Acoustic Fabric

Having trouble hearing? Just turn up your shirt. That’s the idea behind a new “acoustic fabric” developed by engineers at MIT and collaborators at Rhode Island School of DesignThe team has designed a fabric that works like a microphone, converting sound first into mechanical vibrations, then into electrical signals, similarly to how our ears hearAll fabrics vibrate in response to audible sounds, though these vibrations are on the scale of nanometers — far too small to ordinarily be sensed. To capture these imperceptible signals, the researchers created a flexible fiber that, when woven into a fabric, bends with the fabric like seaweed on the ocean’s surface.

The fiber is designed from a “piezoelectric” material that produces an electrical signal when bent or mechanically deformed, providing a means for the fabric to convert sound vibrations into electrical signalsThe fabric can capture sounds ranging in decibel from a quiet library to heavy road traffic, and determine the precise direction of sudden sounds like handclaps. When woven into a shirt’s lining, the fabric can detect a wearer’s subtle heartbeat features. The fibers can also be made to generate sound, such as a recording of spoken words, that another fabric can detectA study detailing the team’s design appears in Nature. Lead author Wei Yan, who helped develop the fiber as an MIT postdoc, sees many uses for fabrics that hear.

Wearing an acoustic garment, you might talk through it to answer phone calls and communicate with others,” says Yan, who is now an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “In addition, this fabric can imperceptibly interface with the human skin, enabling wearers to monitor their heart and respiratory condition in a comfortable, continuous, real-time, and long-term manner.”

Yan’s co-authors include Grace Noel, Gabriel Loke, Tural Khudiyev, Juliette Marion, Juliana Cherston, Atharva Sahasrabudhe, Joao Wilbert, Irmandy Wicaksono, and professors John Joannopoulos and Yoel Fink at MIT, along with collaborators from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Lei Zhu from Case Western Reserve University, Chu Ma from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Reed Hoyt of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.


New Disinfectant Protects Against Covid for Up 7 Days

An alum and several researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have used nanotechnology to develop the cleaning agent, which protects against seven viruses for up to seven days.

UCF researchers have developed a nanoparticle-based disinfectant that can continuously kill viruses on a surface for up to seven days – a discovery that could be a powerful weapon against COVID-19 and other emerging pathogenic viruses. The findings, by a multidisciplinary team of the university’s virus and engineering experts and the leader of an Orlando technology firm, were published this week in  ACS Nano, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

Christina Drake ’07PhD, founder of Kismet Technologies, was inspired to develop the disinfectant after making a trip to the grocery store in the early days of the pandemic. There she saw a worker spraying disinfectant on a refrigerator handle, then wiping off the spray immediately.

Initially my thought was to develop a fast-acting disinfectant,” she says, “but we spoke to consumers, such as doctors and dentists, to find out what they really wanted from a disinfectant. What mattered the most to them was something long-lasting that would continue to disinfect high-touch areas like doorhandles and floors long after application.”

Drake partnered with Sudipta Seal, a UCF materials engineer and nanoscience expert, and Griff Parks, a College of Medicine virologist who is also associate dean of research and director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Kismet Tech and the Florida High Tech Corridor, the researchers created a nanoparticle-engineered disinfectant.

Its active ingredient is an engineered nanostructure called cerium oxide, which is known for its regenerative antioxidant properties. The cerium oxide nanoparticles are modified with small amounts of silver to make them more potent against pathogens.

It works both chemically and mechanically,” says Seal, who has been studying nanotechnology for more than 20 years. “The nanoparticles emit electrons that oxidize the virus, rendering it inactive. Mechanically, they also attach themselves to the virus and rupture the surface, almost like popping a balloon.”

Most disinfecting wipes or sprays will disinfect a surface within three to six minutes of application but have no residual effects. This means surfaces need to be wiped down repeatedly to stay clean from a number of viruses, like COVID-19. The nanoparticle formulation maintains its ability to inactivate microbes and continues to disinfect a surface for up to seven days after a single application.

The disinfectant has shown tremendous antiviral activity against seven different viruses,” says Parks, whose lab was responsible for testing the formulation against “a dictionary” of viruses. “Not only did it show antiviral properties toward coronavirus and rhinovirus, but it also proved effective against a wide range of other viruses with different structures and complexities. We are hopeful that with this amazing range of killing capacity, this disinfectant will also be a highly effective tool against other new emerging viruses.

