David Kirkpatrick

August 4, 2010

Invisibility cloak update

It’s been several months since I’ve come across any news on invisibility cloak technology, something of a pet subject around here, but here’s the very latest — findings on transformation optics.

From the second link, the release:

New findings promising for ‘transformation optics,’ cloaking

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Researchers have overcome a fundamental obstacle in using new “metamaterials” for radical advances in optical technologies, including ultra-powerful microscopes and computers and a possible invisibility cloak.

The metamaterials have been plagued by a major limitation: too much light is “lost,” or absorbed by metals such as silver and gold contained in the metamaterials, making them impractical for optical devices.

However, a Purdue University team has solved this hurdle, culminating three years of research based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at the university’s Discovery Park.

“This finding is fundamental to the whole field of metamaterials,” said Vladimir M. Shalaev, Purdue’s Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We showed that, in principle, it’s feasible to conquer losses and develop these materials for many applications.”

Research findings are detailed in a paper appearing on Aug. 5 in the journal Nature.

The material developed by Purdue researchers is made of a fishnet-like film containing holes about 100 nanometers in diameter and repeating layers of silver and aluminum oxide. The researchers etched away a portion of the aluminum oxide between silver layers and replaced it with a “gain medium” formed by a colored dye that can amplify light.

Other researchers have applied various gain media to the top of the fishnet film, but that approach does not produce sufficient amplification to overcome losses, Shalaev said.

Instead, the Purdue team found a way to place the dye between the two fishnet layers of silver, where the “local field” of light is far stronger than on the surface of the film, causing the gain medium to work 50 times more efficiently.

The approach was first developed by former Purdue doctoral student Hsiao-Kuan Yuan, now at Intel Corp., and it was further developed and applied by doctoral student Shumin Xiao.

Unlike natural materials, metamaterials are able to reduce the “index of refraction” to less than one or less than zero. Refraction occurs as electromagnetic waves, including light, bend when passing from one material into another. It causes the bent-stick-in-water effect, which occurs when a stick placed in a glass of water appears bent when viewed from the outside.

Being able to create materials with an index of refraction that’s negative or between one and zero promises a range of potential breakthroughs in a new field called transformation optics. Possible applications include a “planar hyperlens” that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful and able to see objects as small as DNA; advanced sensors; new types of “light concentrators” for more efficient solar collectors; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and a cloak of invisibility.

Excitement about metamaterials has been tempered by the fact that too much light is absorbed by the materials. However, the new approach can dramatically reduce the “absorption coefficient,” or how much light and energy is lost, and might amplify the incident light so that the metamaterial becomes “active,” Shalaev said.

“What’s really important is that the absorption coefficient can be as small as only one-millionth of what it was before using our approach,” Shalaev said. “We can even have amplification of light instead of its absorption. Here, for the first time, we showed that metamaterials can have a negative refractive index and amplify light.”

The Nature paper was written by Xiao, senior research scientist Vladimir P. Drachev, principal research scientist Alexander V. Kildishev, doctoral student Xingjie Ni, postdoctoral fellow Uday K. Chettiar, Yuan, and Shalaev.

Fabricating the material was a major challenge, Shalaev said.

First, the researchers had to learn how to precisely remove as much as possible of the aluminum oxide layer in order to vacate space for dye without causing a collapse of the structure.

“You remove it almost completely but leave a little bit to act as pillars to support the structure, and then you spin coat the dye-doped polymer inside the structure,” he said.

The researchers also had to devise a way to deposit just the right amount of dye mixed with an epoxy between the silver layers of the perforated film.

“You can’t deposit too much dye and epoxy, which have a positive refractive index, but only a thin layer about 50 nanometers thick, or you lose the negative refraction,” Shalaev said.

Future work may involve creating a technology that uses an electrical source instead of a light source, like semiconductor lasers now in use, which would make them more practical for computer and electronics applications.


The work was funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

Hit this link for the related image (it’s just too big for this blog and I didn’t feel like doing any resizing), and here’s the accompanying caption for the image:

This illustration shows the structure of a new device created by Purdue researchers to overcome a fundamental obstacle in using new “metamaterials” for radical advances in optical technologies, including ultrapowerful microscopes and computers and a possible invisibility cloak. The material developed by the researchers is a perforated, fishnet-like film made of repeating layers of silver and aluminum oxide. The researchers etched away a portion of the aluminum oxide between silver layers and replaced it with a “gain medium” to amplify light. (Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University)

July 3, 2010

Toward quantum computing

This news comes from the University of Maryland offering another advancement toward a quantum computer — something that is ways off yet — that involves nanotechnology.

