Nanotechnology, lasers, genetics, and cancer? If there was also something about space, this story might have been a PopSci full house. Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), have figured out a way to deliver cancer-stopping RNA directly into the nucleus of a diseased cell. To get into the nucleus, the RNA is wrapped in special gold nanoshells which are then selectively opened by a laser.
Two women in China have achieved the dubious honor of being the first humans to be killed by nanotechnology. The women, who worked in a poorly ventilated factory spraying a paint that contained nanoparticles, reportedly inhaled the particles over a period of months. The tiny compounds infiltrated the workers' lungs and skin, causing lung damage, fluid buildup, and eventual respiratory failure.
The next generation of semiconductor technology could take a page from nature's book, letting DNA do the heavy lifting. Straight-laced researchers at IBM, afraid of breaking Moore's Law, have figured out a way to combine lithographic patterning and DNA self-assembly to create semiconductors that built themselves into chips that are smaller, more efficient and less expensive than anything made conventionally.
In the macro world, the construction shapes available to us are numerous, and the tools to build them are straightforward. But nanoarchitecture has always been much more limited -- first to two dimensions, then to only certain kinds of three-dimensional shapes. This week, scientists have broadened the possibilities for nano-building, programming DNA to bend itself into complicated custom curves. The researchers revealed their creations in the current issue of Science: a group of tight little gears, tubes, and a wireframe ball.
When I was taking chemistry in college, the mass spectrometer was a desk-mounted machine about twice the size of a PC. Oh, how times do change. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have created the first nanoscale mass spectrometer. Only four micrometers across, the device can measure the mass of single molecules in an entirely novel way.
For years, creating the gears and sprockets needed to make a microscopic robot has required the expensive and time-consuming process of silicon etching. Carving out each individual piece with a laser has made producing more than a couple of pieces prohibitively difficult and costly.
A team at Columbia University now seems to have found a way around that problem. By laying a thin sheet of metal over a special layer of polymer, the team has created nanogears that assemble themselves, opening the possibility of much faster, cheaper, widespread production.
In the recent Robocup 2009 games, in which robots compete for prizes and glory, entrants from many nations held their own. In categories including small, medium, humanoid, 2-D simulation, and 3-D simulation, teams from the U.S., China, Germany, Iran, and quite a few other robot-producing countries played and won.
However, on the smallest playing field of all, there was one clear winner.
Tapping geothermal sources for power has proven a tricky proposition, because of costs and hazards associated with deep drilling. But researchers may have stumbled on a way to boost the power-producing potential of low-temperature hot springs close to the Earth's surface, using nanotechnology.
Anyone who's ever spilled a hot beverage in his or her lap will be happy to hear that chemists at the University of Minnesota have announced a scaldproof fabric.
Water-resistant fabric, of course, has already existed for some time -- but its impermeability applies only to cool liquids. Hot coffee, scalding soup, and other liquids above a certain temperature, on the other hand, seep right through water-resistant cloth.
Remember when, as a kid, you would pass “top-secret” notes written in lemon juice that your friends could only read in the right light? Well, in light of new nanotechnology research, this now sounds absurdly antiquated, like cave painting in the modern era. Instead, the youth of tomorrow (and adults too) could have the option to communicate via documents that self-erase at a preprogrammed time.