Tuesday, July 31, 2007

WFU launches two nanotechnology startup companies

David Carroll, associate professor of physics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. is director of the school's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, where recent research breakthroughs led to the formation of two start-up companies, FiberCell and PlexiLight, to commercialize new nanotechnologies.Wake Forest University has launched two startup companies, FiberCell and PlexiLight, to turn breakthrough technologies developed at the university’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials into products for the commercial marketplace.
FiberCell plans to develop the next generation of solar cells based on a novel architecture that utilizes nanotechnology and optical fibers to dramatically boost efficiency. The technology FiberCell is using stems from research Wake Forest scientists conducted in conjunction with New Mexico State University.

PlexiLight plans to develop a revolutionary lighting source that is lightweight, ultra-thin and energy efficient because it uses nanotechnology to produce visible light directly rather than as a byproduct of heating a filament or gas. Its unique properties suggest a wide range of residential, commercial and even military applications.

"It looks like a sheet of plexiglass that lights up,” explains David Carroll, associate professor of physics and director of Wake Forest’s nanotechnology center, where the concept was born. “Together with the new high-efficiency solar cells, we are addressing the energy crisis from both the supply and demand sides.”

Carroll’s lab this spring announced a breakthrough in plastic solar cell efficiency. Researchers were able to convert a record 6 percent of incoming visible light to electricity by using “nano-filaments” similar to the veins in tree leaves. Using the new fiber optic structure, Carroll expects to raise the efficiency rate soon to a level that will make plastic solar cells competitive with existing silicon and proposed non-silicon systems. While solar collectors with the new technology might look similar to existing panels, they could be installed in new ways because their efficiency is not as dependent on the angle of the sun.

FiberCell and PlexiLight have received startup funding from Wake Forest and Connecticut-based NanoHoldings, which specializes in building early-stage nanotechnology companies around exclusive licenses from leading research universities. Daryl Boudreaux, a partner of NanoHoldings, will be the president of both startups, which will be located in Winston-Salem.

"The reason that we were attracted to both of these technologies is that they are fundamentally different and fundamentally more efficient than anything else we know about out there,” Boudreaux says. “They give us a platform from which we can develop numerous products.”

For example, PlexiLight could target development of a substitute for the fluorescent ceiling light fixtures used in nearly all commercial buildings. The new technology may lead to higher-efficiency panels that would have no bulbs or ballasts to wear out and would not give off heat that requires additional energy to cool buildings.

Electric lighting consumes about 30 percent of all the electric power generated in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and lighting products represent a $13 billion market in the United States and a $21 billion market worldwide.

Both new companies are funding further research by Carroll’s lab to develop prototypes of various applications for the respective technologies. Boudreaux says FiberCell and PlexiLight plan to lease space at Winston-Salem’s Piedmont Triad Research Park, the downtown research campus at the juncture of U.S. Highway 52 and Interstate 40 that Wake Forest University Health Sciences is developing in collaboration with a variety of public, private and nonprofit partners. In addition to hiring Wake Forest postdoctoral fellows, some of the invested funds are being used to hire interns from Forsyth Technical Community College, who have been enrolled in its nanotechnology program.

“There has been great support for this transition from the entire community,” says Mark Welker, associate provost for research at Wake Forest. “These companies will help our research through funding back to the university, the downtown research park as a tenant, and Forsyth Tech by employing their nanotechnology program graduates.”

While numerous university research discoveries in the biomedical sciences have made the transition to the private sector from the university’s Bowman Gray Campus, Stephen Susalka, assistant director of Wake Forest’s Office of Technology Asset Management, sees a promising future for intellectual property transfers from the Reynolda Campus, including the nanotechnology center.

“The fact that we’re creating two new companies at the same time is a testament to the breadth and quality of research being pursued at Wake Forest,” Susalka says.

According to a 2005 survey by the Association of University Technology Managers, among those schools reporting, Wake Forest ranked fourth in the nation in annual license income with about $50 million in revenues. And over the past two years, Susalka notes, 15 to 18 percent of all Wake Forest research invention disclosures have named at least one Reynolda Campus inventor.

"Wake Forest supports many types of research and creative activities including innovative research that produces practical applications with commercial potential,” Welker says. “We expect that strategy to yield long-term benefits for the university, the area economy and society at-large.”

Contact: Eric Frazier frazieef@wfu.edu 336-758-5237 Kevin Cox (336) 758-5237 coxkp@wfu.edu Web: Wake Forest University

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Embedded computers research by Virginia Tech's Shukla attracts national attention

Caption: Sandeep Shukla's work with embedded computers has drawn acclaim from the National Academies, the National Science Foundation, and the White House. Credit: Virginia Tech Photo, Usage Restrictions: with news about Sandeep Shukla.Blacksburg, Va. — Sandeep Shukla’s work in designing, analyzing, and predicting the performance of electronic systems — particularly embedded computers — has drawn acclaim from the National Academies, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the White House.
The most recent honor for Shukla, an associate professor in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is an invitation from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to participate in the 19th annual Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium, Nov. 8-10 in Irvine, Cal.

Shukla, who came to Virginia Tech in 2002, is among a group of about 100 scientists under the age of 45 selected by the NAS in recognition of their research achievements and honors. Since the symposium began in 1989, more than 100 former participants have been elected to the academy and eight have received Nobel Prizes. Signed into being by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is an honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research.

In 2005 Shukla was invited by the National Academy of Engineering to attend the Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, an honor that parallels the NAS event. In 2004 he was invited to the White House to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) and in 2003 he received a NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award, both among the nation’s highest honors accorded researchers in the early stages of their careers,

Embedded computers are the “brains” behind many everyday mechanisms, such as wireless devices, cars, climate control systems, traffic signals, and washing machines, as well as complex systems, including space mission controls, avionics, and weapons systems.

