A team of researchers from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory have engineered silicon particles one-fiftieth the width of a human hair, which could lead to “biointerface” systems designed to make nerve cells fire and heart cells beat.
Bozhi Tian, who led one of the University of Chicago research groups, said the particles can establish unique biointerfaces on cell membranes, because they are deformable but can still yield a local electrical effect.
“Biological systems are soft, and if you want to design a device that can target those tissues or organs, you should match their mechanical interface as well,” Tian said. “Most of the current implants are rigid, and that’s one of the reasons they can cause inflammation.”
Over time biointerfaces made out of these particles will also degrade, unlike alternative materials like gold and carbon, said study co-author Yuanwen Jiang, a graduate student in the Tian group. This means that for future applications patients wouldn’t have to undergo a second procedure to have the particles removed.
Jiang and Tian said they believe the material has many potential applications in biomedicine, because the particles and light can be used to excite many types of cells.
The mesostructured silicon, named for its complex internal structures of nanoscopic wires, was created using a process called nano-casting.
To make the particles, each between one and five micrometers in size, researchers filled the beehive structure of synthetic silicon dioxide with semiconductive silicon the same way a blacksmith would pour molten metal into a cast iron mold. The outer mold was then etched away with acid, leaving behind a bundle of wires connected by thin bridges.
In order to test whether the particles could change the behavior of cells, the team injected a sample onto cultured rat dorsal root ganglia neurons, which are found in the peripheral nervous system.
The team was able to activate the neurons using pulses of light to heat up the silicon particles, causing current to flow through the cells.
In conventional biointerfaces, materials must be hooked up to a source of energy, but because researchers need only apply light to use the silicon particles, the new system is entirely wireless. Researchers can simply inject the particles in the right area and activate them through the skin.
“Neuromodulation could take full advantage of this material, including its optical, mechanical and thermal properties,” Jiang said.
Along with the implications that controlling neurons might have with neurodegenerative disorders, researchers in Tian’s lab have used similar materials to control the beating of heart cells, he said.
Researchers trapped and detected ensembles of electrons, an important step in isolating single electrons for use in a new generation of low-power supercomputing.
If biochemists had access to a quantum computer, they could perfectly simulate the properties of new molecules to develop drugs in ways that would take today’s fastest computers decades. A new device takes us closer to providing such a computer. The device successfully traps, detects, and manipulates an ensemble of electrons above the surface of superfluid helium. The system integrates a nanofluidic channel with a superconducting circuit.
Because they are so small, electrons normally interact weakly with electrical signals. The new device, however, gives the electron more time to interact, and it is this setup that makes it possible to build a qubit, the quantum computing equivalent of a bit. Quantum computers could provide the necessary computing power to model extremely large and complex situations in physics, biology, weather systems and many others.
While isolated electrons in a vacuum can store quantum information nearly perfectly, in real materials, the movements of surrounding atoms disturbs them, eventually leading to the loss of information. This work is a step towards realizing isolated, trapped single electrons by taking advantage of the unique relationship existing between electrons and superfluid helium. Electrons will levitate just above the surface of helium, about 10 nanometers away, insensitive to the atomic fluctuations below. While this effect has been known, holding them in a superconducting device structure has not been demonstrated before this work. At the heart of this new technology is a resonator based on circuit quantum electrodynamics (cQED) architecture, which provides a path to trap electrons above helium and detect the spins of the electrons. Because they are so small, electrons normally interact only very weakly with electrical signals. In the resonator however, the signal bounces back and forth more than 10,000 times, giving the electron more time to interact. It is this setup that makes it possible to build a qubit, while also maintaining quantum coherence. University of Chicago researchers have measured microwave photons emerging from the resonator as electrons were slowly leaked from the trap with a goal of measuring single electrons. The specialized device was designed and built in collaboration with nanofabrication scientists at the Center for Nanoscale Materials. The initial experiments involved about 100,000 electrons — too many to control quantum mechanically – but current experiments are decreasing the number. The goal is to trap a single electron whose behavior can be analyzed and controlled for use as a quantum bit.
Silicon-based invention is tiny, soft, wirelessly functional
In the campy 1966 science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage,” scientists miniaturize a submarine with themselves inside and travel through the body of a colleague to break up a potentially fatal blood clot. Micro-humans aside, imagine the inflammation that metal sub would cause.