The release:

UM Scientists Advance Quantum Computing & Energy Conversion Tech

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Using a unique hybrid nanostructure, University of Maryland researchers have shown a new type of light-matter interaction and also demonstrated the first full quantum control of qubit spin within very tiny colloidal nanostructures (a few nanometers), thus taking a key step forward in efforts to create a quantum computer.

Published in the July 1 issue of Nature, their research builds on work by the same Maryland research team published in March in the journal Science (3-26-10). According to the authors and outside experts, the new findings further advance the promise these new nanostructures hold for quantum computing and for new, more efficient, energy generation technologies (such as photovoltaic cells), as well as for other technologies that are based on light-matter interactions like biomarkers.

“The real breakthrough is that we use a new technology from materials science to ‘shed light’ on light-matter interactions and related quantum science in ways that we believe will have important applications in many areas, particularly energy conversion and storage and quantum computing,” said lead researcher Min Ouyang, an assistant professor in the department of physics and in the university’s Maryland NanoCenter. “In fact, our team already is applying our new understanding of nanoscale light-matter interactions and advancement of precise control of nanostructures to the development of a new type of photovoltaic cell that we expect to be significantly more efficient at converting light to electricity than are current cells.”

Ouyang and the other members of the University of Maryland team — research scientist Jiatao Zhang, and students Kwan Lee and Yun Tang — have created a patent-pending process that uses chemical thermodynamics to produce, in solution, a broad range of different combination materials, each with a shell of structurally perfect mono-crystal semiconductor around a metal core. In the research published in this week’s Nature, the researchers used hybrid metal/semiconductor nanostructures developed through this process to experimentally demonstrate “tunable resonant coupling” between a plasmon (from metal core) and an exciton (from semiconductor shell), with a resulting enhancement of the Optical Stark Effect. This effect was discovered some 60 years ago in studies of the interaction between light and atoms that showed light can be applied to modify atomic quantum states.

Nanostructures, Large Advances
“Metal-semiconductor heteronanostructures have been investigated intensely in the last few years with the metallic components used as nanoscale antennas to couple light much more effectively into and out of semiconductor nanoscale, light-emitters,” said Garnett W. Bryant, leader of the Quantum Processes and Metrology Group in the Atomic Physics Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “The research led Min Ouyang shows that a novel heteronanostructure with the semiconductor surrounding the metallic nanoantenna can achieve the same goals. Such structures are very simple and much easier to make than previously attempted, greatly opening up possibilities for application. Most importantly, they have demonstrated that the light/matter coupling can be manipulated to achieve coherent quantum control of the semiconductor nanoemitters, a key requirement for quantum information processing,” said Bryant, who is not involved with this research. Bryant also is a scientist in the Joint Quantum Institute, a leading center of quantum science research that is a partnership between NIST and the University of Maryland.

Ouyang and his colleagues agree that their new findings were made possible by their crystal-metal hybrid nanostructures, which offer a number of benefits over the epitaxial structures used for previous work. Epitaxy has been the principle way to create single crystal semiconductors and related devices. The new research highlights the new capabilities of these UM nanostructures, made with a process that avoids two key constraints of epitaxy — a limit on deposition semiconductor layer thickness and a rigid requirement for “lattice matching.”

The Maryland scientists note that, in addition to the enhanced capabilities of their hybrid nanostructures, the method for producing them doesn’t require a clean room facility and the materials don’t have to be formed in a vacuum, the way those made by conventional epitaxy do. “Thus it also would be much simpler and cheaper for companies to mass produce products based on our hybrid nanostructures,” Ouyang said.

UM: Addressing Big Issues, Exploring Big Ideas
Every day University of Maryland faculty and student researchers are making a deep impact on the scientific, technological, political, social, security and environmental challenges facing our nation and world. Working in partnership with federal agencies, and international and industry collaborators, they are advancing knowledge and solutions in a areas such as climate change, global security, energy, public health, information technology, food safety and security, and space exploration.


Schematic of hybrid core-shell growth process

“Tailoring light-matter-spin interactions in colloidal hetero-nanostructures” Jiatao Zhang, Yun Tang, Kwan Lee, Min Ouyang, Nature, July 1, 2010.

This work was supported by the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Beckman Foundation. Facility support was from Maryland Nanocenter and its Nanoscale Imaging, Spectroscopy, and Properties Laboratory, which is supported in part by the NSF as a Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers shared experiment facility.

December 24, 2009

Introducing the one-molecule transistor

I’ve already introduced the one-atom transistor earlier this month. Now here’s new research offering a transistor created from a single molecule.