Among Shukla’s current research focuses is the development of embedded software code generation for space and aviation mission applications. “The makers of the Airbus 380 claim to have all control software automatically generated,” he said. “We should develop similar technology to increase productivity and safety of embedded software-based space- and air-borne systems.”

Another of his interests is nano-scale computer chips. “Because nanoscale devices are so small and the manufacturing process is affected by so much variation and inaccuracy, a significant percentage of computer chip devices manufactured at the nano-scale are defective,” he said. He is attempting to create novel tools and techniques to help solve these problems and he co-edited a book on the topic in 2004.

Shukla and colleagues at the University of Utah have received NSF funding for research on globally asynchronous and locally synchronous (GALS) computer chip design. Shukla also co-founded an international workshop on GALS, and the third in the series was held in Nice, France in May.

As a result of his research, Shukla has published more than 100 journal and conference papers and book chapters, and has co-authored or co-edited three books. He is an associate editor of two Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) journals and has founded a new international journal on embedded software to be published by Hindwai Publishers.

Shukla received his master's degree and Ph.D. in computer science from the State University of New York at Albany and his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from Jadavpur University in India. He began studying embedded computers while working as an engineer with Verizon and, later, Intel. Before coming to Virginia Tech, he was a member of the research faculty of the Center for Embedded Computer Systems at the University of California at Irvine. ###

Contact: Liz Crumbley lcrumb@vte.du 540-231-9772 Virginia Tech

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels

NJIT researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels

Caption: NJIT researchers develop inexpensive, easy process to produce solar panels. Credit: New Jersey Institute of Technology, Usage Restrictions: None.Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets.
“The process is simple,” said lead researcher and author Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of NJIT’s Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. “Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations.”

“Fullerene single wall carbon nanotube complex for polymer bulk heterojunction photovoltaic cells,” featured as the June 21, 2007 cover story of the Journal of Materials Chemistry published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, details the process. The Society, based at Oxford University, is the British equivalent of the American Chemical Society.

Harvesting energy directly from abundant solar radiation using solar cells is increasingly emerging as a major component of future global energy strategy, said Mitra. Yet, when it comes to harnessing renewable energy, challenges remain. Expensive, large-scale infrastructures such as wind mills or dams are necessary to drive renewable energy sources, such as wind or hydroelectric power plants. Purified silicon, also used for making computer chips, is a core material for fabricating conventional solar cells. However, the processing of a material such as purified silicon is beyond the reach of most consumers.

“Developing organic solar cells from polymers, however, is a cheap and potentially simpler alternative,” said Mitra. “We foresee a great deal of interest in our work because solar cells can be inexpensively printed or simply painted on exterior building walls and/or roof tops. Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine. The opportunities are endless. ”

The science goes something like this. When sunlight falls on an organic solar cell, the energy generates positive and negative charges. If the charges can be separated and sent to different electrodes, then a current flows. If not, the energy is wasted. Link cells electronically and the cells form what is called a panel, like the ones currently seen on most rooftops. The size of both the cell and panels vary. Cells can range from 1 millimeter to several feet; panels have no size limits.

The solar cell developed at NJIT uses a carbon nanotubes complex, which by the way, is a molecular configuration of carbon in a cylindrical shape. The name is derived from the tube’s miniscule size. Scientists estimate nanotubes to be 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. Nevertheless, just one nanotube can conduct current better than any conventional electrical wire. “Actually, nanotubes are significantly better conductors than copper,” Mitra added.

Mitra and his research team took the carbon nanotubes and combined them with tiny carbon Buckyballs (known as fullerenes) to form snake-like structures. Buckyballs trap electrons, although they can’t make electrons flow. Add sunlight to excite the polymers, and the buckyballs will grab the electrons. Nanotubes, behaving like copper wires, will then be able to make the electrons or current flow.

“Using this unique combination in an organic solar cell recipe can enhance the efficiency of future painted-on solar cells,” said Mitra. “Someday, I hope to see this process become an inexpensive energy alternative for households around the world.” ###

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, at the edge in knowledge, enrolls more than 8,000 students in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 92 degree programs offered by six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing Sciences. NJIT is renowned for expertise in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. In 2006, Princeton Review named NJIT among the nation’s top 25 campuses for technology and top 150 for best value. U.S. News & World Report’s 2007 Annual Guide to America’s Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities.

Contact: Sheryl Weinstein sheryl.m.weinstein@njit.edu 973-596-3436 New Jersey Institute of Technology

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nature's Secrets Yield New Adhesive Material

Description: Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko), Location: Vang Vieng, Laos, Source self made by Richard Ling, Date 1 June 1998Scientists report they have merged two of nature’s most elegant strategies for wet and dry adhesion to produce a synthetic material that one day could lead to more durable and longer-lasting bandages, patches, and surgical materials. As published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, the scientists,
supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health, have designed a synthetic material that starts with the dry adhesive properties of the gecko lizard and supplements it with the underwater adhesive properties of a mussel.

The hybrid material, which they call a geckel nanoadhesive, proved in initial testing to be adherent under dry and wet conditions. It also adhered much longer under both extremes than previous gecko-based synthetic adhesives, a major issue in this area of research.

According to the authors, their findings mark the first time that two polar opposite adhesion strategies in nature have been merged into a man-made reversible adhesive. “Our work represents a proof of principle that it can be done,” said Phillip Messersmith, D. D.S., Ph.D., a scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and the senior author on the paper. “A great deal of research still must be done to refine the fabrication process and greatly reduce its cost. There’s no reason to believe that these improvements can’t be achieved, but it’s going to take time.”