The scientists are confident the solution will have a major impact in health care settings in particular, reducing the rate of hospital acquired infections, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Clostridium difficile – which affect more than one in 30 patients admitted to U.S. hospitals. And unlike many commercial disinfectants, the formulation has no harmful chemicals, which indicates it will be safe to use on any surface. Regulatory testing for irritancy on skin and eye cells, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, showed no harmful effects.

Many household disinfectants currently available contain chemicals that can be harmful to the body with repeated exposure,” Drake says. “Our nanoparticle-based product will have a high safety rating will play a major role in reducing overall chemical exposure for humans.”


Nano BiosuperCapacitor Provides Energy for Biomedical Applications

The miniaturization of microelectronic sensor technology, microelectronic robots or intravascular implants is progressing rapidly. However, it also poses major challenges for research. One of the biggest is the development of tiny but efficient energy storage devices that enable the operation of autonomously working microsystems – in more and more smaller areas of the human body for example. In addition, these energy storage devices must be bio-compatible if they are to be used in the body at all. Now there is a prototype that combines these essential properties. The breakthrough was achieved by an international research team led by Prof. Dr. Oliver G. Schmidt, Professorship of Materials Systems for Nanoelectronics at Chemnitz University of Technology (Germany), initiator of the Center for Materials, Architectures and Integration of Nanomembranes (MAIN) at Chemnitz University of Technology and director at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research (IFW) Dresden. The Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden (IPF) was also involved in the study as a cooperation partner.

In the current issue of Nature Communications, the researchers report on the smallest microsupercapacitors to date, which already functions in (artificial) blood vessels and can be used as an energy source for a tiny sensor system to measure pH.

This storage system opens up possibilities for intravascular implants and microrobotic systems for next-generation biomedicine that could operate in hard-to-reach small spaces deep inside the human body. For example, real-time detection of blood pH can help predict early tumor growing. “It is extremely encouraging to see how new, extremely flexible, and adaptive microelectronics is making it into the miniaturized world of biological systems“, says research group leader Prof. Dr. Oliver G. Schmidt, who is extremely pleased with this research success.

The architecture of our nano-bio supercapacitors offers the first potential solution to one of the biggest challenges – tiny integrated energy storage devices that enable the self-sufficient operation of multifunctional microsystems,” says Dr. Vineeth Kumar, researcher in Prof. Schmidt’s team and a research associate at the MAIN research center.

Ever smaller energy storage devices in the submillimeter range – so-called “nano-supercapacitors” (nBSC) – for even smaller microelectronic components are not only a major technical challenge, however. This is because, as a rule, these supercapacitors do not use biocompatible materials but, for example, corrosive electrolytes and quickly discharge themselves in the event of defects and contamination. Both aspects make them unsuitable for biomedical applications in the body. So-called “biosupercapacitors (BSCs)” offer a solution. They have two outstanding properties: they are fully biocompatible, which means that they can be used in body fluids such as blood and can be used for further medical studies.

In addition, biosupercapacitors can compensate for self-discharge behavior through bio-electrochemical reactions. In doing so, they even benefit from the body’s own reactions. This is because, in addition to typical charge storage reactions of a supercapacitor, redox enzymatic reactions and living cells naturally present in the blood increase the performance of the device by 40%.


How to Generate Electric Currents Within The Human Body

A new nanotechnology development by an international research team led by Tel Aviv University researchers will make it possible to generate electric currents and voltage within the human body through the activation of various organs (mechanical force). The researchers explain that the development involves a new and very strong biological material, similar to collagen, which is non-toxic and causes no harm to the body’s tissues. The researchers believe that this new nanotechnology has many potential applications in medicine, including harvesting clean energy to operate devices implanted in the body (such as pacemakers) through the body’s natural movements, eliminating the need for batteries.

The study was led by Prof. Ehud Gazit of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Fleischman Faculty of Engineering and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, along with his lab team, Dr. Santu Bera and Dr. Wei Ji.

Also taking part in the study were researchers from the Weizmann Institute and a number of research institutes in Ireland, China and Australia

Prof. Gazit, who is also Founding Director of the Blavatnik Center for Drug Discovery, explains: “Collagen is the most prevalent protein in the , constituting about 30% of all of the proteins in our body. It is a with a helical structure and a variety of important physical properties, such as mechanical strength and flexibility, which are useful in many applications. However, because the collagen molecule itself is large and complex, researchers have long been looking for a minimalistic, short and simple molecule that is based on collagen and exhibits similar properties. About a year and a half ago, in the journal Nature Materials, our group published a study in which we used nanotechnological means to engineer a new biological material that meets these requirements. It is a tripeptide—a very short molecule called Hyp-Phe-Phe consisting of only three amino acids—capable of a simple process of self-assembly of forming a collagen-like helical structure that is flexible and boasts a strength similar to that of the metal titanium. In the present study, we sought to examine whether the new material we developed bears another feature that characterizes collagen—piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is the ability of a material to generate electric currents and voltage as a result of the application of mechanical force, or vice versa, to create a mechanical force as the result of exposure to an electric field.”

