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

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

Researchers from Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found an improved way to make high-quality crystals that resonate strongly with infrared light. They made these ribbon-shaped nanocrystals, or nanoribbons, by using an approach, called flame vapor deposition, which improves on a previous method that used adhesive tape to peel away material layers from a bulk material. The nanoribbons produced using this approach have exceptionally smooth, parallel edges that function as reflecting surfaces. 

(Funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Department of Defense)

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have built a superconducting camera containing 400,000 pixels – 400 times more than any other device of its type. Superconducting cameras allow scientists to capture very weak light signals, whether from distant objects in space or parts of the human brain. The NIST camera is made up of grids of superconducting nanowires, cooled to near absolute zero, in which current moves with no resistance until a wire is struck by a photon. Combining all the locations and intensities of all the photons makes up an image.

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

Researchers from Michigan State University have expanded our understanding of biological nanowires – microscopic wires made of proteins – by using computer simulations. "We found that in biological nanowires, the electron transport is based on the motion of the proteins in the wire," says Martin Kulke, first author of the study. "What that means is … the longer you make those nanowires, the less electron transport you get through them, and the thicker you make them, the more electron transport you get through them."

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

Texas A&M University researchers have discovered that when a graphene-based supercapacitor is charged, it stores energy and responds by stretching and expanding. This finding can be used to design new materials for flexible electronics or other devices that must be both strong and store energy efficiently. "This research provides a unique understanding of how nanomaterials can be used for lightweight and strong energy-storage devices for aerospace applications," says Dimitris Lagoudas, one of the researchers involved in this study. 

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

An international team of scientists from Arizona State University; the University of Michigan; Universität Bonn in Germany; the Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg, Germany; the Max-Planck-Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany; and the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center in Århus, Denmark has recently developed a novel type of nano engine made of DNA. It is driven by a clever mechanism and can perform pulsing movements. The researchers are now planning to fit it with a coupling and install it as a drive in complex nano machines. "It is the first time that a chemically powered DNA nanotechnology motor has been successfully engineered,” says Petr Šulc, one of the scientists involved in this study.

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

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harvard Medical School, and the National Institutes of Health have developed soft and implantable fibers that can deliver light to major nerves through the body. When these nerves are genetically manipulated to respond to light, the fibers can send pulses of light to the nerves to inhibit pain. The optical fibers, which are flexible and stretch with the body, are made from hydrogel, a rubbery, biocompatible mix of polymers and water, the ratio of which is tuned to create tiny, nanoscale crystals of polymers scattered throughout a more Jell-O-like solution.  

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

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, have discovered a surprising property in graphene (a single atom-thin sheet made with carbon atoms): When stacked in five layers, in a rhombohedral pattern, graphene takes on a very rare, “multiferroic” state, in which the material exhibits both unconventional magnetism and an exotic type of electronic behavior. The discovery could help engineers design ultra-low-power, high-capacity data storage devices for classical and quantum computers.

(Funded in part by the National Institutes of Health)

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have developed an experimental vaccine that could prevent the spread of metastatic cancers to the lungs. The key ingredients of the vaccine are nanoparticles that have been engineered to target a protein known to play a central role in cancer growth and spread. In mice, the vaccine significantly reduced the spread of metastatic breast and skin cancers to the lungs. It also improved the survival rate in mice with metastatic breast cancer after surgical removal of the primary tumor.

(Funded by the National Institutes of Health)

Certain types of RNA venture outside the cell wall, and each of these strands of extracellular RNA rests inside an extracellular nanocarrier, which flows along bodily fluids like a microscopic message in a bottle, carrying information to other cells. Now, researchers at the University of Notre Dame have created a new device that causes the nanocarriers to sort themselves in a sample of blood plasma, saliva, or urine, enabling scientists to isolate any extracellular RNA that carries the early warning signs of cancer, heart disease, or HIV.

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

A technique developed by researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center to deliver medication through the blood-brain barrier has shown promise in a preclinical study for treating glioblastoma, the most common human brain cancer. The blood-brain barrier is a unique property of blood vessels in the brain that prevents substances in the bloodstream from reaching the brain. The technique, which was demonstrated in mice, relies on co-delivering medication with vessel-targeted gold nanoparticles, which are injected into the bloodstream. From an external source, researchers apply short laser pulses, which pass through the mouse skull and activate the gold nanoparticles. This activation generates thermomechanical waves and briefly makes the blood-brain barrier permeable, allowing medication to reach its target.