February 6, 2006

RFID steps toward ubiquity

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) chips are increasingly used to track shipping containers from factory to warehouse to store. The promise -- and peril -- of RFID chips is to make every product electronically trackable. This could happen if RFID chips were to become smaller and cheaper.

Two research teams have built prototypes toward this end. Researchers from Philips Research in the Netherlands have demonstrated a postage-stamp-size, paper-thin plastic RFID chip that can be printed onto an object. The inexpensive chip, which operates at the standard 13.56 megahertz frequency, could replace bar codes on packaging.

Researchers from Hitachi and Renesas Technology in Japan have demonstrated an RFID chip that measures 150 microns, several times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. The chip is also 7.5 microns thick, which is about ten times thinner than human hair. The chip could be embedded in objects during the manufacturing process.

(A 13.56 MHz RFID System Based on Organic Transponders, An SOI-Based 7.5µm-Thick 0.15x0.15mm2 RFID Chip, IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC 2006), San Francisco, February 5-9, 2006 )

Sturdy plastic nanotubes

In recent years, scientists have stretched and sliced cell-like liposomes to make networks of tiny containers connected by tiny tubes. To date the structures have been made of egg-white-like substances that are relatively fragile. (See Artificial cells make mini lab, TRN, February 21, 2001)

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology have found a way to make much sturdier nanotubes from polymer materials that start out as liquids and are chemically converted into solid plastics. The tubes were as narrow as 100 nanometers and as long as 1 centimeter.

The NIST researchers used liposomes to connect the plastic nanotubes into networks that included Y-shaped junctions. The tiny tubular networks could be used for performing chemistry experiments on tiny amounts of substances and studying individual biological molecules.

(Stable and Robust Polymer Nanotubes Stretched from Polymersomes, Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, January 31, 2006)

Bits and pieces

Study Urges Nano Safety Rules

Scientists conducting a review of nanotechnology-related scientific literature say that there is an urgent need to establish standards and protocols for determining the safety of nano materials. Consumers are increasingly exposed to nano materials in a growing range of products, including cosmetics; researchers are exploring ways of using nanoscale devices in the body for medical diagnosis and treatment.

(Toxic Potential of Materials at the Nanolevel, Science, February 3, 2006)

Pressure brings focus

A lens made from a small drop of water can be focused simply by changing the pressure on it. The technique could be used to make higher-quality, lower-cost lenses for portable digital cameras, including cell phone cameras.

(Fluidic Lenses with Variable Focal Length, Applied Physics Letters, January 23, 2006)

Freezing bones

The way sea water freezes has inspired a method of making strong, lightweight composite materials. The technique could be used to make artificial bone.

(Freezing As a Path to Build Complex Composites, Science, January 27, 2006)

Biosensor taps transistor

Scientists have attached tiny cantilevers to transistors to make biosensors that promise to be easy to manufacture. The chips could be used for sensing specific pathogens or DNA molecules.

(MOSFET-Embedded Microcantilevers for Measuring Deflection in Biomolecular Sensors, Science, published online February 2, 2006)

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