The Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) and the CSN

You’ve probably heard of the Human Genome Project (HGP), which was a collaborative international research program to map and understand all the genes of human beings. The HGP was declared complete in April 2003 and gave us the amazing ability to read the complete genetic blueprint for a human being, leading to a new era of molecular medicine.

So what is the Materials Genome Initiative (MGI)?


How is the materials genome like the human genome?  (image of DNA by National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health)

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Battery Behavior in the Biosphere: How We Probed Nanoscale Battery Materials Interacting with Bacteria

Along with eight colleagues (most from the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology) I recently co-authored an article in the American Chemical Society’s Chemistry of Materials journal titled “Impact of Nanoscale Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC) on the Bacterium Shewanella oneidensis MR‐1.”1 Just as the name suggests, we analyzed how nanoscale NMC, an important material in some lithium-ion batteries, affected the growth and survival of an important soil dwelling bacterium. Since its publication, it has received some media attention for being the first scientific study characterizing the direct influence of battery materials on an organism – you can read more about the press coverage here and here.

NMC flakes

Nano-scale flakes of NMC battery material from our paper1

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How Can We Photograph the Nanosized World?

If you think back to primary school science class, you may recall looking at cells or bacteria under a microscope. I remember being fascinated that I could look at objects invisible to the naked eye by simply looking into a laboratory instrument. Now what if you wanted to look at something that was thousands of times smaller than a cell, or even smaller? In this case, a compound microscope (the kind often used in biology classes) would be inadequate. The world of nanoparticles exists at dimensions far below that of the bacteria observed by kids in biology class, and scientists need special tools to see particles in this realm as a result. In the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, we study particles smaller than 100 nanometers. That is 10 to 100 times smaller than a bacterium and around 1000 times smaller than the average human cell!

compound vs transmission electron microscope

Image of B. Subtilis bacteria taken with a typical compound microscope (left, by Y tambe), compared to a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) image of silver nanoparticles near the nuclear membrane of a cancer cell (right, reprinted with permission from AshaRani et al., 20091). Note that the scale on the left is 50 times bigger than on the right!

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How Many AA Batteries Would it Take to Power a Mercedes?

If you’re like me, you probably have a drawer full of AA batteries at home somewhere, just in case you need them. They’re not as ubiquitous as they used to be – I try to buy mostly rechargeable electronics nowadays, but those AAs still go into so many things, from TV remotes to flashlights to bathroom gadgets. (And yes, I know you can get rechargeable AA batteries – yay!)

So what does that have to do with a Mercedes?


Some run-of-the-mill rechargeable AA batteries (image from Pixabay)

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Generation Nano, Here We Come!

This weekend, over 350,000 people are expected to attend the 4-day U.S. Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. The event is at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from 10am-6pm Saturday and 10am-4pm Sunday, and it’s FREE!

And what does this have to do with Sustainable Nano? Well, did you hear about the National Science Foundation’s Generation Nano contest for high school students? Contestants created their own new nanotechnology-themed superheroes; the finalists are going to be at the Festival, and we get to interview them for our brand new podcast!

Stan Lee

Comic book legend Stan Lee recruiting for NSF’s Generation Nano contest. (image from NSF)

You can see the finalist contest entries yourself here, and you can still VOTE on your favorite until 6:59 PM EDT tonight.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Generation Nano contest and the Sustainable Nano podcast!

Why do Scientists Care about Bacterial Replication?

Did you know that under the right conditions, bacteria can divide every 20 minutes?1 (That’s how bacteria reproduce – one cell splits into two.) That means that 10 bacterial cells can produce 2,621,440 bacteria after only 6 hours! No wonder you can get sick so quickly after eating food contaminated with bacteria. Figure 1 below shows one bacterium (a single bacteria) dividing in one of my experiments. But how exactly do bacteria replicate? Let’s dig deeper into that question and then look at one technique scientists in the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology use in the lab that takes advantage of bacterial replication.

bacterial fission

Figure 1. An image of a bacterium (Azotobacter vinelandii UW) that is dividing. (image by Joe Buchman)

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