Nanotechnology

Minnov8: Showcasing Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology

If you’re out in the Bay area or on the other coast in New York or Boston, it’s pretty easy to be smug about your culture of risk-taking, pool of top talent, and strings of successful, world-changing innovations. But as the world continues its acceleration to one that’s increasingly connected and ways of collaborating make distance irrelevant, smart people will pop up everywhere and I’m convinced we’ll see a flattening of the geographic advantages these pockets of innovation represent.

Six of us were bugged that there was so much going on in Internet and Web technology innovation right here in Minnesota, that when I suggested we start our own blog to showcase that innovation, there were nods of agreement and a willingness to dive in and make it real.

The biggest reason we were all interested in this blog is that these showcases and interviews are what we wanted to read and there wasn’t anything like it out there.

The result is Minnov8: Minnesota Innovation in Internet & Web Technology. This past weekend was the biggest Barcamp yet, Minnebar, and over 400 people showed up to present, learn and participate. Rather than recreate everything on this blog, why not take a peek at Minnov8? This and this post are ones that will recap what took place.

Wherever you live and whatever space you care about (e.g., technology, education, greentech, etc.) and where there are a critical mass of people willing to leap in and work together as multiple authors, I’d encourage you to start one of these…it’s pretty simple to do and fun to boot.

Light up those cancer cells…

There are many brute force, lack of precision methods with how medicine removes cancer cells regardless of their point of growth within the human body. Today’s New Scientist has a promising nanotechnology (let me reiterate: promising) article that I’ve been waiting for:

A new nanoparticle can multitask as a drug courier and a delivery reporter by glowing when it dumps its cargo inside tumour cells. The technique could allow doctors to see exactly which cells have successfully received a drug – if it gets approval for use in humans.

When I first learned that it was the carrier chemicals in chemotherapy which penetrated the impenetrable cell membranes — and NOT the cancer killing drugs themselves — which caused the devastation of hair loss, nausea and other ill effects of the treatment, I’ve been following any developments in this area that are nanotechnology related. Why? Because the promise is that non-toxic ‘nanobots’ of some type will be able to target cells, carry the cancer killing drugs in to the cells and ensure there are few ill effects.

Alison Ross, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, says: “Using nanotechnology to target drugs to cancer cells is an exciting technique and the nanoparticles engineered in this study are smarter than ever before.” But she adds that “more research is needed to discover whether these particles could be used to benefit cancer patients in the future”.

Still, research like this as well as accidental discoveries like this one are pointing the way to fundamentally different approaches to emerge to ongoing and vexing problems.

EFF Pioneer Awards

Last night I attended the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Awards. Just simply being at this event and absorbing the vibe was meaningful for me and I’ll bring forth a perspective that may be atypical and worth putting into the conversation about EFF.

Nearly four years ago was the first time that I donated to EFF and began my support of this organization. Though I look like “a suit”, a Republican and a mainstream sort of guy, I’m an independent, a closet liberal, enjoy some Libertarian leanings and am quite open to growing in my perspective as I learn — especially legally and politically — as we all push against the membrane of the future.

Five or so years ago I became more enlightened. I was stunned by the multiple, parallel, onrush of efforts by copyright holders, Congress, world intellectual capital bodies, governments globally as well as intelligence communities, to command, control and infiltrate all aspects of the Internet.  As I started to try getting my head wrapped around even a few of the issues, I realized that there was NO way that I could be competently informed about even ONE of these issues shaping our future….let alone dozens of them at a time!

Enter the EFF. I learned that here was an organization whose mission was to be that competent, informed entity who’d act to intervene, stop or shape the debate about the most important issues facing us in our digital future. With more and more of our relationships, commerce, free speech, entertainment — you name it — being created or delivered digitally, I (and you) could either pull the covers over our collective heads or get involved…and support those who’ve rolled up their sleeves, dug their hands in the muck and are in the fray.

So that’s what I did.  Last night was great for a lot of reasons and validated (in spades) the vital importance of this organization and the people who’ve dedicated money, support and all or part of their lives to the mission.

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Quantum Dots to Stop Global Warming

OK, OK…it won’t stop global warming, but this is pretty cool and it has promise in being one key way to significantly reduce global energy consumption.

This previous post about LED lighting made this one point: LED’s are more efficient (they burn cooler and at a higher Kelvin temperature so they’re brighter per watt of energy) and that — if incandescent bulbs were replaced throughout America — we could reduce energy consumption. 10% here…10% there…pretty soon we’re talking about real savings and a reduction in dependence upon foreign oil.

Imagine me then stumbling across this article today about a Vanderbilt University student who accidentally came across a new way to “coat” LED lights with quantum dots to produce a bright, white light. The article in Science Daily recaps it nicely *and* discusses the Dept of Energy forecast that the energy savings could approach 29% by 2025:

The resulting hybrid LED gives off a warm white light with a slightly yellow cast, similar to that of the incandescent lamp.

