together by van der Waals forces. Then, the team combined these capacitors with aluminum circuits to create a chip containing two qubits, with an area of 109 square micrometers and a thickness of 35 nanometers – that’s 1,000 times smaller than qubit chips produced under conventional approaches. 

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

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new and potentially more effective way to deliver messenger RNA (mRNA) into cells. Their approach involves packing mRNA inside nanoparticles that mimic the flu virus. To make the nanoparticles, the researchers genetically engineered cells in the lab to express the hemagglutinin protein on their cell membranes. They then separated the membranes from the cells, broke them into tiny pieces, and coated them onto nanoparticles made from a biodegradable polymer that has been pre-packed with mRNA molecules inside.

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

A silicon device that can change skin tissue into blood vessels and nerve cells has advanced from prototype to standardized fabrication, meaning it can now be made in a consistent, reproducible way. This non-invasive nanochip device, developed by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine, can reprogram tissue function by applying a harmless electric spark to deliver specific genes in a fraction of a second. In laboratory studies, the device successfully converted skin tissue into blood vessels to repair a badly injured leg. The technology is currently being used to reprogram tissue to repair brain damage caused by stroke and to prevent and reverse nerve damage caused by diabetes. 

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

When a person experiences a trauma that leads to significant bleeding, the first few minutes are critical. It’s important that they receive intravenous medication quickly to control the bleeding, but delivering the medication at the right rate can prove challenging. Slower infusions can cause fewer negative reactions, but the medication might not work fast enough, particularly in the case of a serious trauma. Now, researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, have developed a unique way of modifying the surfaces of nanoparticles within these life-saving medications to provide infusions that can be delivered more quickly, but with a reduced risk of negative reactions.

(Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers at Michigan State University have built a powerful microscope that uses light and electrons to study materials with an unparalleled resolution. The researchers have characterized graphene nanoribbons with atomic resolution, revealing clear information about how electrons are distributed within these structures.

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

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have peeled off heterostructure thin films containing electric bubbles from a particular underlying material, or substrate, while keeping them fully intact. The electric bubbles are nanoscale objects with a radius of about 4 nanometers. The discovery may bring us one step closer to applications – in areas such as microelectronics and energy – that rely upon these unusual brittle structures.

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

Quantum dots, discovered in the 1990s, have a wide range of applications and are perhaps best known for producing vivid colors in high-end televisions. But for some potential uses, such as tracking biochemical pathways of a drug as it interacts with living cells, progress has been hampered by the tendency of quantum dots to randomly blink off. Now, a team of MIT chemists led by professors affiliated with the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT – a U.S. Army–sponsored MIT interdisciplinary research center – has come up with a way to control this unwanted blinking by firing a beam of mid-infrared laser light for a few trillionths of a second.