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

Date Published
(Funded by the National Science Foundation)

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), using facilities at MIT and Harvard University’s Center for Nanoscale Systems (part of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure network), have demonstrated current-controlled, non-volatile magnetization switching in an atomically thin van der Waals magnetic material at room temperature. Magnets composed of atomically thin van der Waals materials can typically only be controlled at extremely cold temperatures, so the fact that the researchers were able to control these materials at room temperature is key. The researchers’ ultimate goal is to bring van der Waals magnets to commercial applications, including magnetic-based devices with unprecedented speed, efficiency, and scalability. 

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

Physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that when five sheets of graphene are stacked like steps on a staircase, the resulting structure provides the right conditions for electrons to pass through as fractions of their total charge, with no need for any external magnetic field. The results are the first evidence of the "fractional quantum anomalous Hall effect" (the term "anomalous" refers to the absence of a magnetic field) in crystalline graphene, a material that physicists did not expect to exhibit this effect.

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

An international team of researchers from Princeton University, the University of Texas at Dallas, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, FL, the Beijing Institute of Technology, and the University of Zurich in Switzerland has observed long-range quantum coherence effects in a topological insulator-based device, which may enable the development of efficient topological electronic devices. "Unlike conventional electronic devices, topological circuits are robust against defects and impurities, making them far less prone to energy dissipation, which is advantageous for greener applications," said M. Zahid Hasan, one of the scientists involved in this study. This work builds on 15 years of research at Princeton University on the development of quantum devices using bismuth bromide topological insulators – only a few nanometers thick and capable of maintaining quantum coherence at room temperature.

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

Researchers led by Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have introduced a pioneering approach aimed at combating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The study focused on disrupting a type of protein-protein interaction that plays a role in the body's antioxidant response. The research holds promise for mitigating the cellular damage that underlies neurodegenerative diseases.

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

Researchers from Harvard University and Utrecht University in The Netherlands have developed a previously elusive way to improve the selectivity of catalytic reactions, adding a new method of increasing the efficacy of catalysts for a potentially wide range of applications in various industries, including pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Inspired by the structure of butterfly wings, the researchers designed a new catalyst platform that partially embeds nanoparticles into the substrate, trapping them so they don't move around during catalysis, while leaving the rest of the nanoparticles' surfaces exposed, enabling them to perform the catalytic reactions efficiently and without agglomeration.

(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.