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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2016: The Start of a New… Decade? Part 2

In 2005, Science magazine published their 125th anniversary issue and posed 25 of the biggest questions “facing science over the next quarter-century”.1 In my previous post, I talked about how, ten years later, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is tackling one of those questions: “How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?”2 In today’s post, I’m going to introduce some of the CSN’s work on another big question from Science 2005: “What are the limits of conventional computing?”3

25 year questions

Science‘s 125th anniversary issue in 2005 raised questions “for the next quarter century” that remain relevant in 2016.  (nanotube image from Wikimedia)

Continue reading “2016: The Start of a New… Decade? Part 2”

2016: The Start of a New… Decade? Part 1

The coming of spring, like New Years Day, leads many of us to ruminate over what we did and did not accomplish in the past year and to set readily achievable and truly ambitious goals for the next. But what if you wanted to make resolutions about what you wanted to do 10 or 25 years ahead instead of just one? Undoubtedly you would examine both your past and your goals for the future with much greater scrutiny. The number 2016 might not seem particularly special at first glance, but a little more than a decade has passed since Science magazine published its open-access 125th Anniversary Issue, which presented 25 of the biggest questions “facing science over the next quarter-century.”1

Two of those big questions from 2005 are still very relevant to the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) today: “How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?” and “What Are the Limits of Conventional Computing?”2,3 Sometimes looking back can provide hilariously entertaining results (have you ever seen VH1’s I Love the ‘90s?) but sometimes it simply offers interesting insights on goals for the future. In the next two blog posts, I’m going to talk about what the CSN has done so far and what it might do in the next decade to tackle these questions.

25 year questions

Science’s 125th anniversary issue in 2005 raised questions for “the next quarter-century” that remain relevant in 2016.  (nanotube image from Wikimedia)

Continue reading “2016: The Start of a New… Decade? Part 1”

Aerogels: Nanotechnology to Space and Beyond

Humans have been dreaming about space travel since the early ages. As many of you recall from the opening lines of Star Trek, it has been fascinating for humanity “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

However, space exploration involves many grand challenges including the extreme environments that the spacecraft has to tolerate: variations in gravity, solar radiation, and chemically different environments are all stumbling blocks that can greatly impact machine operations. Once the spacecraft is out of the atmosphere, it is also subject to incredible temperature changes not observed on Earth (thank you, atmosphere!). Even on Earth’s moon the temperature can range from about -250 °F (-157 °C) at night to +250 °F (+121 °C) with the sun hitting the surface.1


Space ships have to withstand extreme environments outside the protection of planetary atmospheres. (image modified from Cronus Caelestis)

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Recommended Reading: Spring Break Edition

It’s Recommended Reading Day here at Sustainable Nano!  There’s so much great stuff out there on the internet that it’s impossible to catch it all, so we thought we’d offer you a little sampling of 10 cool things we shared on Twitter and Facebook over the last couple weeks.

Continue reading “Recommended Reading: Spring Break Edition”