David Kirkpatrick

July 15, 2010

Acid bath may lead to armchair quantum wires

More nanotech news.

The release:

Nanotubes pass acid test

Rice researchers’ method untangles long tubes, clears hurdle toward armchair quantum wire

HOUSTON – (July 14, 2010) – Rice University scientists have found the “ultimate” solvent for all kinds of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), a breakthrough that brings the creation of a highly conductive quantum nanowire ever closer.

Nanotubes have the frustrating habit of bundling, making them less useful than when they’re separated in a solution. Rice scientists led by Matteo Pasquali, a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry, have been trying to untangle them for years as they look for scalable methods to make exceptionally strong, ultralight, highly conductive materials that could revolutionize power distribution, such as the armchair quantum wire.

The armchair quantum wire — a macroscopic cable of well-aligned metallic nanotubes — was envisioned by the late Richard Smalley, a Rice chemist who shared the Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the the family of molecules that includes the carbon nanotube. Rice is celebrating the 25th anniversary of that discovery this year.

Pasquali, primary author Nicholas Parra-Vasquez and their colleagues reported this month in the online journal ACS Nano that chlorosulfonic acid can dissolve half-millimeter-long nanotubes in solution, a critical step in spinning fibers from ultralong nanotubes.

Current methods to dissolve carbon nanotubes, which include surrounding the tubes with soap-like surfactants, doping them with alkali metals or attaching small chemical groups to the sidewalls, disperse nanotubes at relatively low concentrations. These techniques are not ideal for fiber spinning because they damage the properties of the nanotubes, either by attaching small molecules to their surfaces or by shortening them.

A few years ago, the Rice researchers discovered that chlorosulfonic acid, a “superacid,” adds positive charges to the surface of the nanotubes without damaging them. This causes the nanotubes to spontaneously separate from each other in their natural bundled form.

This method is ideal for making nanotube solutions for fiber spinning because it produces fluid dopes that closely resemble those used in industrial spinning of high-performance fibers. Until recently, the researchers thought this dissolution method would be effective only for short single-walled nanotubes.

In the new paper, the Rice team reported that the acid dissolution method also works with any type of carbon nanotube, irrespective of length and type, as long as the nanotubes are relatively free of defects.

Parra-Vasquez described the process as “very easy.”

“Just adding the nanotubes to chlorosulfonic acid results in dissolution, without even mixing,” he said.

While earlier research had focused on single-walled carbon nanotubes, the team discovered chlorosulfonic acid is also adept at dissolving multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs). “There are many processes that make multiwalled nanotubes at a cheaper cost, and there’s a lot of research with them,” said Parra-Vasquez, who earned his Rice doctorate last year. “We hope this will open up new areas of research.”

They also observed for the first time that long SWNTs dispersed by superacid form liquid crystals. “We already knew that with shorter nanotubes, the liquid-crystalline phase is very different from traditional liquid crystals, so liquid crystals formed from ultralong nanotubes should be interesting to study,” he said.

Parra-Vasquez, now a postdoctoral researcher at Centre de Physique Moleculaire Optique et Hertzienne, Universite’ de Bordeaux, Talence, France, came to Rice in 2002 for graduate studies with Pasquali and Smalley.

Study co-author Micah Green, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech and a former postdoctoral fellow in Pasquali’s research group, said working with long nanotubes is key to attaining exceptional properties in fibers because both the mechanical and electrical properties depend on the length of the constituent nanotubes. Pasquali said that using long nanotubes in the fibers should improve their properties on the order of one to two magnitudes, and that similar enhanced properties are also expected in thin films of carbon nanotubes being investigated for flexible electronics applications.

An immediate goal for researchers, Parra-Vasquez said, will be to find “large quantities of ultralong single-walled nanotubes with low defects — and then making that fiber we have been dreaming of making since I arrived at Rice, a dream that Rick Smalley had and that we have all shared since.”

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Co-authors of the paper are graduate students Natnael Behabtu, Colin Young, Anubha Goyal and Cary Pint; Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and of chemistry, and Robert Hauge, a distinguished faculty fellow in chemistry, all at Rice; and Judith Schmidt, Ellina Kesselman, Yachin Cohen and Yeshayahu Talmon of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Evans-Attwell Welch Postdoctoral Fellowship funded the research.

Read the abstract at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn100864v

For more about Rice’s 25th anniversary Year of Nano celebrations, visit: http://buckyball.smalley.rice.edu/year_of_nano/

May 12, 2010

DNA-based logic chips

Very cool and very fascinating in terms of extreme mass production.

The release:

DNA could be backbone of next generation logic chips

IMAGE: This is Duke University’s Chris Dwyer.

Click here for more information.

DURHAM, N.C. – In a single day, a solitary grad student at a lab bench can produce more simple logic circuits than the world’s entire output of silicon chips in a month.

So says a Duke University engineer, who believes that the next generation of these logic circuits at the heart of computers will be produced inexpensively in almost limitless quantities. The secret is that instead of silicon chips serving as the platform for electric circuits, computer engineers will take advantage of the unique properties of DNA, that double-helix carrier of all life’s information.

In his latest set of experiments, Chris Dwyer, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, demonstrated that by simply mixing customized snippets of DNA and other molecules, he could create literally billions of identical, tiny, waffle-looking structures.

