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

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

Researchers from various departments and laboratories at MIT, the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT, Raith America Inc., and Technion, Israel, have demonstrated how to improve the efficiency of scintillators by at least tenfold, and perhaps even a hundredfold, by changing the material’s surface to create certain nanoscale configurations, such as arrays of wave-like ridges. Scintillators are materials that emit light when bombarded with high-energy particles or X-rays. In medical or dental X-ray systems, they convert incoming X-ray radiation into visible light that can then be captured using film or photosensors.

(Funded in part by the National Institutes of Health)

Researchers at Tufts University have taken the existing lipid-nanoparticle technology and engineered it to be applicable to a broad range of diseases by targeting it to specific tissues and organs. They packed lipid nanoparticles with mRNA – the same genetic material used in two COVID-19 vaccines, but this time coding for a normal gene that is mutated in individuals with a rare disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). The mutated gene causes smooth muscle tissue to grow out of control, creating cysts. In a mouse model of LAM, delivering a normal gene directly to the lungs led to a significant reduction in cysts.

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a new type of "nanocrystal gel" – a gel composed of tiny nanocrystals that are linked together into an organized network. This new material can be switched between two different states by changing the temperature, so it could be used, for example, on the outside of buildings to control heating or cooling dynamically.

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

To address climbing economic losses from swine that contract the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), researchers at Virginia Tech are developing a vaccine to combat the disease, which has a near 100% mortality rate in newborn piglets. The scientists are researching a vaccine that contains nanoparticles displaying viral proteins, which would enable the immune system to mount a response against the viral proteins and protect the vaccinated animals if they become infected with PEDV later.

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

Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have used electron tomography, fluid dynamics theories and machine learning to study and reconstruct the full 3D morphology of membranes at sub-nanometer resolution. Also, the researchers found quantitative agreement with theories that explain structures found in macroscopic biological systems, such as patterns on fish skin.

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

Perovskite materials are low-cost semiconductors that can absorb and convert solar energy with high efficiencies, making them promising material for use in photovoltaic solar cells. Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with U.S. and international scientists, have examined the performance properties of two-dimensional perovskites under ambient conditions, finding that they can be as efficient as their three-dimensional counterparts, which are unstable under ambient conditions.

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

Researchers at MIT have engineered a composite made mostly from cellulose nanocrystals mixed with a bit of synthetic polymer. The organic crystals take up 60¬90% of the material – the highest fraction of cellulose nanocrystals achieved in a composite to date. The researchers tested the material’s resistance to cracks and found that, across multiple scales, the composite’s arrangement of cellulose grains prevented the cracks from splitting the material. This resistance to plastic deformation gives the composite a hardness and stiffness at the boundary between conventional plastics and metals.

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

Some optical sensing chips contain nanostructures that are nearly as small as the biological and chemical molecules they are searching for. These nanostructures improve the sensor's ability to detect the molecules, but because they are so small, they cannot easily guide the molecules to the correct area of the sensor. Now, researchers at the University at Buffalo and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories have created a new sensor that takes aim at this problem. The design of the sensor, with its layers and cavities, creates what researchers call a "nanopatch antenna." The antenna both funnels molecules into the cavities and absorbs enough infrared light to analyze biological and chemical samples.

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

A research team led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has demonstrated tiny concentric nanocircles that self-assemble into an optical material with precision and efficiency. The researchers used a technique to coax diverse blends of polymers and nanoparticles into spontaneously forming tiny nested rings within minutes of adding an impurity, such as a small organic molecule, to the mix. The new findings could enable the large-scale manufacturing of multifunctional nanocomposites.

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

Metamaterials, made up of small, repeated nanostructures, engineered to produce desired interactions with light or sound waves, can improve optical devices used in telecommunications, and imaging. But the functionality of the devices can be limited by the corresponding design space. Now, researchers from Penn State and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories have leveraged three dimensions of design space to create and test a metamaterial with robust optical properties.