To design, build or self-assemble objects at the nano scale, or
one one billionth of a meter, you need a series of building blocks,
like the alphabet that goes on to make coherent sentences and
Last Friday I gave a talk on nanotechnology, that looked at
about 17 basic nano-building blocks. Now you can add one more to the growing list.
Here’s another major milestone involving carbon nanotubes. They
can now be used as a memory storage medium, a world first, as far
as I know. This discovery could have far reaching implications.
US Patent 7335408 – CNT with magnetic
or metal inner coating
Electronics manufacturers have a great interest in novel storage
media, especially at the nanoscale . Imagine a nano-magnetic medium
for high density data storage devices. This patent from Fujitsu and
Tohoku University offers a method for coating the inner surfaces of
nanotubes with magnetic or metal material for information storage
and other purposes …. I can think of a range of applications, both
good ones (such as medical and environmental sensors) and bad
Stepping into McLuhan’s shoes, we could ask ourselves.
What does this technology enhance? Instant feedback, our moral,
ethical and ecological conscience
What does it obsolesce? Privacy, as we know it today
What does it retrieve or bring back? Global and local
Sense-making, presencing, wisdom of the ages, back to our
At the extreme, what does it reverse or flip into? A second
layer; nervous-system for the earth?
Former National Cancer Institute Director Andrew von Eschenbach
claims that “By 2015, nobody will die of cancer; it may not be
cured at that time,” he says, “but innovative new therapies will
make the disease manageable and finally bring an end to the pain,
suffering, and death that cancer now dishes out.”
In support of von Eschenbach’s claim, 92 US Senators and 275
members of the House signed a “2015 goal letter” that describes how
suffering and death from cancer can be eliminated on such an
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the US for people under
age 85, experts say. One in two men and one in three women will get
cancer in their lifetime, and more than 1,500 Americans die every
day from this horrific disease; and these statistics have changed
very little since America first declared war on cancer in 1950.
So, if in 58 years we have made such little headway in fighting
this disease, how can Eschenbach claim we will eliminate cancer
deaths in seven years? The answer lies in what some refer to as the
“nanotech revolution.” Scientists working with this new technology
are creating an impressive array of new cancer therapies and
The nanotech approach to fighting cancer can be divided into two
parts; detection and therapeutic.
Detection systems identify cancer cells before they become
dangerous, and if cancer is in remission, predict if it might flare
up again; these include:
Quantum Dots – dramatically improves today’s early detection
tests. These tiny particles glow and act as markers on cells and
genes, enabling doctors to visualize cancer when present or
impending. Widespread availability expected within five years.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Space Elevator. Your
first stop will be ‘Hotel Row’ where we will enjoy a 2-hour dinner
under the stars; then we continue on to the Geosynchronous Way
Station where most of you will transfer to an L-5 Colony
shuttlecraft. This entire ride takes 8 days, so sit back and enjoy
the trip from your luxury sleeping quarters”.
This scene may sound like science fiction, but it is not.
According to visionaries, the Space Elevator, a revolutionary means
of transport from Earth to space could become reality by as early
as 2030 or before.
Here is how it will work: A special rocket-launched satellite in
geo-synchronous orbit would drop a ribbon made from nano-materials
to a platform in the sea near the equator. The stationary ribbon
will eventually extend to 62,000 miles high and allow 20-ton
elevator cars to climb into space at 120 mph using electricity
generated from solar-power and lasers.
Two Seattle startups, Michael Laine’s Liftport Group, and Brad Edwards’
Sedco are competing to
build this risky project. Both believe they can do it over the next
couple of decades at a cost of about $20 billion. This radical new
system is expected to lower costs of hauling stuff into space from
$10,000 per pound to $100 and eventually to $10 per pound.
A 200 lb person could travel to space for
This enterprising endeavor promises affordable orbital access,
which will attract entrepreneurs from around the world seeking a
piece of the lucrative space market. PayPal founder Elon Musk,
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are among
the more recognizable names investing in this and other
Among the talk of thin-film solar, nano self-assembly, among other ideas at NanoTX’08 conference in Dallas, TX, was a researcher talking about his work with paper batteries. Dr. Mangilal Agarwal of Louisana Tech University talks about how paper batteries work and what problems they solve.