Dr. Messersmith said the inspiration for the geckel nanoadhesive came about two years ago when he noticed an article about the adhesive force of a single hair from the foot of gecko. As lizard fans have long marveled, geckos climb walls and other dry, steep surfaces not by producing a glue-like substance but through a natural adaptation of the hairs that cover the soles of their feet.

Roughly one-tenth the thickness of a human hair, each gecko hair splits multiple times at the end. These split ends contain cup-like structures called spatulae that vastly increase the hair’s surface area. Whereas a human hair touches a surface just once, the gecko makes multiple contacts with the suction-like spatulae. With roughly a half million hairs on each foot, scientists estimate a gecko has a billion spatulae at work as it scampers up a wall.

Messersmith knew that researchers have attempted for several years to produce synthetic adhesives based on the adherence strategy of the gecko. What caught his eye in this article is gecko adhesion doesn’t work well in water. Messersmith, who studies the underwater adhesion of mussels, had an idea. What if each synthetic gecko-inspired polymer, called a pillar, was coated with a man-made adhesive protein inspired by the mussel" As Messersmith mused, nobody had ever tried it and, if successful, this hybrid approach might spawn a new and potentially superior direction in designing temporary adhesive materials.

As reported in Nature, Messersmith’s idea turned out to be correct. He and his colleagues designed a small nanopolymer array that mimicked the natural spatial patterns of the hair on the foot of a gecko. They then coated their creation with a thin layer of a synthetic compound. This unusual compound mimics the reversible bonding action of a mussel adhesive protein that Messersmith’s group has studied for the past several years.

In their initial experiments, which were led by graduate student Haeshin Lee, they found that the wet adhesive force of each pillar increased nearly 15 times when coated with the mussel mimetic and applied to titanium oxide, gold, and other surfaces. The dry adhesive force of the pillars also improved when coated with the compound.

“That actually wasn’t so surprising to us,” said Lee, the lead author on the study. “The mussel-inspired adhesive is extremely versatile in that it can bond reversibly to inorganic surfaces under wet and dry conditions.”

As Lee noted, the next research hurdle was whether their hybrid geckel nanoadhesive would continue to stick to surfaces after multiple contacts. This has been a major challenge with other gecko-based adhesives. They typically stick well at first but lose their ability to adhere after a few cycles of contact with a tipless cantilever.

Using the cantilever and repeatedly touching it down, Lee developed a camera to visualize the process down to individual pillars. He found that the geckel hybrid maintained 85 percent of its adherence under wet conditions after 1,100 contacts with the tip. Under dry conditions, the level of adherence was 98 percent.

“This isn’t quite a home run, but it’s somewhere in between a double and a triple,” said Lee, who devised on his own a special imaging devise to visualize individual pillars during the experiments.

Messersmith said that while the results are extremely promising, his group still must tackle several practical problems before it can scale up its research. “Any time that you fabricate an array of nano pillars of this type over large areas, you must have a very effective way of doing it without losing the efficacy of the approach,” said Messersmith. “We’ll also need to reduce the fabrication costs to make geckel commercially viable.”

But Messersmith said he envisions great possibilities for geckel. “Band aids already adhere well, except if you go swimming, take a shower, or somehow expose it to a lot of water,” said Messersmith. “So I think the most important thing with this adhesive is the added value of resisting immersion in water.”

“I should add that the essential component of the wet adhesive polymer on the pillars contains a chemical that we have discovered last year adheres well to mucosal surfaces, such as those inside our mouth,” he noted. “It may be possible to develop patches in the future that can be applied on the inside of the cheek to cover damaged tissue.” ###

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research is the Nation’s leading funder of research on oral, dental, and craniofacial health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.

Contact: Bob Kuska kuskar@nidcr.nih.gov 301-594-7560 NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Image license: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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Friday, July 27, 2007

'workbench' for nanoscale construction

University of Pennsylvania engineers discover natural 'workbench' for nanoscale construction

Caption: Lattice image for a grain in which both chessboard and diamond contrast are apparent. Superlattice periodicity is approximately 10 nm. Credit: University of Pennsylvania, Usage Restrictions: None.PHILADELPHIA -- Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have taken a step toward simplifying the creation of nanostructures by identifying the first inorganic material to phase separate with near-perfect order at the nanometer scale.
The finding provides an atomically tuneable nanocomposite “workbench” that is cheap and easy to produce and provides a super-lattice foundation potentially suitable for building nanostructures.

The findings appear in the August issue of Nature Materials.

Alerted by an unusual diffraction effect of a common ceramic material, researchers used imaging to identify a two-phase structural pattern ideal as the first step towards nanodevice construction. Practical application of nanotechnology will rely upon engineering’s ability to manipulate atoms and molecules into long-range order to produce materials with desired functionalities. The Penn findings provide a simpler method for the ordering of composite parts on the nanometer scale, which is integral to the incorporation of nano-objects such as particles and wires that make up nanodevices.

The material used in the Penn study is an ionically- conductive, crystalline ceramic (Nd2/3-xLi3x)TiO3 that engineers observed with transmission electron microscopy. The powdered perovskite exhibited two distinct patterns at the atomic scale with identical periodicity: a nanoscale chessboard pattern and a diamond pattern that indicated periodic separation into two phases within the structure. This spontaneous separation of phases could present a new foundation on which to build nanodevice technology. This material – made using standard and easily reproducible ceramic processing methods – represents the formation of a spontaneous microscopic surface controlled on the nanoscale with atomic precision.