Ideally, injectable or implantable medical devices should not only be small and electrically functional, they should be soft, like the body tissues with which they interact. Scientists from two UChicago labs set out to see if they could design a material with all three of those properties.
The material they came up with, the subject of a study published June 27 in Nature Materials, forms the basis of an ingenious light-activated injectable device that could eventually be used to stimulate nerve cells and manipulate the behavior of muscles and organs.
“Most traditional materials for implants are very rigid and bulky, especially if you want to do electrical stimulation,” said Bozhi Tian, an assistant professor in chemistry whose lab collaborated with that of neuroscientist Francisco Bezanilla, the Lillian Eichelberger Cannon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The new material, in contrast, is soft and tiny, composed of particles just a few micrometers in diameter—far less than the width of a human hair—that disperse easily in a saline solution so they can be injected. The particles also degrade naturally inside the body after a few months, so no surgery would be needed to remove them.
The University of Chicago (U of C, UChicago, or simply Chicago) is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States.
The university consists of the College of the University of Chicago, various graduate programs and interdisciplinary committees organized into four divisions, six professional schools, and a school of continuing education. The university enrolls approximately 5,000 students in the College and about 15,000 students overall. The University of Chicago is consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 universities. The U of C tied Stanford University for 5th place in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report “Best National Universities Rankings”.
University of Chicago scholars have played a major role in the development of various academic disciplines, including: the Chicago school of economics, the Chicago school of sociology, the law and economics movement in legal analysis, the Chicago school of literary criticism, the Chicago school of religion, the school of political science known as behavioralism, and in the physics leading to the world’s first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. The university is also home to the University of Chicago Press, the largest university press in the United States.
The Latest Updated Research News:
University of Chicago research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Injectable soft biomaterial could be used to manipulate organ behavior – July 2, 2016
- Nanomaterials Can Help Make Single Pane Windows More Energy Efficient – June 6, 2016
- Could Aluminum Nitride Be Engineered to Produce Quantum Bits at a Bargain Basement Price? – May 3, 2016
- Bonelike 3-D silicon synthesized for potential use with medical devices – July 12, 2015
- Neurobiology Online Course to Endeavor World’s Largest Memory Experiment- April 18, 2014
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A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory is using nanomaterials to improve the energy efficiency of existing single-pane windows in commercial and residential buildings.
The team was recently awarded a $3.1 million grant from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop a technology that could help achieve that goal. The nanofoam the team is developing – known as a nanocellular composite with super thermal insulation and soundproofing – uses gas bubbles less than 100 nanometers in diameter to block the transfer of heat and sound through glass windows while allowing visible light to pass through and maintain a clarity similar to normal windows.
“That’s really the trick, blocking the heat and sound transfer while maintaining transparency,” said Ralph Muehleisen, principal building scientist at Argonne. “It’s fairly simple to develop a coating that insulates, but getting one that is thin and you can still see through is a substantial technical challenge.”
The nanofoam, which will be extruded into sheets about three millimeters thick, creates a thermal insulation effect by using the tiny bubbles to reduce collisions among gas molecules, thereby reducing the transfer of heat energy. When the bubbles are reduced to that scale, super thermal insulation becomes possible.
After running simulations at NERSC researchers believe it’s possible
Quantum computers have the potential to break common cryptography techniques, search huge datasets and simulate quantum systems in a fraction of the time it would take today’s computers. But before this can happen, engineers need to be able to harness the properties of quantum bits or qubits.
Currently, one of the leading methods for creating qubits in materials involves exploiting the structural atomic defects in diamond. But several researchers at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory believe that if an analogue defect could be engineered into a less expensive material, the cost of manufacturing quantum technologies could be significantly reduced. Using supercomputers at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), which is located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), these researchers have identified a possible candidate in aluminum nitride. Their findings were published inNature Scientific Reports.
“Silicon semiconductors are reaching their physical limits—it’ll probably happen within the next five to 10 years—but if we can implement qubits into semiconductors, we will be able to move beyond silicon,” says Hosung Seo, University of Chicago Postdoctoral Researcher and a first author of the paper.
“Our community has been looking at diamond for some time, but it is interesting to study a less expensive material; our motivation is to find a practical and affordable replacement for silicon in semiconductors. Aluminum nitride is a perfect candidate because it is much cheaper than diamond and there are a number of technologies that can be developed starting from aluminum nitride wafers,” says Marco Govoni, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. He is also a co-author of the paper.