Nanotats: nanotube inks under skin could monitor blood glucose levels

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2010

Diseases like diabetes demand regular monitoring… which currently means pricking one’s finger for a blood sample once a day, maybe more. It’ll be cold comfort for those afraid of needles in general, but chemical engineers at MIT have developed an ink based on carbon nanotubes that, if injected under the skin, could act as a sort of constant glucose-level monitor [via Technovelgy]:

The sensor is based on carbon nanotubes wrapped in a polymer that is sensitive to glucose concentrations. When this sensor encounters glucose, the nanotubes fluoresce, which can be detected by shining near-infrared light on them. Measuring the amount of fluorescence reveals the concentration of glucose.

The researchers plan to create an “ink” of these nanoparticles suspended in a saline solution that could be injected under the skin like a tattoo. The “tattoo” would last for a specified length of time, probably six months, before needing to be refreshed.

To get glucose readings, the patient would wear a monitor that shines near-infrared light on the tattoo and detects the resulting fluorescence.

So you’d still need some intermediary hardware, but it’s not a ludicrously implausible step to suggest that eventually you might just get a tattoo whose colour would change to inform you of any problems. And hell, why stop there? The transhumanist sympathiser in me can’t help but think that two full-arm sleeves of designs cranking out live data on the state of my meatmachine would be nothing short of awesome… like conky, but for biological systems!

That said, it’d probably achieve little more than letting me watch my arteries clog in minute detail as I spent day after day sat in a swivel chair pecking away at a keyboard…


Nanotechnologically self-repairing circuits

Tom James @ 11-09-2009

selfheal_x220Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a means by which nanotube-filled capsules could repair electronic circuits when they are damaged:

Capsules, filled with conductive nanotubes, that rip open under mechanical stress could be placed on circuit boards in failure-prone areas. When stress causes a crack in the circuit, some of the capsules would also rupture and release nanotubes to bridge the break.

“Many times when a device fails, it’s because a circuit or capacitor burns out,” says Bielawski. “This is critical in situations where you can’t repair it — in satellites or submarines.” To address the problem, engineers currently build redundancy into a system. Self-healing circuits could make devices for remote applications more lightweight, more efficient, and cheaper, says Bielawski.

Consumer electricals have become increasingly cheap and disposable over the past few years. If this technology is adopted widely and improved could it lead to electricals that continue to function well for many decades? It seems unlikely that companies would choose to lose built-in obsolesence as a marketing tool, but if technologies increase in durability and strictly hardware-based improvements tail off (i.e. it becomes more economical to achieve improvements in performance through software tweaks, instead of relying on Moore’s Law) could it be that we find ourselves with the same mobile-phone/$multi-purpose_personal_electronic_widget for many years, which continually repairs and rebuilds itself when damaged?

[from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]


Hyperdense terabit storage medium

Paul Raven @ 16-06-2009

computer rendering of a carbon nanotubeAt this point, the human species has more information stored and archived than ever before, and there’s more by the hour. The problem is that our storage media, while increasingly high-capacity, is increasingly frangible: CDRs and hard drives just don’t last long, and we’re in a largely unnoticed race between the growth of our body of knowledge and our ability to store it permanently.

Enter Alex Zettl and friends from the University of Berkeley, who’ve developed a storage medium based on carbon nanotubes that isn’t just extremely capacious but exceptionally durable and resistant to the ravages of time:

The system consists of a minuscule particle of iron encased in a carbon nanotube and represents information in binary notation—the zeroes and ones of “bits.” Using an electric current, information can be written into the system by shuttling the iron particle back and forth inside the nanotube like a bead on an abacus—the left half of the nanotube corresponds to zero, the right half corresponds to one. The encoded information can then be read by measuring the nanotube’s electrical resistance, which changes according to the iron particle’s position.

Because of their very small size, a square-inch array of these nanotube memory systems could store at least one terabit—a trillion bits—of information, approximately five times more than can be packed into a square inch of a state-of-the-art magnetic hard drive. But Zettl believes the technology could be pushed to much higher information densities.

“We can manipulate this particle and read out its position so accurately, we could divide the nanotube’s length into 10 or even 100 units instead of just two,” Zettl says. “Whether this is worthwhile to implement right away, I’m not sure, because it adds complexity, but it could immediately give us 10 or 100 times the information density with the same device.”

I’m immediately reminded of Charlie Stross’s thoughts about bit-per-atom data storage, and how it will enable us to record everything we do – literally everything. Bandwidth, processing power and storage are the pillar commodities of the information economy, and all three of them are still racing toward an omega-point of virtual zero cost; what happens when they’re all as ubiquitous as air itself? [image by ghutchis]


Viruses for nanotech components

Tom James @ 02-06-2009

virusTurns out viruses are good for more than just killing cancer cells. Researchers at MIT have developed a method whereby viruses are coated with iron phosphate, then attached to carbon nanotubes, thus creating  the building-blocks of nanoscale electrical components:

This advanced ‘bio-industrial’ manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs).

It’s interesting to see how researchers are making use of the native biological territory instead of reinventing the wheel when it comes to nanotechnology – using viruses to make nanomaterials to make power cells.

[from Future Blogger][image from noii’s on flickr]


Computer memory to last a billion years

Tom James @ 21-05-2009

lifevsbitIn an attempt to address the problem of a digital dark age engineers at Berkeley have developed a technique called Nanoscale Reversible Mass Transport for Archival Memory that is intended to combine high bit-density and deep-time survival:

We have developed a new mechanism for digital memory storage with the potential to store data with both long lifetime and high density. Our memory device consists of a crystalline iron nanoparticle enclosed in a multiwalled carbon nanotube.  The nanotube can be reversibly moved through the nanotube by applying a low voltage, “writing” the device to a binary state represented by the position of the nanoparticle. The state of the device can then be subsequently read by a simple resistance measurement.

The abstract of the paper claims thermodynamic stability in excess of one billion years with data density of 1012 bits/in2.

[via Next Big Future][graph courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley]


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