The release:

Scientists create world’s first molecular transistor

IMAGE: Engineers adjusted the voltage applied via gold contacts to a benzene molecule, allowing them to raise and lower the molecule’s energy states and demonstrate that it could be used exactly…

Click here for more information.

This release is available in Chinese.

New Haven, Conn.—A group of scientists has succeeded in creating the first transistor made from a single molecule. The team, which includes researchers from Yale University and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, published their findings in the December 24 issue of the journal Nature.

The team, including Mark Reed, the Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale, showed that a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts could behave just like a silicon transistor.

The researchers were able to manipulate the molecule’s different energy states depending on the voltage they applied to it through the contacts. By manipulating the energy states, they were able to control the current passing through the molecule.

“It’s like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule’s different energy states,” Reed said. “We were able to adjust the height of the hill, allowing current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high.” In this way, the team was able to use the molecule in much the same way as regular transistors are used.

The work builds on previous research Reed did in the 1990s, which demonstrated that individual molecules could be trapped between electrical contacts. Since then, he and Takhee Lee, a former Yale postdoctoral associate and now a professor at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, developed additional techniques over the years that allowed them to “see” what was happening at the molecular level.

Being able to fabricate the electrical contacts on such small scales, identifying the ideal molecules to use, and figuring out where to place them and how to connect them to the contacts were also key components of the discovery. “There were a lot of technological advances and understanding we built up over many years to make this happen,” Reed said.

There is a lot of interest in using molecules in computer circuits because traditional transistors are not feasible at such small scales. But Reed stressed that this is strictly a scientific breakthrough and that practical applications such as smaller and faster “molecular computers”—if possible at all—are many decades away.

“We’re not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits,” he said. “But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors.”


Other authors of the paper include Hyunwook Song and Yun Hee Jang (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology); and Youngsang Kim and Heejun Jeong (Hanyang University).

Citation: 10.1038/nature08639

November 18, 2009

Moving nanoscale objects with light

This finding is important toward creating working nanoscale machines.

The release:

Nov. 16, 2009

Small optical force can budge nanoscale objects

By Bill Steele

dual rings
Scanning electron micrograph of two thin, flat rings of silicon nitride, each 190 nanometers thick and mounted a millionth of a meter apart. Light is fed into the ring resonators from the straight waveguide at the right. Under the right conditions optical forces between the two rings are enough to bend the thin spokes and pull the rings toward one another, changing their resonances enough to act as an optical switch.
Image from Cornell Nanophotonics Group

With a bit of leverage, Cornell researchers have used a very tiny beam of light with as little as 1 milliwatt of power to move a silicon structure up to 12 nanometers. That’s enough to completely switch the optical properties of the structure from opaque to transparent, they reported.

The technology could have applications in the design of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) — nanoscale devices with moving parts — and micro-optomechanical systems (MOMS) which combine moving parts with photonic circuits, said Michal Lipson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The research by postdoctoral researcher Gustavo Wiederhecker, Long Chen, Ph.D. ’09, Alexander Gondarenko, Ph.D. ’10, and Lipson appears in the online edition of the journal Nature and will appear in a forthcoming print edition.

Light can be thought of as a stream of particles that can exert a force on whatever they strike. The sun doesn’t knock you off your feet because the force is very small, but at the nanoscale it can be significant. “The challenge is that large optical forces are required to change the geometry of photonic structures,” Lipson explained.

But the researchers were able to reduce the force required by creating two ring resonators — circular waveguides whose circumference is matched to a multiple of the wavelength of the light used — and exploiting the coupling between beams of light traveling through the two rings.

A beam of light consists of oscillating electric and magnetic fields, and these fields can pull in nearby objects, a microscopic equivalent of the way static electricity on clothes attracts lint. This phenomenon is exploited in “optical tweezers” used by physicists to trap tiny objects. The forces tend to pull anything at the edge of the beam toward the center.

When light travels through a waveguide whose cross-section is smaller than its wavelength some of the light spills over, and with it the attractive force. So parallel waveguides close together, each carrying a light beam, are drawn even closer, rather like two streams of rainwater on a windowpane that touch and are pulled together by surface tension.

The researchers created a structure consisting of two thin, flat silicon nitride rings about 30 microns (millionths of a meter) in diameter mounted one above the other and connected to a pedestal by thin spokes. Think of two bicycle wheels on a vertical shaft, but each with only four thin, flexible spokes. The ring waveguides are three microns wide and 190 nanometers (nm — billionths of a meter) thick, and the rings are spaced 1 micron apart.

