September 3/10, 2007


Dirty nanotech

It turns out that byproducts of the carbon nanotube manufacturing process include cancer-causing toxins and compounds that generate smog and contribute to global warming. The scientists who measured the carbon nanotube byproducts plan to help scientists reduce the environmental impact of carbon nanotube production before the industry begins its anticipated rapid growth. (Coproducts of Carbon Nanotube Synthesis: Emerging Contaminants Associated with the Nanomaterial Revolution [abstract below press release], 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, Boston, August 22, 2007)

Single-atom bits

The ability to determine the magnetic orientation of individual atoms is a prerequisite for data storage devices that are capable of recording a bit in a single atom. Researchers have now measured the orientation of individual iron and manganese atoms on copper nitride surfaces, which brings such devices a step closer. The storage capacity of such devices would be phenomenal, allowing, for example, the contents of the YouTube video-sharing Web site to fit in an iPod-size device. (Large Magnetic Anisotropy of a Single Atomic Spin Embedded in a Surface Molecular Network, Science, August 31, 2007)

Molecular turn on

A stable single-molecule switch that rotates the position of a pair of hydrogen atoms inside a naphthalocyanine molecule brings molecular computing closer to reality. Sending a current through one of the molecules can flip the switch in an adjacent molecule. This means the molecules could be linked to form extremely dense logic circuits. (Current-Induced Hydrogen Tautomerization and Conductance Switching of Naphthalocyanine Molecules, Science, August 31, 2007)

Building a better light switch

A scheme to build a single-photon transistor from nanowires could make it possible to use one photon to control and other. Photons ordinarily pass through each other with little interaction. A photon transistor could become a building block for quantum computers. (A Single-Photon Transistor Using Nanoscale Surface Plasmons, Nature Physics, published online August 26, 2007)

Nano thermometers

Quantum dots -- nanoscale specks of semiconductor material -- change color when they are heated, which means they can be used as nanoscale thermometers. Quantum dots could make it possible to measure the temperature of different parts of microscopic devices. (Single Quantum Dots as Local Temperature Markers, Nano Letters, published online August 30, 2007)

Fracture lines

Pulling apart two plates sandwiching a polymer film breaks the film into two halves, each of which has parallel lines that are spaced four times as far as the thickness of the film. The technique offers a low-cost route to making micro- and nanoscale gratings, which are widely used in liquid crystal displays, optical communications equipment and many other devices. (Self-Formation of Sub-60-nm Half-Pitch Gratings with Large Areas through Fracturing, Nature Nanotechnology, published online September 2, 2007)


View from the High Ground: ICL's John Pendry
Physics as machine tool, negative refractive index, metamaterials, shattered wine glasses, higher capacity DVDs, scientific backwaters, risk perception and practice, practice, practice.

How It Works: Quantum computing: qubits
Photons, electrons and atoms, oh my! These particles are the raw materials for qubits, the basic building blocks of quantum computers.

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"Physics is to the rest of science what machine tools are to engineering. A corollary is that science places power in our hands which can be used for good or ill. Technology has been abused in this way throughout the ages from gunpowder to atomic bombs."
- John Pendry, Imperial College London

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