In the study, the researchers created nanometric structures of the engineered material, and with the help of advanced nanotechnology tools, applied mechanical pressure on them. The experiment revealed that the material does indeed produce electric currents and voltage as a result of the pressure. Moreover, tiny structures of only hundreds of nanometers demonstrated one of the highest levels of piezoelectric ability ever discovered, comparable or superior to that of the piezoelectric materials commonly found in today’s market (most of which contain lead and are therefore not suitable for medical applications).

According to the researchers, the discovery of piezoelectricity of this magnitude in a nanometric material is of great significance, as it demonstrates the ability of the engineered material to serve as a kind of tiny motor for very small devices. Next, the researchers plan to apply crystallography and computational quantum mechanical methods (density functional theory) in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the material’s piezoelectric behavior and thereby enable the accurate engineering of crystals for the building of biomedical devices.

Prof. Gazit adds: “Most of the piezoelectric materials that we know of today are toxic lead-based materials, or polymers, meaning they are not environmentally and human body-friendly. Our new material, however, is completely biological, and therefore suitable for uses within the body. For example, a device made from this material may replace a battery that supplies energy to implants like pacemakers, though it should be replaced from time to time. Body movements—like heartbeats, jaw movements, bowel movements, or any other movement that occurs in the body on a regular basis—will charge the device with electricity, which will continuously activate the implant.”

The research was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.


Targeted delivery of therapeutic RNAs directly to cancer cells

Tel Aviv University‘s groundbreaking technology may revolutionize the treatment of cancer and a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. In the framework of this study, the researchers were able to create a new method of transporting RNA-based drugs to a subpopulation of immune cells involved in the inflammation process, and target the disease-inflamed cell without causing damage to other cells.

The study was led by Prof. Dan Peer, a global pioneer in the development of RNA-based therapeutic delivery. He is Tel Aviv University‘s Vice President for Research and Development, head of the Center for Translational Medicine and a member of both the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. The study was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Our development actually changes the world of therapeutic antibodies. Today we flood the body with antibodies that, although selective, damage all the  that express a specific receptor, regardless of their current form. We have now taken out of the equation  that can help us, that is, uninflamed cells, and via a simple injection into the bloodstream can silence, express or edit a particular gene exclusively in the cells that are inflamed at that given moment,” explains Prof. Peer.

As part of the study, Prof. Peer and his team were able to demonstrate this groundbreaking development in animal models of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis, and improve all inflammatory symptoms, without performing any manipulation on about 85% of the immune system cells. Behind the innovative development stands a simple concept, targeting to a specific receptor conformation. “On every cell envelope in the body, that is, on the , there are receptors that select which substances enter the cell,” explains Prof. Peer. “If we want to inject a drug, we have to adapt it to the specific receptors on the , otherwise it will circulate in the bloodstream and do nothing. But some of these receptors are dynamic—they change shape on the membrane according to external or internal signals. We are the first in the world to succeed in creating a drug delivery system that knows how to bind to receptors only in a certain situation, and to skip over the other identical cells, that is, to deliver the drug exclusively to cells that are currently relevant to the disease.”


Next Generation of AR/VR Headsets (Quantglasses)

“Image” is everything in the $20 billion market for AR/VR glasses (Quantglasses). Consumers are looking for glasses that are compact and easy to wear, delivering high-quality imagery with socially acceptable optics that don’t look like “bug eyes.”

University of Rochester researchers at the Institute of Optics have come up with a novel technology to deliver those attributes with maximum effect. In a paper in Science Advances, they describe imprinting freeform optics with a nanophotonic optical element called “a metasurface.”

The metasurface is a veritable forest of tiny, silver, nanoscale structures on a thin metallic film that conforms, in this advance, to the freeform shape of the optics—realizing a new optical component the researchers call a metaform. The metaform is able to defy the conventional laws of reflection, gathering the visible light rays entering an AR/VR eyepiece from all directions, and redirecting them directly into the human eye.