Further study revealed that the separation of the structure into two distinct phases was a result of the oxide separating into lithium rich squares and lithium poor stripes. By varying the amount of lithium and neodymium, two ingredients in the ceramic powder, engineers controlled the length and spacing of the alternating phases, thereby tuning the workbench upon which nanodevices could be built.

On a larger-than-atomic scale, the research extends science’s knowledge of the properties of a most common oxide structure type, currently used for superconducting materials, magnetoresistive materials and ferroelectrics.

“This study represents great potential for the use of standard ceramic processing methods for nanotechnology,” said Peter K. Davies, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn. “The phase separation occurs spontaneously, providing two phases whose dimensions both extend into the nanometer scale. This unique feature could lead to its application as a template for the assembly of nanostructures or molecular monolayers.” ###

The research was performed by Davies and Beth S. Guiton of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Jordan Reese jreese@pobox.upenn.edu 215-573-6604 University of Pennsylvania

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beyond A.I. -- Creating the Conscience of the Machine

Beyond A.I. -- Creating the Conscience of the Machine. Caption: 408 pages, ISBN 978-1-59102-511-5, Hardcover $28, Publication May 2007, Credit: Prometheus Books, Usage Restrictions: None.J. Storrs Hall investigates the future implications for artificial intelligence

Known as the originator of the Utility Fog concept, Dr. J. Storrs Hall is regarded as one of the most significant thinkers in the field of molecular nanotechnology. In his new book Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine (Prometheus Books, $28), Hall explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is now advancing at such a rapid clip that it has the potential to transform our world in ways both exciting and disturbing.
Computers have already been designed that are capable of driving cars, playing soccer, and finding and organizing information on the Web in ways that no human could. With each new gain in processing power, will scientists soon be able to create supercomputers that can read a newspaper with understanding, or write a news story, or create novels, or even formulate laws" And if machine intelligence advances beyond human intelligence, will we need to start talking about a computer’s intentions"

These are some of the questions discussed by computer scientist J. Storrs Hall in this fascinating layperson’s guide to the latest developments in artificial intelligence. Drawing on a thirty-year career in artificial intelligence and computer science, Hall reviews the history of AI, discussing some of the major roadblocks that the field has recently overcome, and predicting the probable achievements in the near future. There is new excitement in the field over the amazing capabilities of the latest robots and renewed optimism that achieving human-level intelligence is a reachable goal.

But what will this mean for society and the relations between technology and human beings" Soon ethical concerns will arise and programmers will need to begin thinking about the computer counterparts of moral codes and how ethical interactions between humans and their machines will eventually affect society as a whole.

According to Dr. Fritz Allhoff, a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University, Dr. Hall combines a strong background in science with a cognizance of its deeper social and ethical issues to present a timely presentation of the past, present and future of artificial intelligence. Dr. Patrick Lin, director of The Nanoethics Group, says, “Hall masterfully traces the history of AI in terms easy to understand for the layperson and sophisticated enough to offer new insights for experts.”

Weaving disparate threads together in an enlightening manner from cybernetics, computer science, psychology, philosophy of mind, neurophysiology, game theory, and economics, Hall provides an intriguing glimpse into the astonishing possibilities and dilemmas on the horizon. ###

J. Storrs Hall, PhD (Laporte, PA), the founding chief scientist of Nanorex, Inc., is a research fellow for the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and the author of Nanofuture, the “Nanotechnologies” section for The Macmillan Encyclopedia of Energy, and numerous scientific articles. He has designed technology for NASA and was a computer systems architect at the Laboratory for Computer Science Research at Rutgers University from 1985 to 1997.
Contact: Lynn Pasquale LPasquale@prometheusbooks.com 800-853-7545 Prometheus Books

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Microscopic jets, diamonds unlikely on Uranus, and amazing mosquito legs

Caption: Platinum treated microspheres (bottom row) travel large distances in comparison to the untreated spheres. Credit: J. Howse, R. Jones, A. Ryan, T. Gough, R. Vafabakhsh, and R. Golestanian, Physical Review Letters. Usage Restrictions: For news and educational purposes only.Microscopic Polystyrene Balls - now Jet-propelled!

A collaboration of British and Iranian physicists has created an armada of self-propelled polystyrene balls about as wide as a strand of your hair.
Their efforts are moving toward self-propelled nanoswimmers that could navigate narrow channels such as the human circulatory system.

The researchers, led by Ramin Golestanian of the University of Sheffield, coated one side of each polystyrene ball with a thin layer of platinum before dropping them into a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. This metal catalyzes a reaction in which hydrogen peroxide breaks into oxygen and water. Because the reaction spits out three molecules for every two that it consumes, the polystyrene ball is pushed from the platinum side.

Objects as small as these polystyrene balls naturally wander about randomly, a phenomenon caused by jostling about among vibrating atoms and molecules. This "random walk" movement is called Brownian motion. To account for it, the platinum-coated balls were tested against polystyrene balls with no coating.

Over short distances, they found that the half-coated balls moved in a particular direction although their paths meandered over longer distances. Still, the wanderings of the coated balls were distinct from the Brownian motion of the uncoated balls. Their paths were a random walk with step sizes that depended on the concentration of hydrogen peroxide. The larger the hydrogen peroxide concentration, the larger the step.