When light at a resonant frequency of the rings, in this case infrared light at 1533.5 nm, is fed into the rings, the force between the rings is enough to deform the rings by up to 12 nm, which the researchers showed was enough to change other resonances and switch other light beams traveling through the rings on and off. When light in both rings is in phase — the peaks and valleys of the wave match — the two rings are pulled together. When it is out of phase they are repelled. The latter phenomenon might be useful in MEMS, where an ongoing problem is that silicon parts tend to stick together, Lipson said.

An application in photonic circuits might be to create a tunable filter to pass one particular optical wavelength, Wiederhecker suggested.

The work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Cornell Center for Nanoscale Systems. Devices were fabricated at the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, also supported by NSF.


August 16, 2009

Nanolaser could lead to optical computer and more

Sounds promising. The field of alternate computation — such a quantum, optical, biological, et. al. — is always interesting.

The release:

New nanolaser key to future optical computers and technologies

Because the new device, called a “spaser,” is the first of its kind to emit visible light, it represents a critical component for possible future technologies based on “nanophotonic” circuitry, said Vladimir Shalaev, the Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University.

Such circuits will require a laser-light source, but current lasers can’t be made small enough to integrate them into electronic chips. Now researchers have overcome this obstacle, harnessing clouds of electrons called “surface plasmons,” instead of the photons that make up light, to create the tiny spasers.

Findings are detailed in a paper appearing online Sunday (Aug. 16) in the journal Nature, reporting on work conducted by researchers at Purdue, Norfolk State University and Cornell University.

Nanophotonics may usher in a host of radical advances, including powerful “hyperlenses” resulting in sensors and microscopes 10 times more powerful than today’s and able to see objects as small as DNA; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and more efficient solar collectors.

“Here, we have demonstrated the feasibility of the most critical component – the nanolaser – essential for nanophotonics to become a practical technology,” Shalaev said.

The “spaser-based nanolasers” created in the research were spheres 44 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, in diameter – more than 1 million could fit inside a red blood cell. The spheres were fabricated at Cornell, with Norfolk State and Purdue performing the optical characterization needed to determine whether the devices behave as lasers.

The findings confirm work by physicists David Bergman at Tel Aviv University and Mark Stockman at Georgia State University, who first proposed the spaser concept in 2003.

“This work represents an important milestone that may prove to be the start of a revolution in nanophotonics, with applications in imaging and sensing at a scale that is much smaller than the wavelength of visible light,” said Timothy D. Sands, the Mary Jo and Robert L. Kirk Director of the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

The spasers contain a gold core surrounded by a glasslike shell filled with green dye. When a light was shined on the spheres, plasmons generated by the gold core were amplified by the dye. The plasmons were then converted to photons of visible light, which was emitted as a laser.

Spaser stands for surface plasmon amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. To act like lasers, they require a “feedback system” that causes the surface plasmons to oscillate back and forth so that they gain power and can be emitted as light. Conventional lasers are limited in how small they can be made because this feedback component for photons, called an optical resonator, must be at least half the size of the wavelength of laser light.

The researchers, however, have overcome this hurdle by using not photons but surface plasmons, which enabled them to create a resonator 44 nanometers in diameter, or less than one-tenth the size of the 530-nanometer wavelength emitted by the spaser.

“It’s fitting that we have realized a breakthrough in laser technology as we are getting ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser,” Shalaev said.

The first working laser was demonstrated in 1960.

The research was conducted by Norfolk State researchers Mikhail A. Noginov, Guohua Zhu and Akeisha M. Belgrave; Purdue researchers Reuben M. Bakker, Shalaev and Evgenii E. Narimanov; and Cornell researchers Samantha Stout, Erik Herz, Teeraporn Suteewong and Ulrich B. Wiesner.

Future work may involve creating a spaser-based nanolaser that uses an electrical source instead of a light source, which would make them more practical for computer and electronics applications.



The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Army Research Office and is affiliated with the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Center for Materials Research at Norfolk State, and Cornell’s Materials Science and Engineering Department.


Researchers have created the tiniest laser since its invention nearly 50 years ago. Because the new device, called a “spaser,” is the first of its kind to emit visible light, it represents a critical component for possible future technologies based on “nanophotonic” circuitry. The color diagram (a) shows the nanolaser’s design: a gold core surrounded by a glasslike shell filled with green dye. Scanning electron microscope images (b and c) show that the gold core and the thickness of the silica shell were about 14 nanometers and 15 nanometers, respectively. A simulation of the SPASER (d) shows the device emitting visible light with a wavelength of 525 nanometers. (Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University)

A publication-quality image is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2009/shalaev-spasers.jpg

Abstract on the research in this release is available at: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009b/090817ShalaevSpasers.html



June 4, 2009

Nanoscale zipper cavities

More nanotech news.

