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Showing posts with label Nanotechnology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nanotechnology. Show all posts

Monday, 11 May 2020

Chemistry breakthrough could speed up drug development

Scientists have successfully developed a new technique to reliably grow crystals of organic soluble molecules from nanoscale droplets, unlocking the potential of accelerated new drug development.

Chemistry experts from Newcastle and Durham universities, working in collaboration with SPT Labtech, have grown the small crystals from nanoscale encapsulated droplets. Their innovative method, involving the use of inert oils to control evaporative solvent loss, has the potential to enhance the drug development pipeline.

Whilst crystallization of organic soluble molecules is a technique used by scientists all over the world, the ability to do so with such small quantities of analyte is ground-breaking.

Through the use of this new method, called Encapsulated Nanodroplet Crystallisation (ENaCt), the researchers have shown that hundreds of crystallisation experiments can be set up within a few minutes. Each experiment involves a few micrograms of molecular analyte dissolved in a few nanolitres of organic solvent and is automated, allowing for rapid set up of hundreds of unique experiments with ease. Concentration of these nanodroplet experiments results in the growth of the desired high quality single crystals that are suitable for modern X-ray diffraction analysis.

Publishing their findings in the journal Chem, the team, led by Drs Hall and Probert, of Newcastle University, UK, successfully developed a new approach to molecular crystallisation which allows access, within a few days, to high quality single crystals, whilst requiring only few milligrams of analyte.

Dr Hall, Senior Lecturer in Chemistry, Newcastle University, said: "We have developed a nanoscale crystallisation technique for organic-soluble small molecules, using high-throughput liquid-handling robotics to undertake multiple crystallisation experiments simultaneously with minimal sample requirements and high success rates.

"This new method has the potential to have far-reaching impact within the molecular sciences and beyond. Fundamental research will benefit from highly detailed characterisation of new molecules, such as natural products or complex synthetic molecules, by X-ray crystallography, whilst the development of new drugs by the pharmaceutical industry will be accelerated, through rapid access to characterised crystalline forms of new active pharmaceutical ingredients."

Understanding these new crystalline forms, known as polymorphs, is essential to the successful generation of new pharmaceutical agents and drugs. The ability to investigate these forms quickly and on a vast scale, whilst minimising the amount of analyte required, could be a key

Breakthrough enabled by the new ENaCT protocol.

Dr Paul Thaw from SPT Labtech, added: "Enabling this work to develop a novel high-throughput method for single crystal X-ray diffraction on mosquito® with the Newcastle team has been a pleasure. Having the ability to quickly screen organic soluble small molecules on the microgram scale will deliver valuable insight for both academic research and pharmaceutical drug design and validation."

Dr Probert, Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry and Head of Crystallography, Newcastle University, commented ." ..this new approach to crystallisation has the ability to transform the scientific landscape for the analysis of small molecules, not only in the drug discovery and delivery areas but also in the more general understanding of the crystalline solid state ..."

The whole team believe that the ENaCt methodology has the potential rewrite some of the preconceptions within the molecular sciences and beyond.


Andrew R. Tyler, Ronnie Ragbirsingh, Charles J. McMonagle, Paul G. Waddell, Sarah E. Heaps, Jonathan W. Steed, Paul Thaw, Michael J. Hall, Michael R. Probert.

Encapsulated Nanodroplet Crystallization of Organic-Soluble Small Molecules. 

Chem, 2020;

DOI: 10.1016/j.chempr.2020.04.009

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

World-first Memristor Devices Could Operate Like Brain Synapses

Only 10 years ago, scientists working on what they hoped would open a new frontier of neuromorphic computing could only dream of a device using miniature tools called memristors that would function/operate like real brain synapses.

But now a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered, while on their way to better understanding protein nanowires, how to use these biological, electricity conducting filaments to make a neuromorphic memristor, or "memory transistor," device. It runs extremely efficiently on very low power, as brains do, to carry signals between neurons. Details are in Nature Communications.

