There’s plenty of room at the bottom… for ART!

What do you need if you want to create an art piece that is not visible to our bare eyes? For ages, visual artists have invented tools for manipulating various materials to shape their reflections of the world into art pieces that we can appreciate with our eyes: paintings, sculptures, and installations arts. Sometimes it requires thousands of workers and tons of materials to create a giant art piece, such as the Statue of Liberty, a world-wide recognized masterpiece of sculpture and a symbol of the United States. But sometimes it only asks for a grain of sand, a pair of hands or a programmed computer, and a cutting-edge microscope.

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From left to right: (1) “Chrysanthemum”. Magnification: 75,000X. Huigao Duan, MIT. (2) “There’s plenty of room at the bottom…TO PARTYYY!” Magnification: 100,000X. Joel Yang, MIT. (3) “The Bodhi Tree”. Magnification: 5715X. Mohan Ananth, Carl Zeiss NTS. Reprinted with permission from Zyvex Labs.

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Nanorobots can play nanosoccer and a whole lot more

In the excitement of the FIFA World Cup last summer, I found myself asking, “does soccer relate to nanotechnology in any way?” After doing some research, my honest answer is, not really.

However, while doing my research, I did discover that researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are playing “nano soccer games” to test the capabilities of recent advances in nanorobotics. The soccer game included moving a soccer ball no larger than the width of a human hair around on a soccer field smaller than a grain of rice. Not sure who to root for, but I found this footage to be very amusing (see video below).

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Interstellar Carbon Nanoparticles: From Dull to Shiny

How many of us have ever heard the phrase “Like a diamond in the sky”? There is actually some truth to this expression that astronomers have known for many years. There are in fact tiny, shiny, and colorful diamonds in outer space. One piece of evidence of their existence is their presence in meteorites found on Earth. For quite some time scientists have been curious about the diamonds found within meteorites, which are only 2 to 10 nanometers in size. Recent studies have also identified an area in space where nanodiamonds may be found, as well as information about their possible origin and details about their composition.

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Much bigger than a nanodiamond. image source

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What Do Gold Nanoparticles Have to Do With Wrinkly Skin?

Incorporation of engineered nanomaterials into cosmetic products including sunscreens, makeups, soaps, moisturizers and shampoos is becoming increasingly more commonplace. Manufacturers incorporate nanomaterials into their products to improve product stability, improve the delivery of vitamins and antioxidants and make products more aesthetically appealing.1 As a result of this increasing use, you may have encountered nanomaterials in your morning routine as you apply soap, lotion, or deodorant, brush your teeth or wash your hair. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require that cosmetic products be tested for health and environmental impacts before making it into the consumer market, though it is encouraged. Nevertheless, nanotechnology-driven products are on the market and have been for decades.

Brands like Lancome (L’Oreal), Dior and Olay (Procter and Gamble) employ a variety of nanomaterials into their products including niosomes, liposomes and nanoemulsions.2 Niosomes and liposomes are amphiphilic, which means they have both hydrophobic (“water-fearing”) and hydrophilic (“water-loving”) parts. This nature is what allows them to carry vitamins and drugs across the skin.2

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Skin naturally loses some of its elasticity with age. image source

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Using Nano/Micromachines to Help Clean Up Oil Spills

One of the largest oil spills in recent history happened in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank, resulting in the blowout of the Macondo well located approximately 66 km off the Louisiana coast. Oil spills, or the accidental release of liquid petroleum into the environment, pose a major concern to the health of natural ecosystems. Marine oil spills are known to injure and kill sea birds, heavily furred mammals, and marine organisms including shellfish, corals, and dolphins. There are various sources of oil spills including tank vessels, pipelines, and directly from facilities.

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Brown Pelicans covered in oil, Grand Isle, Louisiana, June 3, 2010. image by the International Bird Rescue Research Center

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Is triclosan safe? What you should know about this antibacterial chemical

Back in January, I wrote a post about the potential hazards of traditional cleaning chemicals. Based on questions and comments from friends and family, I am going to continue on that path, this time focusing on the antibacterial chemical triclosan. Triclosan gained some media attention earlier this year when a law was passed in Minnesota to ban it from soaps and cleaning products.

Triclosan is the active antimicrobial ingredient in many products, but some are concerned with its use Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14936293@N03/2389378576/in/photolist-4D9c1m-4UHbd6

I recommend you check your labels for active ingredients. This soap contains triclosan. Image source

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Keeping Our Food Safe – Nanomaterial Style

From reading this blog, you may know that nanomaterials are becoming more and more prevalent in the products that we use on a regular basis. What you may not realize is that nanomaterials are also becoming a growing part of our food packaging.  In this post, I’m going to explore a few ways in which nanomaterials might be used in food packaging to improve packaging properties and to more accurately determine a product’s shelf life.

Biodegradable packaging helps reduce the waste in our landfills and elsewhere, but biodegradable plastics have been a challenging choice for food packaging in the past for several reasons. Experts have written that these materials aren’t as strong or heat resistant as other, more commonly used plastics, air and water can get through them more easily, and they can be difficult to work with.1 On the bright side, there are nanomaterials being developed for use in plastics for food packaging that can help get around some of these problems. Scientists are working hard to develop these nanocomposites to be biodegradable and still usable in food packaging.2

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Creating biodegradable plastics for food packaging can be tricky.   image source

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