Physicists have yet to devise a way to keep the balls heading in a particular direction, but chemical reaction catalysis may prove a useful method for propelling microscopic objects in liquids. - KM

Microscopic Polystyrene Balls - now Jet-propelled! J. Howse, R. Jones, A. Ryan, T. Gough, R. Vafabakhsh, R. Golestanian. Physical Review Letters (forthcoming, advance copy available)

Caption: A simulated snapshot of crystallizing carbon atoms under Uranus-like conditions. Credit: L. M. Ghiringhelli, C. Valeriani, E. J. Meijer and D. Frenkel, Physical Review Letters, Usage Restrictions: Contact the authors or the American Physical Society for permission to reprint.Diamonds unlikely in gas giants like Uranus

A new study finds that diamonds probably don't crystallize in the atmospheres of planets such as Uranus and Neptune.
The conclusion is contrary to recent speculation that small diamonds would spontaneously form in carbon rich layers of the gas giant planets. White dwarf stars, according to the study, are veritable diamond factories.

Physicists at the Universtiet van Amsterdam and the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands performed a numerical analysis showing that at the temperatures and pressures in gas giant planets like Uranus, arrangements of carbon atoms would be much more suitable for creating tiny bits of graphite rather than diamond.

In white dwarfs, on the other hand, the simulation shows that the conditions would cause the carbon atoms to line up in configurations that are much more amenable for diamond crystallization. The conclusion is consistent with the 2004 discovery of a cooling white dwarf star that appears to have a solid diamond core 4000 kilometers across.

Although diamond formation in the atmospheres of gas giants is not strictly impossible, the Dutch physicists say that the odds are exceedingly slim that a diamond could have formed under the conditions that exist in Uranus in the entire lifetime of the universe. - JR

Diamonds unlikely in gas giants like Uranus, L. M. Ghiringhelli, C. Valeriani, E. J. Meijer and D. Frenkel. Physical Review Letters (forthcoming, preprint available)

Caption: A close up of the micronanostructures that help mosquitoes walk on water. Credit: C. W. WU, X. Q. King, and Diane Wu, Physical Review E, Usage Restrictions: Contact the authors or the American Physical society for permission to reproduce this image.Miraculous Mosquito Legs

Mosquitoes walk on water better than water striders, cling to smooth ceilings and walls as tightly as geckos, and clutch the skin of their victims with annoying tenacity in search of blood.
Now a collaboration of physicists from Dalian University in China and Simon Fraser University in Canada are looking beyond the insect's pesky reputation to discover how the tiny creatures manage to be so comfortable on such a diverse range of surfaces.

Like flies, mosquito feet are equipped with hooked claws for clinging to skin. Like geckos, they have hairy pads on their feet that stick to nearly any smooth surface with a velcro-like grip. But it's their ability to walk on water that really makes mosquitoes stand out in the animal kingdom.

Both water striders and mosquitoes rely on superhydrophobic (extremely water repelling) legs to allow them to stand on pond surfaces. Water striders' legs do a pretty good job of it, repelling water well enough to support up to 15 times their body weight. Mosquitoes, however, can easily beat that. Experiments now reveal that they repel water so well that each of a mosquito's six legs could support 23 times the insect's weight. The physicists measured the water repellant ability of mosquito legs by attaching an amputated leg to the end of a needle and recording the force as they pushed it down into a container of water.

The secret to mosquito water walking appears to be feathery scales a few microns across that in turn are covered with nanoscopic ribbing, forming what the physicists have dubbed (in an apparent fit of excessive prefixing) a micronanostructure. So the next time a mosquito lands on your arm, take a moment to ponder its impressive and versatile leg adaptations -- then squish it before it sucks your blood. - JR ###

Miraculous Mosquito Legs, C. W. WU, X. Q. King, and Diane Wu, Physical Review E

News from the American Physical Society, Contact: James Riordon riordon@aps.org 301-209-3238 American Physical Society

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nano Propellers Pump with Proper Chemistry

Nano Propeller with hydrophobic bladesThe ability to pump liquids at the cellular scale opens up exciting possibilities, such as precisely targeting medicines and regulating flow into and out of cells. But designing this molecular machinery has proven difficult.
Now chemists at the University of Illinois at Chicago have created a theoretical blueprint for assembling a nanoscale propeller with molecule-sized blades.

The work is featured in Research Highlights in the July 12 issue of Nature and was described in the June 28 cover story of Physical Review Letters.

Using classical molecular dynamics simulations, Petr Král, assistant professor of chemistry at UIC, and his laboratory coworkers were able to study realistic conditions in this microscopic environment to learn how the tiny propellers pump liquids.

While previous research has looked at how molecular devices rotate in flowing gases, Král and his group are the first to look at molecular propeller pumping of liquids, notably water and oils.

"We want to see what happens when the propellers get to the scale where it's impossible to reduce the size of the blades any more," said Král.

Král's group found that at the molecular level -- unlike at the macro level -- the chemistry of the propeller's blades and their sensitivity to water play a big role in determining whether the propeller pumps efficiently or just spins with little effect. If the blades have a hydrophobic, or water-repelling nature, they pump a lot of water. But if they are hydrophilic -- water-attracting -- they become clogged with water molecules and pump poorly.

"Pumping rates and efficiencies in the hydrophilic and hydrophobic forms can differ by an order of magnitude, which was not expected," he said.

The UIC researchers found that propeller pumping efficiency in liquids is highly sensitive to the size, shape, chemical or biological composition of the blades.

"In principle, we could even attach some biological molecules to the blades and form a propeller that would work only if other molecules bio-compatible with the blades are in the pumped solution," he said.

The findings present new factors to consider in developing nanoscale liquid-pumping machines, but Král added that such technology probably won't become reality for several years, given the difficult nature of constructing such ultra-small devices.

Král's laboratory studies how biological systems, like tiny flagella that move bacteria, offer clues for building motors, motile systems and other nanoscale devices in a hybrid environment that combines biological and inorganic chemistry.

