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

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

Researchers at Rice University have shown, through computer simulations, why iodized salt lowers the reaction temperature in a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) furnace necessary to form two-dimensional molybdenum disulfide. They discovered that iodized salt helps to skip some steps and leap high-energy barriers in conventional CVD growth to yield far more of an essential precursor to molybdenum disulfide. In its two-dimensional form, titanium disulfide is highly coveted for its semiconducting properties, which promise advances in electronic, optoelectronic, spintronic, catalytic, and medical applications.

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

In a discovery that could speed research into next-generation electronics and LED devices, researchers from the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and Yale University have developed the first reliable, scalable method for growing single layers of hexagonal boron nitride on graphene. Hexagonal boron nitride is the world's thinnest insulator; graphene is the thinnest of a class of materials called semimetals, which have highly malleable electrical properties and are important for their role in computers and other electronics.

(Funded in part by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the University at Buffalo have crafted a new type of transistor, called a magneto-electric transistor, that generates less heat than a typical silicon-based transistor. Rather than depend on electric charge – as silicon-based transistors do – a magneto-electric transistor depends on spin, a magnetism-related property of electrons that points up or down and can be read, like an electric charge can, as a 1 or 0. The team underlaid graphene – an ultra-robust material just one atom thick – with chromium oxide. When applying voltage, the spins of the underlying chromium oxide pointed up or down, ultimately forcing the spin orientation of the graphene's electric current to veer left or right, respectively.

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

From new biomaterials to novel photonic devices, materials built through a process called bottom-up self-assembly are opening up pathways to new technologies, with properties tuned at the nanoscale. But to unlock the potential of these materials, researchers need to "see" into them so they can control their design and fabrication and enable the materials’ desired properties. Now, researchers from Columbia University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have imaged the inside of a novel material self-assembled from nanoparticles, with seven-nanometer resolution. 

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

A research team from Northwestern University and South China University of Technology in Guangzhou has demonstrated, for the first time, that a nano-sized material called a metal-organic framework is a stable and selective catalyst for breaking down polyester-based plastic into its component parts. Only three things were needed: plastic, hydrogen, and the metal-organic framework. An important bonus is that one of the component parts into which the plastic was broken down was terephthalic acid, a chemical used to produce plastic.

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

A major research challenge in the field of nanotechnology is finding efficient ways to control light, which is essential for high-resolution imaging, biosensors, and cell phones. Because light is an electromagnetic wave that carries no charge, it is difficult to manipulate it with voltage or an external magnetic field. To solve this challenge, engineers have already found indirect ways to manipulate light using properties of the materials from which light reflects. But the challenge is difficult on the nanoscale, because materials behave differently in atomically thin states. Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Kenyon College, and the Air Force Research Laboratory have discovered a magnetic property in antiferromagnetic materials that allows for the manipulation of light on the nanoscale and simultaneously links the semiconductor material to magnetism, a gap that scientists have been trying to bridge for decades. 

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Using a protein nanoparticle they designed, scientists at the University of Illinois Chicago have identified two distinct subtypes of neutrophils and found that one of the subtypes can be used as a drug target for inflammatory diseases. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that help fight infection, clear dead cell debris, and heal tissue injury. Further investigation with the nanoparticle showed that the subtypes have different cell surface receptors and that they are functionally distinct in their helpful capacities to kill bacteria and their harmful potential to promote inflammation. 

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Scientists at the University of Illinois Chicago have developed a treatment for pulmonary fibrosis by using nanoparticles coated in mannose – a type of sugar – to stop a population of lung cells called macrophages that contribute to lung tissue scarring. The cell-targeting method holds promise for preventing this severe lung scarring disease, which can result in life-threatening complications, such as shortness of breath.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is known to suppress the production of blood vessels in malignant tumors. Bioengineers at the University of California Riverside have now discovered that when delivered through magnetic hydrogels into stem cell cultures, curcumin paradoxically also promotes the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor, which helps vascular tissues grow. (The hydrogel contained magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles that were coated with curcumin.)

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

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, have determined that interactions between electrons are what give rise to the divergent effects observed when graphene is doped with electrons versus holes. Electron–hole asymmetry in graphene has mainly been attributed to extrinsic sources such as impurities and strain, as opposed to intrinsic effects such as particle interactions. In this work, the researchers determined that, contrary to earlier thinking, intrinsic electronic correlations are, in fact, the primary driver of graphene’s electron–hole asymmetry.