Dwyer has shown that these nanostructures will efficiently self-assemble, and when different light-sensitive molecules are added to the mixture, the waffles exhibit unique and “programmable” properties that can be readily tapped. Using light to excite these molecules, known as chromophores, he can create simple logic gates, or switches.

These nanostructures can then be used as the building blocks for a variety of applications, ranging from the biomedical to the computational.

IMAGE: This is a closeup of a waffle.

Click here for more information.

“When light is shined on the chromophores, they absorb it, exciting the electrons,” Dwyer said. “The energy released passes to a different type of chromophore nearby that absorbs the energy and then emits light of a different wavelength. That difference means this output light can be easily differentiated from the input light, using a detector.”

Instead of conventional circuits using electrical current to rapidly switch between zeros or ones, or to yes and no, light can be used to stimulate similar responses from the DNA-based switches – and much faster.

“This is the first demonstration of such an active and rapid processing and sensing capacity at the molecular level,” Dwyer said. The results of his experiments were published online in the journal Small. “Conventional technology has reached its physical limits. The ability to cheaply produce virtually unlimited supplies of these tiny circuits seems to me to be the next logical step.”

DNA is a well-understood molecule made up of pairs of complimentary nucleotide bases that have an affinity for each other. Customized snippets of DNA can cheaply be synthesized by putting the pairs in any order. In their experiments, the researchers took advantage of DNA’s natural ability to latch onto corresponding and specific areas of other DNA snippets.

Dwyer used a jigsaw puzzle analogy to describe the process of what happens when all the waffle ingredients are mixed together in a container.

“It’s like taking pieces of a puzzle, throwing them in a box and as you shake the box, the pieces gradually find their neighbors to form the puzzle,” he said. “What we did was to take billions of these puzzle pieces, throwing them together, to form billions of copies of the same puzzle.”

IMAGE: These are many waffles.

Click here for more information.

In the current experiments, the waffle puzzle had 16 pieces, with the chromophores located atop the waffle’s ridges. More complex circuits can be created by building structures composed of many of these small components, or by building larger waffles. The possibilities are limitless, Dwyer said.

In addition to their use in computing, Dwyer said that since these nanostructures are basically sensors, many biomedical applications are possible. Tiny nanostructures could be built that could respond to different proteins that are markers for disease in a single drop of blood.

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Dwyer’s research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office. Other members of the Duke team were Constantin Pistol, Vincent Mao, Viresh Thusu and Alvin Lebeck

April 30, 2009

Electrofluidic Display Technology news

Very interesting news for the future of electronic display.

The release:

Make Brighter, Full-Color Electronic Readers? — Brilliant!

Electrofluidic Display Technology developed at the University of Cincinnati puts electronic book readers ahead by a wide margin.

Thinking about getting an e-reader but not sure if you like reading the dim screen? An international collaboration of the University of Cincinnati, Sun Chemical, Polymer Vision and Gamma Dynamics has announced Electrofluidic Display Technology (EFD), the first technology to electrically switch the appearance of pigments in a manner that provides visual brilliance equal to conventional printed media.

This new entry into the race for full-color electronic paper can potentially provide better than 85 percent “white-state reflectance,” a performance level required for consumers to accept reflective display applications such as e-books, cell-phones and signage.

“If you compare this technology to what’s been developed previously, there’s no comparison,” says developer Jason Heikenfeld, assistant professor of electrical engineering in UC’s College of Engineering. “We’re ahead by a wide margin in critical categories such as brightness, color saturation and video speed.”

This work, which has been underway for several years, has just been published in the paper “Electrofluidic displays using Young–Laplace transposition of brilliant pigment dispersions.

Lead author Heikenfeld explains the primary advantage of the approach.

“The ultimate reflective display would simply place the best colorants used by the printing industry directly beneath the front viewing substrate of a display,” he says. “In our EFD pixels, we are able to hide or reveal colored pigment in a manner that is optically superior to the techniques used in electrowetting, electrophoretic and electrochromic displays.”

Because the optically active layer can be less than 15 microns thick, project partners at PolymerVision see strong potential for rollable displays. The product offerings could be extremely diverse, including electronic windows and tunable color casings on portable electronics.

Furthermore, because three project partners are located in Cincinnati (UC, Sun Chemical, Gamma Dynamics), technology commercialization could lead to creation of numerous high-tech jobs in southwest Ohio.

To expedite commercialization, a new company has been launched: Gamma Dynamics with founding members of this company being John Rudolph as president (formerly of Corning), a world-recognized scientist as CTO (who cannot be announced until July), and Heikenfeld as principal scientist.

“This takes the Amazon Kindle, for example, which is black and white, and could make it full color,” Heikenfeld says. “So now you could take it from a niche product to a mainstream product.”

Funding for this work was provided by Sun Chemical, PolymerVision, the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The pixel structure is able to reveal or hide the pigments with high contrast and video speed. The reservoir (center circle) holds the pigment until it is ready to be displayed by application of voltage. Photo credit: Gamma Dynamics LLC

The pixel structure is able to reveal or hide the pigments with high contrast and video speed. The reservoir (center circle) holds the pigment until it is ready to be displayed by application of voltage. Photo credit: Gamma Dynamics LLC