"The 21st century will be about hybrid biological and artificial nanoscale systems and their mutual co-evolution," Král predicts. "My group alone is working on about a half-dozen such projects. I'm optimistic about such nanoscale developments."

The PRL article was co-authored by UIC chemistry graduate student Boyang Wang.

Contact: Paul Francuch francuch@uic.edu 312-996-3457 University of Illinois at Chicago

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Plasmonics, On a Wire or in a Fiber, a Wave is a Wave

Measured intensity of guided polariton waves in the image to the left yields a diffraction pattern similar to that seen in classic optical experiments from 200 years ago. The image to the right is a numerical simulation based on proposed analytical framework results in a nearly identical pattern. Image: Freedom-2, Brown UniversityAround the world, students learn about the wave nature of light through the interference patterns of “Young’s double-slit experiment,” first performed more than 200 years ago and still considered among the most beautiful physics experiments. High Resolution Image
Using an analogous experiment, researchers at Brown and Stanford have shown that a simple analytical model can describe the wave nature of surface plasmon polaritons. Their work suggests that plasmonic devices cannot easily circumvent the limitations of electromagnetic waves.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In an experiment modeled on the classic “Young’s double slit experiment” and published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers have powerfully reinforced the understanding that surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs) propagate and diffract just like any other wave. The demonstration reminds researchers and electronics designers that although SPPs move along a metal surface, rather than inside a wire or an optical fiber, they cannot magically overcome the size limitations of conventional optics.

Touted as the next wave of electronics miniaturization, plasmonics describes the movement of SPPs – a type of electromagnetic wave that is bound to a metal surface by its interaction with surface electrons. The emerging technology could provide a bridge between nanoscale electronics and photonics. Conventional electronic devices, in which metal wires carry electrical signals, can be manufactured at the nanoscale but incur long time delays. Photonic – or fiber optic – devices transmit a signal at the speed of light but cannot be miniaturized below a size limit imposed by the wavelength of light that they carry.

Plasmonic devices seem to combine the best of both technologies. Because SPPs are electromagnetic waves they move at near light-speed, but because they ride the surface of wires, it seemed they might circumvent the diffraction limit, which restricts the size of fiber optics.

“We know that these are still essentially electromagnetic waves and therefore they must still obey a diffraction limit,” says Rashid Zia, assistant professor of engineering at Brown University. “The key is to define a set of solutions in a way that is analogous to other systems so that we can derive that limit.”

Zia and Mark Brongersma, an assistant professor of engineering at Stanford University, set out to find an experiment that could test the limits of plasmonic technology and also shed light on the principles that control this still-mysterious kind of wave.

Young’s double slit experiment is usually performed as a demonstration of optical diffraction, although recent variations have also been used to test the quantum behavior of electrons, atoms and even molecules.

In the classic double slit experiment, students shine a light onto a screen through an opaque barrier with two slits in it. When one slit is covered, the pattern of light is brightest directly in front of the slit. When light passes through both slits, a series of light and dark lines appear instead. The light forms a bright line between the slits, where the peaks of the waves reinforce one another and a distinct pattern of darker lines where the peaks and valleys cancel each other out. It’s an elegant demonstration of the wave side of light’s dual nature.

In their experiment, Zia and Brongersma generated an SPP and passed it across two narrow bridges of gold film on a glass slide. As the waves exited onto a broad sheet of gold film, they diffracted to create interference patterns analogous to those seen in Young’s double slit experiment. Using a simple analytical model for the way SPPs are guided along individual metal stripes, the researchers predicted the pattern of diffraction they would see.

Because SPPs are not in the spectrum of visible light, they don’t just show up on a screen. Zia and Brongersma precisely measured the diffraction pattern using a photon scanning tunneling microscope. The pattern they saw closely matched what they predicted using their proposed framework, which is based on an analogy to conventional optics.

The results of this experiment may disappoint some researchers who have hoped that SPPs traveling along metal waveguides could allow circuit design to move seamlessly from electronics to photonics. Instead, Zia sees developing – and challenging – a comprehensive theory as the first step toward devising structures uniquely suited to controlling the movement of SPPs.

“You can couple stripes, you can make slits, you can make all sorts of other geometries that might work,“ said Zia. ”But to see that potential through, you have to have a clear analytical theory and a way to test it.”

Grants from the Department of Defense/Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation supported this research.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interview, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476. ######

Contact: Martha Downs martha_downs@brown.edu 401-863-2752 Brown University

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Speed bumps less important than potholes for graphene

For electrical charges racing through an atom-thick sheet of graphene, occasional hills and valleys are no big deal, but the potholes—single-atom defects in the crystal—they’re killers. That’s one of the conclusions reached by researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Georgia Institute of Technology who created detailed maps of electron interference patterns in graphene to understand how defects in the two-dimensional carbon crystal affect charge flow through the material. The results, appearing in the July 13 issue of Science*, have implications for the design of graphene-based nanoelectronics.

A single layer of carbon atoms tightly arranged in a honeycomb pattern, graphene was long thought to be an interesting theoretical concept that was impossible in practice—it would be too unstable, and crumple into some other configuration. The discovery, in 2004, that graphene actually could exist touched off a rush of experimentation to explore its properties. Graphene has been described as a carbon nanotube unrolled, and shares some of the unique properties of nanotubes. In particular, it’s a so-called ballistic conductor, meaning that electrons flow through it at high speed, like photons through a vacuum, with virtually no collisions with the atoms in the crystal. This makes it a potentially outstanding conductor for wires and other elements in nanoscale electronics.