Freeform optics is an emerging technology that uses lenses and mirrors with surfaces that lack an axis of symmetry within or outside the optics diameter to create optical devices that are lighter, more compact, and more effective than ever before.

Nick Vamivakas, a professor of quantum optics and quantum physics, likened the nanoscale structures to small-scale radio antennas.  “When we actuate the device and illuminate it with the right wavelength, all of these antennas start oscillating, radiating a new light that delivers the image we want downstream.

Metasurfaces are also called ‘flat optics’ so writing metasurfaces on freeform optics is creating an entirely new type of optical component,” says Jannick Rolland, the Brian J. Thompson Professor of Optical Engineering and director of the Center for Freeform Optics.

Adds Rolland, “This kind of optical component can be applied to any mirrors or lenses, so we are already finding applications in other types of components” such as sensors and mobile cameras.

The first demonstration required many years to complete.

The goal is to direct the visible light entering the AR/VR glasses to the eye. The new device uses a freespace optical combiner to help do that. However, when the combiner is part of freeform optics that curve around the head to conform to an eyeglass format, not all of the light is directed to the eye. Freeform optics alone cannot solve this specific challenge. That’s why the researchers had to leverage a metasurface to build a new optical component.

Integrating these two technologies, freeform and metasurfaces, understanding how both of them interact with light, and leveraging that to get a good image was a major challenge,” says lead author Daniel Nikolov, an optical engineer in Rolland’s research group.


How to Construct Machines as Small as Cells

If you want to build a fully functional nanosized robot, you need to incorporate a host of capabilities, from complicated electronic circuits and photovoltaics to sensors and antennas. But just as importantly, if you want your robot to move, you need it to be able to bend.

Cornell researchers have created micron-sized shape memory actuators that enable atomically thin two-dimensional materials to fold themselves into 3D configurations. All they require is a quick jolt of voltage. And once the material is bent, it holds its shape – even after the voltage is removed. As a demonstration, the team created what is potentially the world’s smallest self-folding origami bird. And it’s not a lark.

The group’s paper, “Micrometer-Sized Electrically Programmable Shape Memory Actuators for Low-Power Microrobotics,” published in Science Robotics and was featured on the cover. The paper’s lead author is postdoctoral researcher Qingkun Liu. The project is led by Itai Cohen, professor of physics, and Paul McEuen, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science, both in the College of Arts and Sciences.

We humans, our defining characteristic is we’ve learned how to build complex systems and machines at human scales, and at enormous scales as well,” said McEuen. “But what we haven’t learned how to do is build machines at tiny scales. And this is a step in that basic, fundamental evolution in what humans can do, of learning how to construct machines that are as small as cells.”

McEuen and Cohen’s ongoing collaboration has so far generated a throng of nanoscale machines and components, each seemingly faster, smarter and more elegant than the last.

We want to have robots that are microscopic but have brains on board. So that means you need to have appendages that are driven by complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) transistors, basically a computer chip on a robot that’s 100 microns on a side,” Cohen said.

Imagine a million fabricated microscopic robots releasing from a wafer that fold themselves into shape, crawl free and go about their tasks, even assembling into more complicated structures. That’s the vision.


New Nanoparticle-delivered COVID-19 Vaccine

Researchers from Cleveland Clinic’s Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health have developed a promising new COVID-19 vaccine candidate that utilizes nanotechnology and has shown strong efficacy in preclinical disease models.

According to new findings published in mBio, the vaccine produced potent neutralizing antibodies among preclinical models and also prevented infection and disease symptoms in the face of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). An additional reason for the vaccine candidate’s early appeal is that it may be thermostable, which would make it easier to transport and store than currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines.

Our vaccine candidate delivers antigens to trigger an immune response via nanoparticles engineered from ferritin–a protein found in almost all living organisms,” said Jae Jung, PhD, director of the Global Center for Human Health & Pathogen Research and co-senior author on the study. “This protein is an attractive biomaterial for vaccine and drug delivery for many reasons, including that it does not require strict temperature control.”

Added Dokyun (Leo) Kim, a graduate student in Dr. Jung’s lab and co-first author on the study, “This would dramatically ease shipping and storage constraints, which are challenges we’re currently experiencing in national distribution efforts. It would also be beneficial for distribution to developing countries.”

Other benefits of the protein nanoparticles include minimizing cellular damage and providing stronger immunity at lower doses than traditional protein subunit vaccines against other viruses, like influenza.

