September Technology Insights: Big innovations at the nanoscale level

Check out a roundup from EE about the latest innovations in the area of nanotechnology

Nanotechnology, which deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers, is a relatively new form of material manipulation at atomic and molecular levels, since the scanning tunneling microscopes that allow engineers to even see things that small were only invented less than 40 years ago. As Nano Technology 1480553 1920scientists and engineers deliberately form materials at the nanoscale level, improving their qualities such as strength, weight, conductivity, and chemical reactivity, the warp speed of technology advancement is going even faster. The existence of nanotechnology is even more striking when considering that a workable model of the atom was theorized a mere 120 years ago.

The ability to manipulate material on such a small scale also has diverse applications, revolutionizing medicine, consumer products, industrial and purification processes, and agriculture. The technology is being employed for sensing and environmental analysis, signal processing, medical imaging, and energy conversion. In the medical arena, nanoparticles are being used to transport heat, light, drugs, and other substances to cells. Here are some recent developments in nanotechnology.

Report: Nanotechnology market to more than triple by 2026

The global nanotechnology market—presently valued at a robust $7.24 billion yearly—is expected to mushroom to $24.56 billion by the year 2026, growing at a CAGR of 16.5% during the forecast period, according to a recent report by Data Bridge Market Research.1

Graphene-based ultrasensitive biosensors

A device using the graphene provides the first step toward ultrasensitive biosensors to detect diseases at the molecular level with near-perfect efficiency, according to researchers in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering. Such super-sensitive biosensors for probing protein structures could greatly improve the depth of diagnosis for a wide variety of diseases extending to both humans and animals. Illnesses related to protein misfolding include Alzheimer’s disease, chronic wasting disease, and mad cow disease. Such biosensors could also lead to improved technologies for developing new pharmaceutical compounds.

The research is published in Nature Nanotechnology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Nature Publishing Group.

In this study, researchers combined graphene with nano-sized metal ribbons of gold. Using sticky tape and a high-tech nanofabrication technique developed at the University of Minnesota, called “template stripping,” researchers were able to create an ultra-flat base layer surface for the graphene. They then used the energy of light to generate a sloshing motion of electrons in the graphene, called plasmons. Similarly, these waves can build in intensity to giant “tidal waves” of local electric fields based on the researchers’ design. When they inserted protein molecules between the graphene and metal ribbons, they were able to harness enough energy to view single layers of protein molecules.2 

Researchers Repair Faulty Brain Circuits Using Nanotechnology

Working with mouse and human tissue, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers report new evidence that a protein pumped out of some—but not all—populations of “helper” cells in the brain, called astrocytes, play a specific role in directing the formation of connections among neurons needed for learning and forming new memories.

Using mice genetically engineered and bred with fewer such connections, the researchers conducted proof-of-concept experiments that show they could deliver corrective proteins via nanoparticles to replace the missing protein needed for “road repairs” on the defective neural highway.

Since such connective networks are lost or damaged by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or certain types of intellectual disability, such as Norrie disease, the researchers say their findings advance efforts to regrow and repair the networks and potentially restore normal brain function.

The findings are described in the May issue of Nature Neuroscience.

"We are looking at the fundamental biology of how astrocytes function, but perhaps have discovered a new target for someday intervening in neurodegenerative diseases with novel therapeutics,” says Jeffrey Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D., the John W. Griffin Director of the Brain Science Institute, and professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.3

1. Rise Media, “Nanotechnology Market Size to hit $2,231.5 Million by 2026, at 10.5% CAGR,” July 2019
2. University of Minnesota, “New graphene-based device is first step toward ultrasensitive biosensors,” March 2019
3. Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Researchers Repair Faulty Brain Circuits Using Nanotechnology,” July 2019

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