Ever since buckyballs were discovered in 1986, an event that liberated nanotechnology from being an on-paper-only concept and graduated it into a hands-on (or at least electron microscope-on) practice, nanotechnology has been gaining momentum exponentially, despite aggressive anti-tech litigation.
In 2009 the EPA was sued by a collection of tech corporations for failing to enforce federal restrictions on the import and development of carbon nanotubes imposed one year earlier, and for completely failing to make any laws whatsoever regarding other similar carbon-based materials or those of other metals like titanium-dioxide and silver. Although the EPA was cleared of any wrong-doing, the following year three more laws were initiated, and several companies and research facilities were fined.
But then, in 2010, President Obama reversed the ban on stem cell research enacted by former president George W. Bush, stating, “The potential benefits greatly outweigh the moral dilemma. It is not for me to say whether God would have us utilize a dead fetus. But I do believe God would ask us to help to save the sick and dying, if there was any way we could.”
In his famous 2012 re-election speech that earned him the nickname Nanobama, he said:
Researchers from Northeastern University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have improved the efficiency of clustered nanotubes used in solar cells to produce hydrogen by splitting water molecules.
By layering potassium on the surface of the nanotubes made of titanium dioxide and carbon, the photocatalyst can split hydrogen gas from water using ‘about one-third the electrical energy to produce the same amount of hydrogen as an equivalent array of potassium-free nanotubes.’
Rethinking the Possibilities at the Nanoscale Energy is about manipulating the interactions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, metals, biological enzymes and sunlight.
When we design core enabling energy systems (e.g. catalysts, membranes, cathodes/anodes, et al) at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) we find performance that is fundamentally different from the same systems designed at the 'microscale' (millionth of a meter).
Because smaller is better when it comes to manipulating molecules and light, the research teams used ‘tightly packed arrays of titania nanotubes’ with carbon that ‘helps titania absorb light in the visible spectrum.’ Arranging catalysts in the form of nanoscale-sized tubes increases the surface area of the catalyst which in turn increases the reactive area for splitting oxygen and hydrogen.
Chinese researchers have discovered that by sending current through sheets of carbon nanotubes they can create sound.
“Shoushan Fan and his research team at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, working with colleagues at Beijing Normal University, created a thin sheet by roughly aligning many 10-nanometer-diameter carbon nanotubes. When they sent an audio frequency current through the sheet, they discovered it acted as a loudspeaker.” -New Scientist
Carbon nanotubes have been touted the world over as invaluable in many technological projects such as efficient solar cells, localized medication delivery and even in larger structures such as the planned space elevator if that ever takes off. But this is the first experiment in using nanotubes as a replacement for traditional speakers.
Becoming 'energy efficient' goes far beyond changing light bulbs. Our greatest gains will come from moving beyond today's 'combustion' energy systems that burn fuels in large power plants and under our hoods.
Central to this 'post-combustion era' strategy is the fuel cell- which converts chemical energy of hydrogen or hydrogen rich fuels (e.g. natural gas, methanol) into electrical energy. Fuel cells are modular, have no moving parts, offer higher efficiencies, lower maintenance and are ideal for distributed applications.
One of the major roadblocks has been the high costs of platinum catalysts that are peppered on fuel cell membranes (MEAs). To scale up in the decades ahead, fuel cell researchers need to find non-precious metal catalysts.
Can Carbon outperform Platinum? Now a research team from the University of Dayton has found a way to create a carbon nanotube based catalyst that might outperform platinum and dramatically drop the costs of fuel cells.
Shape helps speed up reactions The research team, led by Dr Liming Dai, synthesized carbon nanotubes using an iron base and doped nitrogen particles to change the shape (and properties) of the nanotube cathode, resulting in a faster reaction / higher efficiency.
New Scientist reports Dai's claim that "They are even better than platinum, long regarded as the best catalyst," as they avoid problems with carbon 'poisoning' that leads to lower performance.
We have written extensively on the disruptive role of nanoscale science and engineering in all energy applications (old and new), and the importance of 'shape' in determining molecular system performance in catalysis. We cannot simply extrapolate our assumptions of what is possible or impossible with carbon or hydrogen based on a microscale era of scientific knowledge.
Giving Carbon a New Image (Nanotubes, Nanoparticles & Graphene Sheets)