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

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

An international group of researchers has recently devised a new strategy to create graphene nanoribbons with smooth edges that are below 10 nanometers in width. This method is based on the use of squashed carbon nanotubes. Graphene nanoribbons that have smooth edges, a sizable bandgap, and high charge carrier mobility could be highly valuable for electronic and optoelectronic applications.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Physicists at the University of Colorado Boulder have addressed the question: Why do some ultra-small heat sources cool down faster if you pack them closer together? They used computer-based simulations to track the passage of heat from nano-sized silicon bars and discovered that when they placed the heat sources close together, the vibrations of energy they produced began to bounce off each other, scattering heat away and cooling the bars down.

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

Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a new way to help patients benefit from the most common form of immunotherapy, called immune checkpoint inhibitors, by using new and safe molecules called agonists to augment the body's immune response. When researchers added manganese ions to STING agonists (STING is a protein essential to the immune response against infection, as well as cancer), the manganese ions and STING proteins formed nano-sized crystals. These nano-sized crystals significantly increased cellular uptake of STING agonists and STING activation by immune cells. This study is the first time that nanoparticles delivering STING agonists and metal ions have been developed for intravenous cancer immunotherapy, which could open new doors for cancer immunotherapy treatments.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Researchers from the University at Buffalo have developed a new treatment that uses reverse vaccination to pre-expose the body to medications and build immune tolerance. The nanoparticle-based treatment could be applied to a broad range of drug therapies, autoimmune disorders, and allergies. The treatment was effective when delivered both intravenously and orally.

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

Scientists at the University of Chicago have invented a thermal insulator that can funnel heat around at the microscopic level. They stacked ultra-thin layers of crystalline sheets on top of each other but rotated each layer slightly, creating a material with atoms that are aligned in one direction but not in the other. The result is a material that is extremely good at both containing heat and moving it, albeit in different directions – an unusual ability that could have very useful applications in electronics.

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

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have solved a common issue with medical sensing technology: slight changes in pressure can throw wearable pressure sensors off track. Their solution is an innovative, first-ever, hybrid sensing approach that allows the device to possess properties of the two predominant types of sensors in use today, piezo-capacitive and piezo-resistive. They utilized an electrically conductive and highly porous nanocomposite as the sensing layer and added an extra insulating layer to the sensor, which gave it capabilities of both types of sensors. 

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

Prior research had suggested that a semiconductor known as rhenium disulfide boasts a prized property: the ability to transport electrons, or conduct electricity, more readily in some directions than others. But measuring, investigating, and manipulating the phenomenon had proven difficult. Now, scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have measured the flow of electrons in rhenium disulfide with unprecedented levels of precision by layering a nanoscopically thin polymer atop rhenium disulfide. By layering the materials and then flipping the polarization of a narrow sliver within the polymer, the scientists managed to control the flow of electrons in rhenium disulfide.

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

Being able to deliver drugs directly to diseased cells would improve options for treating diseases. Some radioactive isotopes are already approved to target cancers but when they decay and emit large amounts of energy, this makes it hard to keep them in place near diseased cells or other targets. Researchers are now testing a way to enclose isotopes in tiny pieces of biodegradable material that will keep the isotopes at treatment sites. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are testing whether radioactive medical isotopes enclosed in poly(lactic-co glycolic acid) nanoparticles can keep the drugs at particular cells in the body. 

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

Chemical engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new understanding of how water molecules assemble and change shape in some settings. Their method takes advantage of nanoscale microporous crystals, called zeolites, whose pore spaces can only fit single-molecule-wide chains within their confines. These single-file chains of water molecules have different thermochemical properties than regular, or "bulk," water. The new approach is poised to play a role in helping chemical manufacturers move away from harmful solvent catalysts in favor of water.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, the University of California San Diego, and Carnegie Mellon University are studying whether they can turn edible plants, such as lettuce, into mRNA vaccine factories. One of the challenges with mRNA vaccines is that they must be kept cold to maintain stability during transport and storage. If this new project is successful, plant-based mRNA vaccines, which can be eaten, could overcome this challenge by being stored at room temperature. The key is to deliver genetic material to the chloroplast of plants via naturally occurring nanoparticles (viruses) that are engineered so they are not infectious toward plants and humans.