Defects or irregularities in the graphene crystal, however, can cause the electrons to bounce back or scatter, the equivalent of electrical resistance, so one key issue is just what sort of defects cause scattering, and how much" To answer this, the NIST-Georgia Tech team grew layers of graphene on wafers of silicon carbide crystals and mapped the sheets with a custom-built scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in the NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology that can measure both physical surface features and the interference patterns caused by electrons scattering in the crystal. (Graphene on silicon carbide is a leading candidate for graphene-based nanoelectronics.)

The results are counter-intuitive. Irregularities in the underlying silicon carbide cause bumps and dips in the graphene sheet that lies over it rather like a blanket on a lumpy bed, but these relatively large bumps have only a minor effect on the electron’s passage. In contrast, missing carbon atoms in the crystal lattice cause strong scattering, the interference patterns rippling around them like waves hitting the piles of a pier. From a detailed analysis of these interference patterns, the team verified that electrons in the graphene sheet behave like photons, even at the nanometer scale. ###

This work is supported in part by the Office of Naval Research, National Science Foundation, and Intel Research.

* G.M. Rutter, J.N. Crain, N.P. Guisinger, T. Li, P.N. First and J.A. Stroscio. Scattering and interference in epitaxial graphene. Science 13 July 2007.

Contact: Michael Baum michael.baum@nist.gov 301-975-2763 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

EPA foregoes opportunity to improve nanotechnology oversight

At EPA's hazardous materials training school, students go through field training on air monitoring and hazardous waste sampling. To protect against hazardous materials, personnel wear Level A personal protective clothing and equipment, which consists of a full-body, vapor-tight suit with a full face-piece or air respirator.Action needed urgently to ensure public and market confidence in safety.

WASHINGTON, DC—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its current thinking on whether a nanoscale material is a “new” or “existing” chemical substance
under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In the document, TSCA Inventory Status of Nanoscale Substances—General Approach, EPA states that it will maintain its practice of determining whether nanoscale substances qualify as new chemicals under TSCA on a case-by-case basis.

According to former EPA official and Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) senior advisor J. Clarence Davies, “The agency’s current practice is inadequate to deal with nanotechnology. It is essential that EPA move quickly to recognize the novel biological and ecological characteristics of nanoscale materials. It can do this only by using the ‘new uses’ provisions of TSCA, a subject not mentioned in the EPA’s inventory document. With the approach outlined by EPA and because of the weaknesses in the law, the agency is not even able to identify which substances are nanomaterials, much less determine whether they pose a hazard.”

Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies science advisor Andrew Maynard underlined that “EPA’s approach ignores the scientific research evidence to date that different nanostructures with the same molecular identity present different hazards.” Nanotechnology is a rapidly growing sector of the economy that will represent an estimated $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods by 2014, or about 15 percent of global manufactured goods output.

In addition to the TSCA document, the agency issued papers for public comment pertaining to a proposed voluntary industry Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP)—an effort to encourage industry to provide the agency on a voluntary basis with scientific information about the risk management practices now used by manufacturers of existing nanomaterials.

“Starting the Stewardship program will be a positive step toward filling in some of the information gaps facing the agency. But there should be an interplay between modifying TSCA, such as promulgating a significant new use rule for nanomaterials, and the voluntary program. A sequential approach will leave nanomaterials unregulated for far too long, and will also be less productive than if the two efforts proceed in tandem,” said Davies.

“This voluntary program for nanomaterials is already behind schedule. The British government put in place a Voluntary Reporting Scheme in September 2006, and appears to be on a faster track to develop appropriate controls and to give a predictable nanotechnology regulatory environment for industry and consumers,” he continued.

“The first generation of nanotechnology applications and products is here. In an inventory maintained by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, there are now over 500 manufacturer-identified nanotechnology consumer products being sold,” said Dr. Maynard; see: nanotechproject.org/consumerproducts. “This figure does not include nanotechnology products on the market but not identified as such, or the hundreds of nano raw materials, intermediate components, and industrial equipment items used by manufacturers today. In addition, second generation uses—in electronics, sensors, targeted drugs and active nanostructures—have already begun.”

In May 2007, Davies authored the first in-depth analysis of EPA’s nano-tech readiness, EPA and Nanotechnology: Oversight for the 21st Century. This Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies report is available at nanotechproject.org.

The report recommends more than 25 actions that need to be taken—by EPA, Congress, the President, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and the nanotech industry—to improve the oversight of nanotechnologies.

In an opinion piece published in the Boston Globe on Saturday (July 7, 2007), Davies and EPA’s first administrator William Ruckelshaus wrote, “Today’s smallest materials pose a big opportunity and huge challenge for the Environmental Protection Agency…But what do we know about nanotechnology, about its effects on human health and the environment" Not much. What are we doing to get these answers" Not enough. Can the existing regulatory system protect the public from potential problems with nanotechnology" Not adequately. It is time for the EPA to step into the breach and develop a research and regulatory framework for nanotechnology that helps us achieve its promise while avoiding or greatly minimizing any possible dangers.” See: boston.com/news/globe/. ###

About Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide.

J. Clarence (Terry) Davies is a senior advisor at the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future. Dr. Davies served during the administration of the first President Bush as Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier, as a senior staff member at the Council on Environmental Quality, he wrote the original version of what became the Toxic Substances Control Act. In 1970, he co-authored the plan that created EPA.

William D. Ruckelshaus, who served as the EPA’s first administrator from 1970-1973 and again from 1983-1985, is chairman of the Partnership for Puget Sound.

Andrew Maynard serves as the science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. He is an internationally recognized expert on nanotechnology environmental, safety and health risks. His Ph.D. is from Cambridge University (UK).

