Gina Miller of Nanotechnology Industries alerts us (via Nanogirl News) to two remarkable developments in nano space...
Nano-surgeons break the atomic bond. The science of the small has moved a huge step forward following work in a subterranean Birmingham (UK) laboratory. The ultimate in surgery has been carried out in a vibration-free bunker. Not only have scientists working there managed to remove a single atom of matter, measuring about a tenth of a millionth of a millimetre across, but they have achieved this feat even though their subject was thrashing around wildly.
The feat is the ultimate in the science of the small, nanotechnology, that the practitioners hope will one day help to remove contaminants from the environment. One can also see it as an extreme version of precision chemistry, a far cry from what usually happens in a laboratory.
When mixing two substances together to trigger a chemical reaction, chemists typically blend of the order of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules, give or take a few. . . A more refined approach to making and breaking the bonds between atoms in molecules has now been taken by scientists working at the University of Birmingham, marking another step forward in the ability to manipulate the smallest domain in the emerging field of nanotechnology.
Prior achievements of precision single atom removal have required ultra-low temperatures. But these scientists have been able to break targetted individual molecular bonds at room temperature. This might be another useful tool for the molecular manufacturing toolbox.
Artificial molecular machines demonstrated. UCLA chemists have created the first nano valve that can be opened and closed at will to trap and release molecules. The discovery, federally funded by the National Science Foundation, will be published July 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This paper demonstrates unequivocally that the machine works," said Jeffrey I. Zink, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, and a member of the research team. "With the nano valve, we can trap and release molecules on demand. We are able to control molecules at the nano scale."
[The] nano valve consists of moving parts -- switchable rotaxane molecules that resemble linear motors designed by California NanoSystems Institute director Fraser Stoddart's team -- attached to a tiny piece of glass (porous silica), which measures about 500 nanometers, and which [UCLA graduate student Thoi] Nguyen is currently reducing in size. Tiny pores in the glass are only a few nanometers in size. . .
Switchable rotaxanes are molecules composed of a dumbbell component with two stations between which a ring component can be made to move back and forth in a linear fashion. Stoddart, who holds UCLA's Fred Kavli Chair in nanosystems sciences, has already shown how these switchable rotaxanes can be used in molecular electronics. Stoddart's team is now adapting them for use in the construction of artificial molecular machinery. . .
Stoddart has noted that it is only in the past 100 years that humankind has learned how to fly. Prior to the first demonstration of manned flight, there were many great scientists and engineers who said it was impossible.
"Building artificial molecular machines and getting them to operate is where airplanes were a century ago," Stoddart said. "We have come a long way in the last decade, but we have a very, very long way to go yet to realize the full potential of artificial molecular machines."
In other words, basic molecular manufacturing is possible; in fact, it is being done today. These researchers at UCLA, and others around the world, are showing us how. As Stoddart says, the technology is just at the beginning, much as airplanes were a century ago. But we should remember that flight technology advanced very rapidly once the proof of concept was shown.