The team’s vaccine uses the ferritin nanoparticles to deliver tiny, weakened fragments from the region of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that selectively binds to the human entry point for the virus (this fragment is called the receptor-binding domain, or RBD). When the SARS-CoV-2 RBD binds with the human protein called ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), the virus can enter host cells and begin to replicate.

The researchers tested their vaccine candidate on a ferret model of COVID-19, which reflects the human immune response and disease development better than other preclinical models. Dr. Jung, a foremost authority in virology and virus-induced cancers, previously developed the world’s first COVID-19 ferret model–a discovery that has significantly advanced research into SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission.


Nanomicelles Are Perfect Carrier To Destroy Cancerous Cells

With the advance in nanotechnology, researchers across the globe have been exploring how to use nanoparticles for efficient drug delivery. Similar to nanoshells and nanovesicles, nanomicelles are extremely small structures and have been noted as an emerging platform in targeted therapy. Nanomicelles are globe-like structures with a hydrophilic outer shell and a hydrophobic interior. This dual property makes them a perfect carrier for delivering drug molecules.

Now a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional team has created a nanomicelle that can be used to deliver a drug named docetaxel, which is commonly used to treat various cancers including breast, colon and lung cancer.

Modus operandi: Once injected intravenously, these nanomicelles can easily escape the circulation and enter the solid tumours.

The ideal goal for cancer therapy is destroying the cancer cells without harming healthy cells of the body, and chemotherapeutics approved for treatment of cancer are highly toxic. The currently used docetaxel is a highly hydrophobic drug, and is dissolved in a chemical mixture (polysorbate-80 and alcohol). This aggravates its toxic effects on liver, blood cells, and lungs. So, there was an urgent and unmet need to develop effective drug delivery vehicles for docetaxel without these side effects,” explains Avinash Bajaj, from the Laboratory of Nanotechnology and Chemical Biology at the Regional Centre for Biotechnology, Faridabad. He is one of the corresponding authors of the paper recently published in Angewandte Chemie.

The nanomicelles are less than 100nm in size and are stable at room temperature. Once injected intravenously these nanomicelles can easily escape the circulation and enter the solid tumours where the blood vessels are found to be leaky. These leaky blood vessels are absent in the healthy organs. “Chemical conjugation would render the phospholipid-docetaxel prodrug to be silent in the circulation and healthy organs. But once it enters the cancer cells, the enzymes will cleave the bond to activate the drug, and kill the cancer cells,” adds Dr. Bajaj.

The team tested the effectiveness of the nanomicelles in a mice breast tumour model and was found to help in tumour regression. Its toxicity was compared with the currently used FDA approved formulation and found to be less toxic. Similar promising results were seen when tested in higher model organisms including rats, rabbits and rhesus monkeys.

Clean Water At Low Cost

Producing clean water at a lower cost could be on the horizon after researchers from The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and Penn State solved a complex problem that had baffled scientists for decades, until now. Desalination membranes remove salt and other chemicals from water, a process critical to the health of society, cleaning billions of gallons of water for agriculture, energy production and drinking. The idea seems simple — push salty water through and clean water comes out the other side — but it contains complex intricacies that scientists are still trying to understand.

The research team, in partnership with DuPont Water Solutions, solved an important aspect of this mystery, opening the door to reduce costs of clean water production. The researchers determined desalination membranes are inconsistent in density and mass distribution, which can hold back their performance. Uniform density at the nanoscale is the key to increasing how much clean water these membranes can create.

Reverse osmosis membranes are widely used for cleaning water, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about them,” said Manish Kumar, an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at UT Austin, who co-led the research. “We couldn’t really say how water moves through them, so all the improvements over the past 40 years have essentially been done in the dark.”

The paper documents an increase in efficiency in the membranes tested by 30%-40%, meaning they can clean more water while using significantly less energy. That could lead to increased access to clean water and lower water bills for individual homes and large users alike.

Reverse osmosis membranes work by applying pressure to the salty feed solution on one side. The minerals stay there while the water passes through. Although more efficient than non-membrane desalination processes, it still takes a large amount of energy, the researchers said, and improving the efficiency of the membranes could reduce that burden.

Fresh water management is becoming a crucial challenge throughout the world,” said Enrique Gomez, a professor of chemical engineering at Penn State who co-led the research. “Shortages, droughts — with increasing severe weather patterns, it is expected this problem will become even more significant. It’s critically important to have clean water availability, especially in low-resource areas.”

The findings have been published in Science.