Genesis Nanotech Headlines Are Out!

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Chairman Terry: “Nanotech is a true science race between the nations, and we should be encouraging the transition from research breakthroughs to commercial development.”

WASHINGTON, DCThe Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), today held a hearing on:

“Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation.”




“Great Things from Small Things!” … We Couldn’t Agree More!


Stronger, Lighter, Less Expensive than Kevlar: New Carbon Nanotube Technology

minus600-590x393Place two large, sturdy logs in a streambed, and they will help guide the water in a par­tic­ular direc­tion. But imagine if the water started mim­ic­king the rigidity of the logs in addi­tion to flowing along them. That’s essen­tially what hap­pens in a directed assembly method devel­oped by Mar­ilyn Minus, an assis­tant pro­fessor in Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering.

Instead of logs, Minus uses tiny carbon nan­otubes and her “water” can be just about any kind of polymer solu­tion. So far, she’s used the approach to develop a polymer com­posite mate­rial that is stronger than Kevlar yet much less expen­sive and lighter weight. In that case, the polymer not only fol­lows the direc­tion of the nan­otube logs but also mimics their uniquely strong properties.

With funding from a new CAREER award from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, Minus is now expanding this work to incor­po­rate more polymer classes: flame retar­dant mate­rials and bio­log­ical molecules.


Assistant professor Marilyn Minus has received a grant to expand her nanomaterial templating process to design better synthetic collagen fibers and better flame-retardant coatings. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

With the flame retar­dants, we want the high-​​temperature polymer and nan­otube to interact, not nec­es­sarily act like the nan­otubes,” Minus said. Essen­tially, she wants the two mate­rials to “com­mu­ni­cate” by passing heat between one another, thereby increasing the tem­per­a­ture threshold of the flame retar­dants and allowing them to last even longer. “The nano­ma­te­rial can grab that heat and con­duct it away, and it basi­cally saves that polymer from burning up too quickly,” she explained. “The polymer we’re using can already with­stand quite high tem­per­a­tures; we’re just pushing it even further.”

In the case of collagen—the first bio­log­ical mol­e­cule to which Minus has applied her method—Minus hopes the approach will allow the nan­otubes to lend their rigidity to the system. Inside the body, col­lagen mol­e­cules orga­nize them­selves into a com­plex matrix that sup­ports the struc­ture of every one of our cells. But out­side the body, researchers have had major chal­lenges trying to reli­ably recreate this matrix.

If sci­en­tists could make col­lagen work out­side the body the same way it does inside, it could pro­vide an invalu­able plat­form for testing drugs, under­standing how tis­sues work, and even shed­ding light on the ori­gins of a variety of dis­eases, Minus said.

Based on her prior research, she has found that the key to suc­cess in taking this approach is matching the size and geom­etry of the carbon nanopar­ti­cles she uses with that of the polymer in ques­tion. For instance, col­lagen mol­e­cules are about 300 nanome­ters long and 1.5 nanome­ters in diam­eter, so she’ll want to find a nan­otube that roughly meets those dimen­sions. She’ll also want to use nan­otubes for this appli­ca­tion rather than the other carbon forms she has at her dis­posal: graphene, graphite, fullerenes, or even small nanocarbon particles—each of which offers a unique structure.

We’re trying to change the entropy of the system in order to get the poly­mers to orga­nize them­selves around the nano­ma­te­rials,” Minus said. “Then you should be able to get this effect.”