As first author Tianda Fu, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering, explains, one of the biggest hurdles to neuromorphic computing, and one that made it seem unreachable, is that most conventional computers operate at over 1 volt, while the brain sends signals called action potentials between neurons at around 80 millivolts - many times lower. Today, a decade after early experiments, memristor voltage has been achieved in the range similar to conventional computer, but getting below that seemed improbable, he adds.

Fu reports that using protein nanowires developed at UMass Amherst from the bacterium Geobacter by microbiologist and co-author Derek Lovely, he has now conducted experiments where memristors have reached neurological voltages. Those tests were carried out in the lab of electrical and computer engineering researcher and co-author Jun Yao.

Yao says, "This is the first time that a device can function at the same voltage level as the brain. People probably didn't even dare to hope that we could create a device that is as power-efficient as the biological counterparts in a brain, but now we have realistic evidence of ultra-low power computing capabilities. It's a concept breakthrough and we think it's going to cause a lot of exploration in electronics that work in the biological voltage regime."

Lovely points out that Geobacter's electrically conductive protein nanowires offer many advantages over expensive silicon nanowires, which require toxic chemicals and high-energy processes to produce. Protein nanowires also are more stable in water or bodily fluids, an important feature for biomedical applications. For this work, the researchers shear nanowires off the bacteria so only the conductive protein is used, he adds.

Fu says that he and Yao had set out to put the purified nanowires through their paces, to see what they are capable of at different voltages, for example. They experimented with a pulsing on-off pattern of positive-negative charge sent through a tiny metal thread in a memristor, which creates an electrical switch.

They used a metal thread because protein nanowires facilitate metal reduction, changing metal ion reactivity and electron transfer properties. Lovely says this microbial ability is not surprising, because wild bacterial nanowires breathe and chemically reduce metals to get their energy the way we breathe oxygen.

As the on-off pulses create changes in the metal filaments, new branching and connections are created in the tiny device, which is 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, Yao explains. It creates an effect similar to learning - new connections - in a real brain. He adds, "You can modulate the conductivity, or the plasticity of the nanowire-memristor synapse so it can emulate biological components for brain-inspired computing. Compared to a conventional computer, this device has a learning capability that is not software-based."

Fu recalls, "In the first experiments we did, the nanowire performance was not satisfying, but it was enough for us to keep going." Over two years, he saw improvement until one fateful day when his and Yao's eyes were riveted by voltage measurements appearing on a computer screen.

"I remember the day we saw this great performance. We watched the computer as current voltage sweep was being measured. It kept doing down and down and we said to each other, 'Wow, it's working.' It was very surprising and very encouraging."

Fu, Yao, Lovely and colleagues plan to follow up this discovery with more research on mechanisms, and to "fully explore the chemistry, biology and electronics" of protein nanowires in memristors, Fu says, plus possible applications, which might include a device to monitor heart rate, for example. Yao adds, "This offers hope in the feasibility that one day this device can talk to actual neurons in biological systems."


Fu, T., Liu, X., Gao, H., Ward, J. E., Liu, X., Yin, B., Wang, Z., Zhuo, Y., Walker, D. J. F., Joshua Yang, J., Chen, J., Lovley, D. R., & Yao, J. (2020).

Bioinspired bio-voltage memristors.

Nature Communications, 11(1), 1–10.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Making Big Data Processing More Energy Efficient Using Magnetic Circuits

The rapid progression of technology has led to a huge increase in energy usage to process the massive troves of data generated by devices. But researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have found a way to make the new generation of smart computers more energy efficient.

Traditionally, silicon chips have formed the building blocks of the infrastructure that powers computers. But this research uses magnetic components instead of silicon and discovers new information about how the physics of the magnetic components can cut energy costs and requirements of training algorithms — neural networks that can think like humans and do things like recognize images and patterns.

"Right now, the methods for training your neural networks are very energy-intensive," said Jean Anne Incorvia, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "What our work can do is help reduce the training effort and energy costs."

The researchers' findings were published this week in IOP Nanotechnology. Incorvia led the study with first author and second-year graduate student Can Cui. Incorvia and Cui discovered that spacing magnetic nanowires, acting as artificial neurons, in certain ways naturally increases the ability for the artificial neurons to compete against each other, with the most activated ones winning out. Achieving this effect, known as “lateral inhibition,” traditionally requires extra circuitry within computers, which increases costs and takes more energy and space.

