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Nannotech Briefs

SAFETY

Amidst worries about the possible health dangers of nanomaterials, researchers at Rice University’s Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology have found a way to alter the toxicity of buckyballs, large soccer-ball-shaped carbon molecules that are among nanotech’s most promising materials. The researchers report that changes to the surfaces of the buckyballs modify their toxic effects on cells. The executive director of the lab, Kevin Ausman, says the preliminary studies indicate that buckyballs should be “studied in more detail.”

RESEARCH

Scientists have become quite skilled at determining the structures of stable molecules, but measuring the rapid changes that molecules undergo during chemical reactions is a different matter entirely. State University of New York at Buffalo researchers now report experimental structural measurement of molecules in high-energy states that persist for just millionths of a second.

CENTERS

The National Institutes of Health have awarded $10 million to Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology to establish a cancer nanotechnology research program. The goal is to develop a new class of nanoparticles for molecular and cellular imaging, with a primary focus on improving the detection and treatment of prostate cancer.

ADVANCE

Ultrasensitive detection of viruses could mean more effective tools for diagnosing diseases and warning of bioterrorism attacks. Now researchers at Harvard University have achieved the ultimate in sensitivity: the detection of individual viral particles. The group’s sensor uses nanowires and can electrically detect the presence of a single virus in real time. The Harvard chemists hope to build devices capable of detecting a wide variety of viral threats with the same sensitivity by using a series of nanowires.

MILESTONE

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, say they have made a motion detector that is a thousand times more sensitive than the most sensitive existing one. The micromechanical device, which has features as small as 100 nanometers across, uses two microscopic, comblike structures to diffract light from a laser beam; even a minute disturbance of the upper comb, which is secured by springs, measurably alters the light.

FUNDING

The National Science Foundation has awarded $69 million to six universities for the establishment of new nanotech centers around the country. All told, the NSF is providing $250 million in grants for nanoscale research in fiscal year 2004.

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