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative launched by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2005. It is dedicated to helping business, government and the public anticipate and manage possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology. For more information about the project, log on to www.nanotechproject.org/.

The Pew Charitable Trusts (http://www.pewtrusts.org/) is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (http://www.wilsoncenter.org/) is the living, national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Center establishes and maintains a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds and engaged in the study of national and international affairs.

Contact: Julia Moore julia.moore@wilsoncenter.org 202-691-4025 Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

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Friday, July 20, 2007

New lens device will shrink huge light waves to pinpoints

Caption: Picture is a color-coded plot of the electromagnetic field. The device, or plate, is at the left edge of the picture. Focusing is clearly seen at the horizontal axis value of seven. Credit: Roberto Merlin, Usage Restrictions: NoneANN ARBOR, Mich.---Manipulating light waves, or electromagnetic radiation, has led to many technologies,
from cameras to lasers to medical imaging machines that can see inside the human body.

Scientists at the University of Michigan have developed a way to make a lens-like device that focuses electromagnetic waves down to the tiniest of points. The breakthrough opens the door to the next generation of technology, said Roberto Merlin, professor of physics at U-M. His research on the discovery will be published online July 12 in Science Express.

Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by electromagnetic waves that are generated naturally, such as sunlight, and artificially, by appliances such as microwave ovens and radio transmitters. Some waves are visible, and some are invisible.

Materials respond differently to different wavelengths, and when using electromagnetic waves, one is usually limited by the length of the light wave, Merlin said. For example, the amount of information you can store on a CD is limited by the number of bits you can fit on the CD, and this is dictated by the length of the electromagnetic wave. The smaller the wavelength, the smaller the bit, which means more bits of data can be stored on the CD.

There is a huge push underway to find ways to get around this limitation, but until now scientists didn't have a good method for achieving that, Merlin said.

Using mathematical models, Merlin developed a formula that removes the wavelength limitation. Merlin is now working with assistant professor Anthony Grbic from the U-M College of Engineering to build the device, and they have filed for a patent.

The device will look like a plate or a disc, and is etched with a specific pattern. As the waves pass through the patterned lens, it is sculpted into different sizes and shapes. The lens does not refract, or bend the light waves---which is how conventional lenses work---but rather it reshapes the wave.

The discovery holds promise for applications in data storage, non-contact sensing, imaging, and nanolithography.

With the new technology, a CD could hold up to one hundred times more information by using terahertz radiation rather than visible light, even though the length of a terahertz wave is about 1000 times longer.

Related: Related Links: Contact: Laura Bailey baileylm@umich.edu 734-647-1848 University of Michigan

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chemists close in on molecular switch PODCAST

Michael Trenary Professor Physical Chemistry Born 1956; BS, University of California, Berkeley, 1978; PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982; Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pittsburgh, 1982-1984; Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, 1989-1994; University of Illinois Junior Scholar, 1990-1993.
Michael Trenary Professor Physical Chemistry Born 1956; BS, University of California, Berkeley, 1978; PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1982; Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pittsburgh, 1982-1984; Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, 1989-1994; University of Illinois Junior Scholar, 1990-1993.
UIC and Japanese Chemists Close In on Molecular Switch

The electronics industry believes that when it comes to circuits, smaller is better -- and many foresee a future where electrical switches and circuits will be as tiny as single molecules.

Turning this dream into reality may be a step closer, thanks to a collaboration between chemists at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Japan's RIKEN research institute. The international team successfully formed a single chemical bond on a single molecule, then broke that bond to restore the original molecule -- without disturbing any bonds to adjacent atoms within the molecule.

In essence, they created a molecular-sized electronic switch.

"The key thing we were after was reversibility," said Michael Trenary, UIC professor of chemistry and one of the lead researchers.

Trenary's lab specializes in understanding the workings of surface chemistry -- notably how molecules interact with metals.
RIKEN operates a nanoscience center that offers a vibration-free platform for the tool called a scanning tunneling microscope used to perform this molecular-level task. With the ability to cool to temperatures approaching absolute zero to stabilize molecules, the microscope is equipped with a probe that can then manipulate single molecules.

"Others have done work at the single-molecule level, but nobody has been able to get the control we have," said Trenary.

Working at RIKEN, Trenary and his Japanese colleagues converted methylisocyanide to methylaminocarbyne on a platinum surface -- a chemical mix that holds particular promise in the field of molecular electronics.

Methylisocyanide was introduced as a gas into the microscope's vacuum chamber, and the molecules attached to the super-cooled platinum. Next, hydrogen gas was injected, which breaks up into atoms when it contacts the platinum. The hydrogen atoms bonded to the methylisocyanide to form methylaminocarbyne.

The microscope can image single molecules and atoms. Using its tiny probe, the researchers manipulated the tip to just above a single molecule and gave it a small electrical pulse. The hydrogen atom popped off -- reversibility was achieved.

"It's a way to alter the metal-molecular contact, which is why it's of interest to those in molecular electronics," Trenary said. "There's been a fair amount of research on using isocyanides for molecular electronics, but without understanding the details of the bonding interaction."

"You've got to first understand the surface chemistry in detail," he said. "When you understand that, then you can use these probes to manipulate, fine-tune and control the way you want to."

Research chemists from RIKEN include Satoshi Katano, Yousoo Kim, Masafumi Hori and Maki Kawai.

The findings were reported in the June 29 issue of Science. Funding for UIC's research was provided by the National Science Foundation

Contact: Paul Francuch francuch@uic.edu 312-996-3457 University of Illinois at Chicago

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