Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top five nanotech breakthroughs of 2006

Here's an interesting top-something list, from Forbes – nanotechnology:

Top Five Nanotech Breakthroughs Of 2006
This year saw a slew of remarkable nanotech breakthroughs, and narrowing down the top five was no easy task. One major theme of 2006 was the intersection of computing and biology--integrated circuits were used to study everything from neural activity to tissue dynamics, and disposable bio labs-on-a-chip became a reality.

As usual, one can take issue with some of the citations or suggest others. But what's especially interesting here is that in each item, there are actually multiple instances of progress in the same general area. Allow me to illustrate this with several examples.

1) DNA ORIGAMI

There are reports on the work in question here, here, here, and here. This work involves constructing nanoscale objects out of DNA molecules. There is, in fact, a whole subfield of nanotechnology centered around the use of DNA. It's called, DNA nanotechnolgy (unsurprisingly). Prof. Ned Seeman of NYU has been a leader in this field. Some of his references are here (with some nice graphics), here, here, and here. Seeman's laboratory most recently reported a "nanorobotic arm" using DNA – see here, here, and here.

And here's some additional news this year related to DNA nanotechnology:


2) NANOMAGNETS TO CLEAN UP DRINKING WATER

This research obviously has immense real-world importance. But it isn't so much an example of a major area of nanotech activity. Anyhow, here's an overview of the work: Cleaning Up Water with Nanomagnets. The original work was published in Science (November 10, 2006): Low-Field Magnetic Separation of Monodisperse Fe3O4 Nanocrystals.

3) ARRAYS CONNECT NANOWIRE TRANSISTORS WITH NEURONS

Nanowires of various kinds have been big news this year. For examples, see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Similarly, there have been a number of results with interfacing electronics and neurons, for such things as controling prosthetic limbs and playing computer games. One of the more interesting examples is the recent report of a small robot controled through a neuro-electronic interface. Carbon nanotubes have also been used for neuro-electronic interfaces.

But the work mentioned in the Forbes article, where silicon nanowires only 20 nanometers wide can detect signals at as many as 50 places on a single neuron, is certainly impressive. See here, here, or here for details.

Other research into interfacing neurons and carbon nanotubes: here.

4) SINGLE NANOTUBE ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS

Research involving carbon nanotubes is probably the most active area in the whole field of nanotechnology. The examples are far too numerous to mention individually.

Reports on the research referred to in the Forbes article can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Other uses of carbon nanotubes in electronics are reported here, here, here

5) NANOPARTICLES DESTROY PROSTATE CANCER

There's a general problem with uses of advanced drugs as therapeutics, especially for cancer and in gene therapy – delivering the drugs as specifically as possible to the organs or tissues where the drug should be active, while avoiding tissues where the drug could be unnecessarily harmful. Chemotherapy is perhaps the principal example of this problem. It is possible to design nanoparticles which gain entry only to certain types of cells, so encasing a drug inside such a particle may solve the problem.

Research involving chemotherapy for prostate cancer was reported in April of this year, and is a noteworthy example of this approach. Reports about the research can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. An especially long and informative article about MIT cancer research, including the nanoparticle work, is here. Here's a more general overview: Tumor-Seeking Nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles can also be used to deliver imaging or contrast agents to cancer cells in order to make them easier to detect. There have been a number of other research results reported this year involving nanoparticles for drug delivery or imaging. A few recent examples, just since October:


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For another review of important nanotechnology results this year, with many links, take a look at: The Year in Nanotech – Dazzling displays, handheld sensors, cancer killers, and nanotube computers.

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