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

As we look back at the many nanotechnology advances that occurred in 2023, we highlight the top 9 nanotechnology-related stories that generated the most impressions on the NNI LinkedIn page. The Top 3 stories are about a novel device that could dramatically boost the conversion of heat into electricity (#1), a new property of ferroelectric two-dimensional materials (#2), and a laser-based method that could lead to new puncture-resistant materials (#3). 

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

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a vertically aligned carbon nanotube foam that can dissipate a large amount of rotational kinetic energy from an impact. As a helmet lining material, it could mitigate, or even prevent, traumatic brain injuries by weakening rotational kinetic energy before it reaches the brain. "This material shows great promise for enabling new helmets that are drastically better at preventing concussions," says Ramathasan Thevamaran, the engineer who led the research.

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

Researchers at the University of Kansas have used ultrafast lasers to map the ballistic movement of electrons in graphene, a two-dimensional nanomaterial. In ballistic transport, electrons move unimpeded with reduced collisions. Electronic devices using ballistic transport could potentially be faster, more powerful, and more energy-efficient.

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

Scientists from Rice University, the University of Utah, J.A. Woollam Co., Inc. (Lincoln, NE), and Tokyo Metropolitan University in Japan have developed two ways of making wafer-scale synthetic chiral carbon nanotube assemblies starting from achiral mixtures. The resulting "tornado" and "twisted-and-stacked" thin films can control ellipticity a property of polarized light to a level and in a range of the spectrum that was previously largely beyond reach.

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

Researchers from the Blood Research Institute in Milwaukee, WI; the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, TX; the University of British Columbia, Canada; and Hokkaido University in Japan have described an approach based on platelet-optimized lipid nanoparticles containing mRNA for the treatment of bleeding disorders. The mRNA lipid nanoparticles were introduced inside donor platelets, so they can accumulate locally in wounds, providing hope that such donor platelets could one day treat acute bleeding disorders.

In a recent study, the Government Accountability Office has found that seven of the 11 Federal agencies participating in the SBIR and STTR programs used open topics. “Open topic” submissions are proposals that both define research needs and propose solutions to address them.

The NNI, with support from the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, has organized a series of roundtable discussions on promising areas that could have near-term impacts (four years or less) on climate change. This summary focuses on batteries and energy storage. 

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

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, and National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan have developed a new technique to integrate 2D materials into devices in a single step while keeping the surfaces of the materials and the resulting interfaces pristine and free from defects. Their method relies on engineering surface forces available at the nanoscale to allow the 2D material to be physically stacked onto other prebuilt device layers. The researchers used this approach to build arrays of 2D transistors that achieved new functionalities compared to devices produced using conventional fabrication techniques. 

This workshop, which was held on Nov. 16–17, 2023, focused on research efforts to better understand environmental and health implications of engineered nanomaterials and ways to leverage the nanosafety infrastructure that has been developed over the past 20 years.

This profile article explores Rachel Miller's academic journey, her early interest in STEM, her personal and academic struggles, and how she became interested in nanoscience and, later, in scientific research.