Incorvia said their method provides an energy reduction of 20 to 30 times the amount used by a standard back-propagation algorithm when performing the same learning tasks.

The same way human brains contain neurons, new-era computers have artificial versions of these integral nerve cells. Lateral inhibition occurs when the neurons firing the fastest are able to prevent slower neurons from firing. In computing, this cuts down on energy use in processing data.

Incorvia explains that the way computers operate is fundamentally changing. A major trend is the concept of neuromorphic computing, which is essentially designing computers to think like human brains. Instead of processing tasks one at a time, these smarter devices are meant to analyze huge amounts of data simultaneously. These innovations have powered the revolution in machine learning and artificial intelligence that has dominated the technology landscape in recent years.

This research focused on interactions between two magnetic neurons and initial results on interactions of multiple neurons. The next step involves applying the findings to larger sets of multiple neurons as well as experimental verification of their findings.


Can Cui, Otitoaleke Gideon Akinola, Naimul Hassan, Christopher Bennett, Matthew Marinella, Joseph Friedman, Jean Anne Currivan Incorvia.

Maximized Lateral Inhibition in Paired Magnetic Domain Wall Racetracks for Neuromorphic Computing.

Nanotechnology, 2020;

DOI: 10.1088/1361-6528/ab86e8

Friday, 3 April 2020

New Nanosensors could offer early detection of lung tumors

People who are at high risk of developing lung cancer, such as heavy smokers, are routinely screened with computed tomography (CT), which can detect tumors in the lungs. However, this test has an extremely high rate of false positives, as it also picks up benign nodules in the lungs.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a nanoparticle-based approach that allows the early diagnosis of lung cancer through a simple urine test. The strategy detects biomarkers resulting from the interaction of peptide-coated nanoparticles with disease-associated proteases in the tumor microenvironment.

Experiments in two different mouse models of lung cancer showed that the urine test could detect tumors as small as 2.8 mm3. The researchers hope that this type of noninvasive diagnosis could reduce the number of false positives associated with an existing test method, and help to detect more tumors in the early stages of the disease.

“If you look at the field of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, there’s a renewed recognition of the importance of early cancer detection and prevention,” said study lead Sangeeta Bhatia, PhD, who is the John and Dorothy Wilson professor of health sciences and technology and electrical engineering and computer science, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. “We really need new technologies that are going to give us the capability to see cancer when we can intercept it and intervene early.” Bhatia and colleagues report on development of the test in Science Translational Medicine Journal.

MIT engineers have developed nanoparticles that can be delivered to the lungs, where tumor-associated proteases cut peptides on the surface of the particles, releasing reporter molecules. Those reporters can be detected by a urine test.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related death (25.3%) in the United States the authors wrote, and has a “dismal” five-year survival rate of 18.6%. Early detection is key, as the five-year survival rates are 6- to 13-fold higher in patients whose tumors are detected before they spread to distal sites in the body. People in the United States who are at high risk of developing lung cancer, such as heavy smokers, are routinely screened using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), which can detect tumors in the lungs.

However, this test has an extremely high rate of false positives, as it also picks up benign nodules in the lungs. There is then a “considerable burden of complications incurred during unnecessary follow-up procedures,” the investigators stated, and the method isn’t routinely used in other countries. “As a result of these complications, screening by LDCT has not been widely adopted outside of the United States, and there is “an urgent need to develop diagnostic tests that increase the effectiveness of lung cancer screening.”

The approach taken by the MIT researchers is based on the use of what they call “activity-based sensors” that monitor for disease and intensify disease-associated signals, which can then be detected in urine. “Activity-based nanosensors leverage dysregulated protease activity to overcome the insensitivity of previous biomarker assays, amplifying disease-associated signals generated in the tumor microenvironment and providing a concentrated urine-based readout,” the team explained.

