In one of those scientific breakthroughs that makes John McCain want to strangle an experimental cocaine-addled monkey, researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK have created the world’s smallest atomic valentine, measuring just five nanometers by three-and-a-half nanometers. The previous record, set two years ago by the very same group, was eight nanometers.
It’s alarming enough when robots ingest plant detritus like twigs and grass clippings. It’s another thing entirely when they can start chowing down on members of the animal kingdom. A pair of prototype robots are designed to catch bugs, a major step on the path toward robots that can hunt, catch and digest their own meals.
Materials scientists are constantly trying to tweak their products to be a little stronger, a little less brittle, a little more malleable--it’s the engineer’s job to imbue any material with the properties it needs to do its job. That often means striking a compromise between conflicting properties, but perhaps not for much longer. Researchers at the Technical University of Hamburg and the Helmholtz Center Geesthacht have engineered a new nanomaterial that changes from hard to soft with the flip of a switch.
Printable body armor, better bulletproof glass, and tougher steel are just a few of the applications for a new materials technology developed by Israeli researchers. A team of scientists there have developed a transparent material made of self-assembling nanospheres that is the stiffest organic material ever created, surpassing the properties of stainless steel and even Kevlar.
Rarely do the worlds of nanotech and carnival cuisine overlap, but when they do the results can be pretty sweet. A team of engineers has created a technology for fabricating nanofibers that's half high-speed centrifuge, half cotton candy machine, spinning and stretching out ultra-thin nanofibers that measure just 100 nanometers in diameter.
Earlier this year, Francesco Stellacci announced that his group had developed a material that can suck 20 times its weight in oil out of a sample of water. The material could be used to clean up massive crude spills, and chemist Joerg Lahann of the University of Michigan called the work a blueprint for scientists who hope to design nanomaterials that protect the environment. Yet Stellacci doesn’t consider this his best work. He’s excited about tricking cells.
Imagine flying an airplane, watching a television or using a laptop computer made, at least in part, from a paper 500 times stronger and 10 times lighter than steel. It's no ordinary paper; it's "buckypaper"—a nanotechnology material that looks like carbon paper and is made out of tube-shaped carbon molecules 50,000 times thinner than a human hair. The material's strength, however, comes when it's stacked and pressed together to form a composite, giving it the ability to conduct electricity like copper and disperse heat like steel.