The release:

Caltech scientists create nanoscale zipper cavity that responds to single photons of light

Device could be used for highly sensitive force detection, optical communications and more

IMAGE: Scanning electron microscope image of an array of “zipper ” optomechanical cavities. The scale and sensitivity of the device is set by its physical mass (40 picograms/40 trillionths of a gram)…

Click here for more information. 

PASADENA, Calif.—Physicists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a nanoscale device that can be used for force detection, optical communication, and more. The device exploits the mechanical properties of light to create an optomechanical cavity in which interactions between light and motion are greatly strengthened and enhanced. These interactions, notes Oskar Painter, associate professor of applied physics at Caltech, and the principal investigator on the research, are the largest demonstrated to date.

The device and the work that led to it are described in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

The fact that photons of light, despite having no mass, nonetheless carry momentum and can interact with mechanical objects is an idea that dates back to Kepler and Newton. The mechanical properties of light are also known to limit the precision with which one can measure an object’s position, since simply by using light to do the measurement, you apply a force and disturb the object.

It was important to consider these so-called back-action effects in the design of devices to measure weak, classical forces. Such considerations were part of the development of gravity-wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). These sorts of interferometer-based detectors have also been used at much smaller scales, in scanning probe instruments used to detect or image atomic surfaces or even single electron spins.

To get an idea of how these systems work, consider a mirror attached to a floppy cantilever, or spring. The cantilever is designed to respond to a particular force—say, a magnetic field. Light shining down on the mirror will be deflected when the force is detected—i.e., when the cantilever moves—resulting in a variation in the light beam’s intensity that can then be detected and recorded.

“LIGO is a huge multikilometer-scale interferometer,” notes Painter. “What we did was to take that and scale it all the way down to the size of the wavelength of light itself, creating a nanoscale device.”

They did this, he explains, because as these interferometer-based detectors are scaled down, the mechanical properties of light become more pronounced, and interesting interactions between light and mechanics can be explored.

“To this end, we made our cantilevers many, many times smaller, and made the optical interaction many, many times larger,” explains Painter.

They call this nanoscale device a zipper cavity because of the way its dual cantilevers—or nanobeams, as Painter calls them—move together and apart when the device is in use. “If you look at it, it actually looks like a zipper,” Painter notes.

“Zipper structures break new ground on coupling photonics with micromechanics, and can impact the way we measure motion, even into the quantum realm,” adds Kerry Vahala, Caltech’s Ted and Ginger Jenkins Professor of Information Science and Technology and professor of applied physics, and one of the paper’s authors. “The method embodied in the zipper design also suggests new microfabrication design pathways that can speed advances in the subject of cavity optomechanics as a whole.”

To create their zipper cavity device, the researchers made two nanobeams from a silicon chip, poking holes through the beams to form an effective optical mirror. Instead of training a light down onto the nanobeams, the researchers used optical fibers to send the light “in plane down the length of the beams,” says Painter. The holes in the nanobeams intercept some of the photons, circulating them through the cavity between the beams rather than allowing them to travel straight through the device.

Or, to be more precise, the circulating photons actually create the cavity between the beams. As Painter puts it: “The mechanical rigidity of the structure and the changes in its optical response are predominantly governed by the internal light field itself.”

Such an interaction is possible, he adds, because the structure is precisely designed to maximize the transfer of momentum from the input laser’s photons to the mechanical nanobeams. Indeed, a single photon of laser light zipping through this structure produces a force equivalent to 10 times that of Earth’s gravity. With the addition of several thousand photons to the cavity, the nanobeams are effectively suspended by the laser light.

Changes in the intensity and other properties of the light as it moves along the beams to the far end of the chip can be detected and recorded, just as with any large-scale interferometer.

The potential uses for this sort of optomechanical zipper cavity are myriad. It could be used as a sensor in biology by coating it with a solution that would bind to, say, a specific protein molecule that might be found in a sample. The binding of the protein molecule to the device would add mass to the nanobeams, and thus change the properties of the light traveling through them, signaling that such a molecule had been detected. Similarly, it could be used to detect other ultrasmall physical forces, Painter adds.

Zipper cavities could also be used in optical communications, where circuits route information via optical beams of different colors, i.e., wavelengths. “You could control and manipulate what the optical beams of light are doing,” notes Painter. “As the optical signals moved around in a circuit, their direction or color could be manipulated via other control light fields.” This would create tunable photonics, “optical circuits that can be tuned with light.”