Bhatia’s lab has for several years been developing such nanoparticles that can detect cancer by interacting with proteases. These enzymes help tumor cells to escape their original locations by cutting through proteins of the extracellular matrix. To find the cancer-associated proteases Bhatia created nanoparticles coated with peptides that are targeted by the cancer-related proteases. The particles accumulate at tumor sites, where the peptides are cleaved, releasing biomarkers that can then be detected in a urine sample.

The Bhatia lab has previously developed sensors for colon and ovarian cancer, and in their new study, the researchers applied the technology to lung cancer, which kills about 150,000 people in the United States every year. They project that the test could be applied to confirm cancer in patients who have had a positive CT scan. These patients would commonly undergo a biopsy or other invasive test to search for lung cancer, but in some cases, this procedure can cause complications, so a noninvasive follow-up test could be useful to determine which patients actually need a biopsy, Bhatia said.

“The CT scan is a good tool that can see a lot of things,” she said. “The problem with it is that 95% of what it finds is not cancer, and right now you have to biopsy too many patients who test positive.”

To customize their sensors for lung cancer, the researchers analyzed data in The Cancer Genome Atlas, and identified proteases that are abundant in lung cancer. They created a panel of 14 peptide-coated nanoparticles that could interact with these enzymes.

The researchers then tested the sensors in two different genetic mouse models, “driven by either Kras/Trp53 (KP) mutations, or Eml4-Alk (EA) fusion,” that spontaneously develop lung cancer. To help prevent background noise that could come from other organs or the bloodstream, the researchers injected the particles directly into the animals’ airways. The researchers carried out their diagnostic test using the sensors at 5 weeks, 7.5 weeks, and 10.5 weeks after tumor growth began. To make the diagnoses more accurate, they used machine learning to train an algorithm to distinguish between data from mice that had tumors and from mice that did not.

Using this approach, the researchers found that they could accurately detect tumors in one of the mouse models as early as 7.5 weeks, when the tumors were only 2.8 mm3, on average. In the other strain of mice, tumors could be detected at 5 weeks. The sensors’ success rate was also comparable to or better than the success rate of CT scans performed at the same time points.

“Intrapulmonary administration of the nanosensors to a Kras- and Trp53-mutant lung adenocarcinoma mouse model confirmed the role of metalloproteases in lung cancer and enabled accurate detection of localized disease, with 100% specificity and 81% sensitivity,” they reported. “Furthermore, this approach generalized to an alternative autochthonous model of lung adenocarcinoma, where it detected cancer with 100% specificity and 95% sensitivity and was not confounded by lipopolysaccharide-driven lung inflammation.”

Importantly, the sensors could distinguish between early-stage cancer and noncancerous inflammation of the lungs, a common condition in smokers, and one of the reasons that CT scans produce so many false positives. “Activity-based nanosensors may have clinical utility as a rapid, safe, and cost-effective follow-up to LDCT, reducing the number of patients referred for invasive testing,” the authors concluded. “With further optimization and validation studies, activity-based nanosensors may one day provide an accurate, noninvasive, and radiation-free strategy for lung cancer testing.”

The authors acknowledged that their study was carried out in mouse models, which do not fully recapitulate human disease, and there were other study limitations that will need to be addressed. Clinical trials will be needed to fully validate the use of activity-based nanosensors for detecting lung cancer and distinguishing malignant from benign and extrapulmonary disease, they pointed out.

Bhatia envisions that the nanoparticle sensors could be used as a noninvasive diagnostic for people who get a positive result on a screening test, potentially eliminating the need for a biopsy. For use in humans, her team is working on a form of the particles that could be inhaled as a dry powder or through a nebulizer. Another possible application is using the sensors to monitor how well lung tumors respond to treatment, such as drugs or immunotherapies. “A great next step would be to take this into patients who have known cancer, and are being treated, to see if they’re on the right medicine,” Bhatia said.


Urinary detection of lung cancer in mice via noninvasive pulmonary protease profiling

Jesse D. Kirkpatrick, Andrew D. Warren, Ava P. Soleimany, Peter M. K. Westcott1, Justin C. Voog, Carmen Martin-Alonso, Heather E. Fleming, Tuomas Tammela, Tyler Jacks and Sangeeta N. Bhatia.

