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

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

Researchers from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Kansas State University have discovered slab waveguides based on the two-dimensional material hexagonal boron nitride. "We knew using hexagonal boron nitride would lead to outstanding optical properties in our samples; none of us expected that it would also act as a waveguide," said Samuel Lagasse, one of the scientists involved in the study. The slabs of hexagonal boron nitride were carefully tuned in thickness so that the emitted light would be trapped within the hexagonal boron nitride and waveguided.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed new nanoparticles that can “hitch a ride” on immune cells. Because of their tiny size, the nanoparticles can tag along directly into lymph nodes and help metastasis show up on MRIs, where it would otherwise be too hard to detect. The process offers game-changing benefits for the early detection of cancer metastasis in the lymph nodes. While previously, metastasis could only be assessed by an increase in lymph node size, the new nanoparticles could lead to MRI contrast agents that can highlight metastatic cells in lymph nodes that may otherwise appear normal.

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

Researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of California-Riverside have developed a wax coating for fruits and vegetables that combines food-grade wax with a nano-encapsulated cinnamon-bark essential oil in protein carriers to enhance them with antibacterial properties. This technology bolsters the safety of fresh produce and provides enhanced protection against bacteria and fungi. This composite coating provides both immediate and delayed antibacterial effects.

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

Researchers from Penn State have created a metasurface that can be used to preprocess and transform images before they are captured by a camera, allowing a computer – and artificial intelligence – to process them with minimal power and data bandwidth. A metasurface is an optical element akin to a glass slide that uses tiny nanostructures placed at different angles to control light. This new metasurface has many potential applications, including for use in target tracking and surveillance to map how a car, for example, moves across a city.

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

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University have developed a less expensive way to detect nuclease digestion – one of the critical steps in many nucleic acid sensing applications, such as those used to identify COVID-19. This low-cost tool, called a Subak reporter, is based on fluorescent silver nanoclusters. Subak reporters cost just $1 per nanomolecule to make, while the currently used technology costs $62 per nanomolecule to produce.

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

A multidisciplinary research team at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center has discovered a new way to kill a tumor by disrupting its acidic "microenvironment" without harming normal tissue. The target of this approach is hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral that is a major component of bone and teeth but is also produced by some tumors. The researchers synthesized a nanoparticle that, when delivered via an injectable solution, bound to calcium on tumor-associated hydroxyapatite crystals, causing them to dissolve.

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

Researchers led by Cornell University have discovered an unusual phenomenon in Mott insulators, a metal-insulating material, providing valuable insights for the design of materials with new properties by way of faster switching between states of matter. Mott insulators are not fully understood, partly due to the challenging task of imaging the material's nanostructures in real space and capturing how these nanostructures undergo phase changes in as fast as a trillionth of a second. 

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

A group of researchers led by Cornell University has identified a new way to harness the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of a botanical compound to make nanofiber-coated cotton bandages that fight infection and help wounds heal more quickly. The biofunctionalized dressing has excellent antibacterial performance against gram-negative and gram-positive bacterial species and effectively eradicated E. coli and staph bacteria in testing.

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

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory are developing nanometer-scale light-based systems that could deliver breakthroughs for ultrafast microelectronics and night vision capabilities. The scientists have designed and fabricated asymmetric, nano-sized gold structures on an atomically thin layer of graphene. The gold structures, called nanoantennas, capture and focus light waves, forming optical "hot spots" that excite the electrons within the graphene. The hot spots are located only at the sharp tips of the nanoantennas, leading to a pathway on which the excited hot electrons flow.  

(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

One of the most important components of satellites that enable telecommunication is the waveguide, which is a metal tube for guiding radio waves. It is also one of the heaviest payloads satellites carry into orbit. Now, researchers from Drexel University and the University of British Columbia are trying to lighten the load by creating and testing a waveguide made from 3D-printed polymers coated with a conductive nanomaterial called MXene. "MXene materials provide one of the thinnest possible coatings … that can create a conductive surface,” said Yury Gogotsi, one of the scientists involved in this study.