Additionally, the zipper cavity could lead to applications in RF-over-optical communications and microwave photonics as well, where a laser source is modulated at microwave frequencies, allowing the signals to travel for kilometers along optical fibers. In such systems, the high-frequency mechanical vibrations of the zipper cavity could be used to filter and recover the RF or microwave signal riding on the optical wave.




Other authors on the Nature paper, “A picogram- and nanometre-scale photonic-crystal optomechanical cavity,” include graduate students Matt Eichenfield (the paper’s first author) and Jasper Chan, and postdoctoral scholar Ryan Camacho.

Their research was supported by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency seeding effort, and an Emerging Models and Technologies grant from the National Science Foundation.

March 1, 2009

The latest stem cell news

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this news now that the religious right no longer has veto power over good science. This particular breakthrough is Canadian, but finally the NIH can support the best research here in the U.S.

The release:

Mount Sinai Hospital researcher makes stem cell breakthrough

(Toronto, ON, February 25, 2009) – In a study to be released on March 1, 2009, Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dr. Andras Nagy discovered a new method of creating stem cells that could lead to possible cures for devastating diseases including spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The study, to be published by Nature online, accelerates stem cell technology and provides a road map for new clinical approaches to regenerative medicine.

“We hope that these stem cells will form the basis for treatment for many diseases and conditions that are currently considered incurable,” said Dr. Nagy, Senior Investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Investigator at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and Canada Research Chair in Stem Cells and Regeneration. “This new method of generating stem cells does not require embryos as starting points and could be used to generate cells from many adult tissues such as a patient’s own skin cells.”

Dr. Nagy discovered a new method to create pluripotent stem cells (cells that can develop into most other cell types) without disrupting healthy genes. Dr. Nagy’s method uses a novel wrapping procedure to deliver specific genes to reprogram cells into stem cells. Previous approaches required the use of viruses to deliver the required genes, a method that carries the risk of damaging the DNA. Dr. Nagy’s method does not require viruses, and so overcomes a major hurdle for the future of safe, personalized stem cell therapies in humans.

“This research is a huge step forward on the path to new stem cell-based therapies and indicates that researchers at the Lunenfeld are at the leading edge of regenerative medicine,” said Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research for the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital. Regenerative medicine refers to enabling the human body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate its own damaged or diseased cells, tissues and organs.

The research was funded by the Canadian Stem Cell Network and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (United States).

Dr. Nagy joined Mount Sinai Hospital as a Principal investigator in 1994. In 2005, he created Canada’s first embryonic stem cell lines from donated embryos no longer required for reproduction by couples undergoing fertility treatment. That research played a pivotal role in Dr. Nagy’s current discovery.

One of the critical components reported in Nagy’s paper was developed in the laboratory of Dr. Keisuke Kaji from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Kaji’s findings are also published in the March 1, 2009 issue of Nature. The two papers are highly complementary and further extend Nagy’s findings.

“I was very excited when I found stem cell-like cells in my culture dishes. Nobody, including me, thought it was really possible,” said Dr. Kaji. “It is a step towards the practical use of reprogrammed cells in medicine.”




About the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital



About the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh

The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine is based at the University of Edinburgh and brings together world leading basic stem cell research with established clinical excellence to deliver a “bench-to-bedside” approach aimed at developing new treatments for major diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and liver failure. www.crm.ed.ac.uk

NOTE to media: Dr. Nagy’s Nature paper is availble upon request. It is titled, PiggyBac transposition reprograms fibroblasts to induced pluripotent stem cells.

The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, a University of Toronto affiliated research centre established in 1985, is one of the world’s premier centres in biomedical research. Thirty-four principal investigators lead research in diabetes, cancer biology, epidemiology, stem cell research, women’s and infants’ health, neurobiology and systems biology. For more information on the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, please visit www.lunenfeld.ca

November 27, 2008

Photons driving machines

Nanotech news.

The release:

‘The photon force is with us’: Harnessing light to drive nanomachines

IMAGE: Photonic circuit in which optical force is harnessed to drive nanomechanics (inset)

Click here for more information. 

New Haven, Conn. — Science fiction writers have long envisioned sailing a spacecraft by the optical force of the sun’s light. But, the forces of sunlight are too weak to fill even the oversized sails that have been tried. Now a team led by researchers at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science has shown that the force of light indeed can be harnessed to drive machines — when the process is scaled to nano-proportions.

Their work opens the door to a new class of semiconductor devices that are operated by the force of light. They envision a future where this process powers quantum information processing and sensing devices, as well as telecommunications that run at ultra-high speed and consume little power.

The research, appearing in the November 27 issue of Nature, demonstrates a marriage of two emerging fields of research — nanophotonics and nanomechanics. – which makes possible the extreme miniaturization of optics and mechanics on a silicon chip.