Until now quantum dots have been known primarily for their ability to produce a dozen different distinct colors of light simply by varying the size of the individual nanocrystals: a capability particularly suited to fluorescent labeling in biomedical applications. But chemists at Vanderbilt University discovered a way to make quantum dots spontaneously produce broad-spectrum white light. The report of their discovery, which happened by accident, appears in the communication “White-light Emission from Magic-Sized Cadmium Selenide Nanocrystals published online October 18 by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

In the last few years, LEDs (short for light emitting diodes) have begun replacing incandescent and fluorescent lights in a number of niche applications. Although these solid-state lights have been used for decades in consumer electronics, recent technological advances have allowed them to spread into areas like architectural lighting, traffic lights, flashlights and reading lights. Although they are considerably more expensive than ordinary lights, they are capable of producing about twice as much light per watt as incandescent bulbs; they last up to 50,000 hours or 50 times as long as a 60-watt bulb; and, they are very tough and hard to break. Because they are made in a fashion similar to computer chips, the cost of LEDs has been dropping steadily.

The Department of Energy has estimated that LED lighting could reduce U.S. energy consumption for lighting by 29 percent by 2025, saving the nation’s households about $125 million in the process.

Quantum dots, like white LEDs, have the advantage of not giving off large amounts of invisible infrared radiation unlike the light bulb. This invisible radiation produces large amounts of heat and largely accounts for the light bulb’s low energy efficiency.

Cool, heh? Read the original Vanderbilt University press release here, or any of these articles that cover this discovery as well as many others that will give you access to more info around quantum dots.

Nano-machines achieve huge breakthrough

Everywhere I look I’m seeing that we’re on the threshold of major advances in medicine, space, technology and, especially, in the field of nano scale technologies.

A major advance in nanotechnology with far-reaching potential benefits in medicine and other fields is to be announced at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Dublin.

According to this, this and this article,

“Scientists have built molecules that can, for the first time ever, move larger-than-atom-sized objects. Constructing molecular machines capable of performing relatively large-scale mechanical tasks has never been achieved before.

Now, in an unprecedented breakthrough, chemists at Edinburgh University have used light to stimulate man-made molecules to propel small droplets of liquid across flat surfaces and even up 12° slopes against the force of gravity. This is equivalent to tiny movements in a conventional machine raising objects to over twice the height of the world’s tallest building.

This significant step could eventually lead to the development of artificial muscles that use molecular ‘nano’-machines of this kind to help perform physical tasks. Nano-machines could also be used in ‘smart’ materials that change their properties (e.g. volume, viscosity, conductivity) in response to a stimulus. They could even control the movement of drugs around the body to the exact point where they are needed.”

Nanotech delivering drugs in to cancer cells?

Two people I know well have recently been diagnosed with cancer. As has happened before in my observation of those with this disease, it’s the chemotherapy or radiation treatments that are devastating…not the cancer itself or the drugs to kill those aberrant cells. Losing one’s hair, a compromised immune system and crushing fatigue are but a few of the big impacts to either of these approaches.

Several years ago I read a book about the early days of pharmacology. Seems that discovery’s were made that found certain toxic chemicals — in low doses — penetrated cells. Forward thinking scientists surmised that drugs could be carried in to cancer cells and thus kill them. Unfortunately, even these low dose toxic chemicals are quite destructive to a human being.

Remembering an article I’d read some time ago about nanotechnology research that was being targeted at using this tiny technology to “stick” to targeted cancer cells (delivering the cancer killing drugs directly to where they’re needed), I did a Google search and discovered several very interesting articles. A new article published just last month caught my eye.

But the biggest “whoa” came when I clicked a link and stumbled in to a fascinating web site delivered by the National Cancer Institute “NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer” organization. Their mission?

To help meet the goal of eliminating suffering and death from cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is engaged in efforts to harness the power of nanotechnology to radically change the way we diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.

The NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is a comprehensive, systematized initiative encompassing the public and private sectors, designed to accelerate the application of the best capabilities of nanotechnology to cancer.

Clean water filtered with nanotechnology

When I started this blog last December and crafted my “About” page, I described some of the observations which I’d be blogging on and nanotechnology was (and is) a highly intriguing technology to me. I’m always interested when I see any results that demonstrate manipulation and creation occurring at the molecular level. I hadn’t written about nanotech yet since there were so many other compelling items on my radar screen.

But tonight there was one specific application (using nanotechnology to filter water) that I stumbled across and it sparked my interest in writing about it. This topic also ties directly in to my post a few days ago (Could Water be the Oil of the 21st Century?) as it holds the promise of a solution to the scarcity of this precious resource.

There was a conference last September and an organization called NanoWater looking at ways to accelerate and create breakthrough filtering technologies to help solve one of the world’s most vexing problems: too many people…not enough clean water.

According to NanoWater.org’s ‘about’ page, there are attractive spinoff incentives (fuel cells, batteries, textiles, pharmaceuticals) for companies to apply nanotechnology expertise to this problem which may be enough to kickstart investment and human energy applied toward this global problem.

There is a balanced and insightful article in Wired magazine about this topic too. According to the article, one company’s filtration product, “…create(s) a permeable surface of nano-sized pores. When
pressure is exerted, water pushes through the pores but viruses and bacteria do not pass through
.”

It continues, “The same technology is allowing desalination — the process of removing salts from fresh or sea water — to occur at a much greater rate. The largest desalination plant in the world will begin operating in Ashkelon, Israel, in March 2005. Israel consumes 400 million cubic meters per year more water than it has…” which means they have quite a compelling reason to focus on this promising technological fix.