Science Translational Medicine  01 Apr 2020:
Vol. 12, Issue 537, eaaw0262

DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaw0262

Friday, 31 January 2020

Researchers have developed a nanoparticle to eat away plaque in the arteries

A new nanoparticle acting as a “Trojan Horse” makes it possible to target and literally gnaw at portions of arterial plaques of atheroma often responsible for heart attacks. This discovery may well be a potential future treatment for atherosclerosis, a disease that kills many people around the world.

How does it work? The nanoparticle is housed on the atherosclerotic plate because of its high selectivity for a specific type of immune cell: monocytes and macrophages.

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The team designed these nano particles that could specifically target the atherosclerotic plaques clogging up the heart arteries. The nano particles are microscopic carbon tubules, the team explained. These tubules contain a special drug called the SHP1 inhibitor.

These plaques normally are made up of platelets and cholesterol deposits and are teeming with immune cells. These nano particles are taught to target monocytes and macrophages, which are immune cells commonly found in the plaques. These smart particles then reach within the plaques and take with them the drug agent SPH1 inhibitor. This agent then stimulates the immune cells so that they break down and engulf the broken pieces of the plaques. Thus, the arteries are cleared of the plaques with the nanocarriers carrying in the plaque busting drugs. The plaque size could be reduced remarkably say the researchers and this could reduce the risk of heart attacks that is one of the leading killers around the world.

Within the macrophases inside the plaques, there is a signalling pathway called the SHP1 pathway/ This pathway normally prevents the cells from eating up dead cells or debris or apoptosis. These debris are created within the cores of the plaques, wrote the researchers. If the signalling pathway is blocked, the macrophages go on a killing and engulfing spree and thus clear the debris left by the broken plaques.

A typical feature of an atherosclerotic plaque, wrote the researchers is accumulation of the dead cells and debris within the core of the plaque. This becomes then the “necrotic core”. If the necrotic core is not cleared, the plaque rupture can clog the arteries and lead to the heart attack says the researchers. At present there are therapies that could clear the apoptotic cells. However these therapies could also harm the healthy cells around the plaque. This novel method of nanoparticle carrier delivery of the drugs with the core thus could help protect the surrounding healthy cells and work specifically within the core.

The white dotted line describes the atherosclerotic artery and the green areas represent the nanoparticles found in the plate. Red indicates macrophages (the type of cells that nanoparticles stimulate). Credit: Michigan State

Previous studies had already made it possible to act on the surface of cells, but this new approach works intracellularly and has proven effective in stimulating macrophages.

"We have discovered that we can stimulate macrophages to selectively kill dead and dying cells (these inflammatory cells are precursors to atherosclerosis) which are common causes of heart attack," says Smith. "We could deliver a small molecule inside the macrophages to 'order' them to start eliminating said cells again," he adds.

According to Smith, this approach would also have applications beyond atherosclerosis: “We were able to marry a revolutionary discovery concerning atherosclerosis, with the cutting edge selectivity and delivery capabilities of our advanced nanomaterials platform. We have shown that nanomaterials are able to selectively search and send a message to the necessary cells ,” he said. “This gives particular energy to our future work, which will include clinical trials with these nanomaterials, using large animal models and human tissue tests. We think it will be more beneficial than the previous methods,” he added.


Article: Pro-efferocytic nanoparticles are specifically taken up by lesional macrophages and prevent atherosclerosis

Alyssa M. Flores, Niloufar Hosseini-Nassab, Kai-Uwe Jarr, Jianqin Ye, Xingjun Zhu, Robert Wirka, Ai Leen Koh, Pavlos Tsantilas, Ying Wang, Vivek Nanda, Yoko Kojima, Yitian Zeng, Mozhgan Lotfi, Robert Sinclair, Irving L. Weissman, Erik Ingelsson, Bryan Ronain Smith & Nicholas J. Leeper

Nature Nanotechnology (2020)

Sunday, 26 January 2020

World's fastest rotating object to study vacuum friction

The fastest-spinning object ever created is a nano-scale rotor made from silica at Purdue University. This image of the rotor at rest was created using a scanning electron microscope. For scale, the yellow bar in the image is 200 nanometers. (Purdue University photo/Jaehoon Bang)

In 2018, a team from the U.S. and another from Switzerland, working independently, created the world's fastest rotating objects , which are helping to study the true nature of the quantum vacuum .