The energy of light has been harnessed and used in many ways. The “force” of light is different — it is a push or a pull action that causes something to move.

“While the force of light is far too weak for us to feel in everyday life, we have found that it can be harnessed and used at the nanoscale,” said team leader Hong Tang, assistant professor at Yale. “Our work demonstrates the advantage of using nano-objects as “targets” for the force of light — using devices that are a billion-billion times smaller than a space sail, and that match the size of today’s typical transistors.”

Until now light has only been used to maneuver single tiny objects with a focused laser beam — a technique called “optical tweezers.” Postdoctoral scientist and lead author, Mo Li noted, “Instead of moving particles with light, now we integrate everything on a chip and move a semiconductor device.”

“When researchers talk about optical forces, they are generally referring to the radiation pressure light applies in the direction of the flow of light,” said Tang. “The new force we have investigated actually kicks out to the side of that light flow.”

While this new optical force was predicted by several theories, the proof required state-of-the-art nanophotonics to confine light with ultra-high intensity within nanoscale photonic wires. The researchers showed that when the concentrated light was guided through a nanoscale mechanical device, significant light force could be generated — enough, in fact, to operate nanoscale machinery on a silicon chip.

The light force was routed in much the same way electronic wires are laid out on today’s large scale integrated circuits. Because light intensity is much higher when it is guided at the nanoscale, they were able to exploit the force. “We calculate that the illumination we harness is a million times stronger than direct sunlight,” adds Wolfram Pernice, a Humboldt postdoctoral fellow with Tang.

“We create hundreds of devices on a single chip, and all of them work,” says Tang, who attributes this success to a great optical I/O device design provided by their collaborators at the University of Washington.

It took more than 60 years to progress from the first transistors to the speed and power of today’s computers. Creating devices that run solely on light rather than electronics will now begin a similar process of development, according to the authors.

“While this development has brought us a new device concept and a giant step forward in speed, the next developments will be in improving the mechanical aspects of the system. But,” says Tang, “the photon force is with us.”




Tang’s team at Yale also included graduate student Chi Xiong. Collaborators at University of Washington were Thomas Baehr-Jones and Michael Hochberg. Funding in support of the project came from the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral fellowship program.

Citation: Nature (November 27, 2008)

Hong Tang

Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science

November 21, 2008

Los Alamos announces superconductivity news

The release:

Los Alamos Scientists See New Mechanism for Superconductivity

When materials are tuned to a critical point at absolute zero temperature, quantum effects dictate universal behavior in material properties. The presence of a singular point is revealed through its unusual electronic properties outside a new form of matter that hides the singularity.

Quantum Blackhole (in condensed matter): When materials are tuned to a critical point at absolute zero temperature, quantum effects dictate universal behavior in material properties. The presence of a singular point is revealed through its unusual electronic properties outside a new form of matter that hides the singularity.   enlarge image


Quantum “Alchemy”: Formation of superconductivity in the vicinity of a singular critical point defies the conventional belief that turbulent electronic fluctuations are not beneficial to form the macroscopic quantum state. The unheralded source of superconductivity holds promise for the design of a room temperature superconductor.   enlarge image

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., November 24, 2008 — Laboratory researchers have posited an explanation for superconductivity that may open the door to the discovery of new, unconventional forms of superconductivity.

In a November 20 Nature letter, research led by Tuson Park and Joe D. Thompson describes a new explanation for superconductivity in non-traditional materials—one that describes a potentially new state of matter in which the superconducting material behaves simultaneously as a nonmagnetic material and a magnetic material.

Superconducting materials carry a current without resistance, usually when cooled to temperatures nearing the liquid point of helium (nearly 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit). Superconductors are extremely important materials because they hold promise for carrying electricity from one place to another without current loss or providing indefinite electric storage capacity. However, the cost of cooling materials to such extremely low temperatures currently limits the practicality of superconductors. If superconductors could be designed to operate at temperatures closer to room temperature, the results would be revolutionary.

Traditional theories of superconductivity hold that electrons within certain nonmagnetic materials can pair up when jostled together by atomic vibrations known as phonons. In other words, phonons provide the “glue” that makes superconductivity possible.

Park and his colleagues now describe a different type of “glue” giving rise to superconducting behavior.

Park and his colleagues cooled a compound of Cerium, Rhodium and Indium to just above absolute zero, nearly minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the material exhibits superconducting behavior. However, they also subjected the crystal to pressure changes and a magnetic field to perturb the alignment of electrons within the material.

“We introduced very high quantum fluctuations in the material,” Park said. “In other words, we made the electrons like a traffic jam, where it would be very difficult for them to move.”

