News from the NNI Community - Research Advances Funded by Agencies Participating in the NNI

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

Using a DNA-based nanoparticle carrying viral proteins, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (including the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies), the Ragon Institute (of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard University), and Washington University School of Medicine have created a vaccine that provokes a strong antibody response against SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine, which has been tested in mice, consists of a DNA nanoparticle that carries many copies of a viral antigen. Most previous work on this type of vaccine has relied on protein nanoparticles, but the proteins used in those vaccines tend to generate an unnecessary immune response that can distract the immune system from the target. In the mouse study, the researchers found that the DNA nanoparticle itself does not induce an immune response, allowing the immune system to focus its antibody response on the target antigen.

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

Researchers from Northwestern University, the Technical University of Denmark, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have addressed spatial resolution, electron scattering, and visibility limitations in closed-cell microchips based on silicon nitride. These closed-cell systems are widely used as “nanoscale reactors” inside high-vacuum electron microscopes. The researchers demonstrated that a beehive-like structure encapsulating heavily doped silicon beneath ultrathin silicon nitride substantially reduced membrane thickness, enabling the highest spatial resolution and spectral visibility thus far.

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

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (including the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies) and the Army Research Laboratory have developed a new way to quickly test an array of metamaterial architectures and their resilience to supersonic impacts. Metamaterials are functional materials that contain unique microscale and nanoscale patterns or structures. The engineers suspended tiny, printed metamaterial lattices between microscopic support structures and then fired even tinier particles at the materials, at supersonic speeds. With high-speed cameras, the team captured images of each impact and its aftermath. Their work identified a few metamaterial architectures that are more resilient to supersonic impacts compared to their entirely solid, non-architected counterparts.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers from the University of Miami, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and Cleveland State University have treated a chromium-containing nanoscale metal-organic framework to expand its pore size and surface area. The puffed-up metal-organic framework, created by the addition of concentrated acetic acid, held more ibuprofen or a chemotherapy drug than the original version and showed improved performance as a potential drug-delivery vehicle. 

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers from Yale University, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have reported new findings on the behavior of metallic glass and how these materials deform or respond to external stresses at very small size scales. Their finding of the size limits (approximately 100 nanometers) at which metallic glass does not deform provides insights that could lead to new ways of creating metallic glasses and provide researchers with a novel method to slowly grow metastable materials. 

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

Researchers at Oregon State University are developing cellulose nanofiber-based spray coatings for grapes to protect the plants from wildfire smoke before it reaches their vines. The coating aims to prevent potential off flavors in wines that result from contact with wildfire smoke. Recent smoke events have cost $3 billion in losses to the Pacific Northwest wine industry.

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

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State University, and Texas A&M University have harnessed the power of data science and machine learning techniques to help streamline synthesis development for iron oxide nanoparticles. This innovative approach represents a paradigm shift for metal oxide particle synthesis, potentially saving time and effort on ad hoc iterative synthesis approaches.

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

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Columbia University, and Stony Brook University have developed a universal method for producing a wide variety of designed metallic and semiconductor 3D nanostructures. “[B]y building on previous achievements, we have developed a method for converting these DNA-based structures into many types of functional inorganic 3D nano-architectures, and this opens tremendous opportunities for 3D nanoscale manufacturing," said Oleg Gang, one of the scientists involved in this study. The research work was done at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE-funded user facility at BNL. CFN is a leader in researching self-assembly – the process by which molecules spontaneously organize themselves – and scientists at CFN are experts at DNA-directed assembly. 

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

Researchers from Stanford University and the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have grown a twisted multilayer crystal structure for the first time and measured the structure's key properties. The researchers added a layer of gold between two sheets of a traditional semiconducting material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). "With only a bottom MoS2 layer, the gold is happy to align with it, so no twist happens," said Yi Cui, one of the scientists involved in the study. "But with two twisted MoS2 sheets, the gold isn't sure to align with the top or bottom layer. We managed to help the gold solve its confusion and discovered a relationship between the orientation of Au and the twist angle of bilayer MoS2."

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

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have developed a model that uses lipid nanoparticles to deliver messenger RNA (mRNA) through the blood-brain barrier, offering new hope for treating conditions like Alzheimer's disease and seizures. The blood-brain barrier is a selective, semi-permeable membrane between the blood and the brain that blocks the passage of certain substances, including therapeutic drugs. "Our model performed better at crossing the blood-brain barrier than others and helped us identify organ-specific particles that we later validated in future models," said Michael Mitchell, one of the scientists involved in the study.