This electronic traffic jam would discourage electron pairing by phonons; nevertheless, the material continued to exhibit superconducting behavior.

Based on the material’s behavior under different pressures and temperatures, researchers believe that the material reaches a quantum critical point near absolute zero. At this quantum critical point, the material retained properties of a metal with highly ordered electrons and highly disordered ones—a previously undescribed state of matter.

Park and his colleagues believe that this quantum critical point provides a mechanism to pair electrons into a quantum state that gives rise to superconducting behavior. In other words, the research helps explain a mechanism for superconductivity without phonons.

“This quantum critical point could be analogous to a black hole,” said Park. “We can see what is happening at or near the event horizon—superconductivity—but we cannot yet see inside to understand why.”

A new mechanism for the electron-pairing glue that gives rise to superconductivity could allow researchers to design new materials that exhibit superconducting materials at higher temperatures, perhaps even opening the door to the “Holy Grail” of superconducting materials—one that works at room temperature.

Park’s colleagues include: Vladimir Sidorov, Filip Ronning, Jian-Xin Zhu, Yoshifumi Tokiwa, Hanoh Lee, Eric Bauer, Roman Movshovich, John Sarrao and Joe D. Thompson.

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and Office of Basic Energy Science and funded in part by Los Alamos National Laboratory.


Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and Washington Group International for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

October 22, 2008

Moving toward quantum computing

Making headway, it seems. This is amazing — storing information inside the nucleus of an atom!

From the link:

The problem: How do you isolate a quantum bit from a noisy environment to protect the deli-cate quantum information, while at the same time allowing it to interact with the outside world so that it can be manipulated and measured?

The team, with scientists and engineers from Oxford and Princeton universities and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, reported a solution to this problem in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Nature.

The team’s plan was to devise a hybrid system using both the electron and nucleus of an atom of phosphorous embedded in a silicon crystal. Each behaves as a tiny quantum magnet capa-ble of storing quantum information, but inside the crystal the electron is more than a million times bigger than the nucleus, with a magnetic field that is a thousand times stronger. This makes the electron well-suited for manipulation and measurement, but not so good for storing information, which can become rapidly corrupted. This is where the nucleus comes in: when the information in the electron is ready for storage, it is moved into the nucleus where it can survive for much longer times.

Go below the fold for a release from October 23 on this story.


October 17, 2008

Organic circuits may lead to plastic electronics

Interesting news in electronic circuits from Technology Review.

From the link:

Researchers have found a simple way to make high-performance electronic circuits from organic semiconductors. The advance, reported in this week’s Nature, brings us one step closer to low-cost, bendable plastic electronics.

A research team led by Dago de Leeuw at the Philips Research Laboratories, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, developed semiconductor molecules that automatically arrange themselves on a surface in a layer just a few nanometers thick. These “self-assembling” molecules could make it much easier to fabricate organic transistors, the essential building blocks of plastic electronics. In experiments, the researchers used the technique to make hundreds of transistors and arranged them into complex circuits.

Philips Research Laboratories

Self-made circuit: This logic circuit features more than 300 organic transistors made using a new self-assembly trick. The semiconducting layer in each device is formed from molecules that arrange themselves on the circuit surface. Credit: Philips Research Laboratories

September 3, 2008

Advances toward quantum computing

News from PhysOrg:

MIT researchers may have found a way to overcome a key barrier to the advent of super-fast quantum computers, which could be powerful tools for applications such as code breaking. Ever since Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman first proposed the theory of quantum computing more than two decades ago, researchers have been working to build such a device.

One approach involves superconducting devices that, when cooled to temperatures of nearly absolute zero (-459 degrees F, -273 degrees C), can be made to behave like artificial atoms – nanometer-scale “boxes” in which the electrons are forced to exist at specific, discrete energy levels (picture an elevator that can stop at the floors of a building but not in between). But traditional scientific techniques for characterizing – and therefore better understanding – atoms and molecules do not necessarily translate easily to artificial atoms, said William Oliver of MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Analog Device Technology Group and MIT’s Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE).

In the Sept. 4 issue of Nature, Oliver and colleagues have reported a technique that could fill that gap. Oliver’s co-authors are lead author David Berns, a graduate student in physics and RLE; Mark Rudner, also a graduate student in physics; Sergio Valenzuela, a research affiliate at MIT’s Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory; Karl Berggren, the Emanuel E. Landsman Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS); Professor Leonid Levitov of physics; and EECS Professor Terry Orlando. The work is a hallmark of the increased collaboration between researchers on the MIT campus and at Lincoln Laboratory.

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