These studies now promise to be even more accurate, as Jonghoon Ahn and his colleagues at Purdue University in the U.S. upgraded their nanorotor, which now spins an impressive 300 billion RPM (revolutions per minute), which is a bit million times faster than a dentist's drill.

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The rotor, measuring 200 nanometers (0.2 micrometer), consists of two silica particles joined by the center, which gives it a shape that resembles a dumbbell.

It does not need an axis because the nanoparticle is levitated in a vacuum by optical tweezers. Then, another laser is used to make the particle spin, transmitting torque by the pressure of light radiation , the same principle that drives solar sails in space.

Polarized light induced by the laser transmits a torque that makes the nanorotor spin.

As it receives torque from the light, whose power can be carefully controlled, the rotor itself becomes an extremely sensitive torque detector - in fact, the most sensitive one ever manufactured, being 600 to 700 times better than its predecessors.

This will allow it to continue to be used to explore the mysteries of the vacuum. Contrary to what you can imagine, the vacuum is far from being something empty, being full of virtual particles that emerge and decay all the time. With its sensitivity, this new version of the fastest object in the world will allow to detect and measure the torque of these emerging particles.

In other words, it will be used to measure vacuum-induced friction.

The torque nanodetector can also be used to measure related effects, including the Casimir effect and nanoscale magnetism, phenomena essential for the development of nanoscale devices, such as NEMS , nanomachines and nanorobots.


Article: Ultrasensitive torque detection with an optically levitated nanorotor

Authors: Jonghoon Ahn, Zhujing Xu, Jaehoon Bang, Peng Ju, Xingyu Gao, Tongcang Li

Magazine: Nature Nanotechnology

DOI: 10.1038 / s41565-019-0605-9

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Researchers have discovered that a bacterium can be used to produce graphene

The study of the exposure of graphite to a species of bacteria has shown that the latter is capable of converting this material into graphene. The industrial application of this discovery could provide substantial savings in the production of this material.

Produced and extracted for the first time only 15 years ago, graphene is a material consisting of a single layer of carbon, which is in nature the main component of graphite. It is particularly used for its very light weight and strength, as well as for its conductive properties in electronics. But it could have been used in more areas if its cost of production had not been a major drag (about 100 euros per gram).

Since 2004, scientists have been trying to develop new methods to make their production cheaper. The first method used was very rudimentary because it was sticking tape to the surface of the graphite to extract it. Chemical methods have then emerged, but the latest, explained in a paper published this month, uses biological processes and could significantly lower the cost of production.

Researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Rochester, New York, have shown that Shewanella oneidensis is capable of producing graphene when mixed with graphite oxide. and thanks to a reaction called in chemistry "reduction", where oxygen molecules are removed from the latter, leaving only conductive graphene. This natural method has the advantage of avoiding the use of chemicals currently used by industries, and is less expensive. Its development on a larger scale (than the laboratory) could allow its application in more computing or medical devices.

The production of a large quantity is difficult and usually gives thicker and less pure graphene. That's where our work comes in, "says Anne Meyer, a biologist at the University of Rochester.

Indeed, not only have the researchers discovered a new way to obtain the material, but the final product is also thinner, more stable, and has a better longevity than graphene chemically produced.

 The production of graphene by the bacterium also has the advantage of not removing all oxygen groups, which could be exploited for their properties to attach to certain molecules. This opens new paths in the design of biomedical devices such as field-effect transistor biosensors, which are devices that detect specific biological molecules, one of the best known being the glucose meter (measuring glucose levels in diabetics).

Many analyzes have yet to be done before considering the wider use of this technique, which could significantly reduce the price of many electronic devices. But given the quality of the graphene obtained and the absence of chemical compounds, the production of this material promises to increase in the future.

" Our graphene produced by bacteria will significantly improve the overall development of this product, " says Meyer.


Creation of Conductive Graphene Materials by Bacterial Reduction Using Shewanella Oneidensis
Benjamin A. E. Lehner Vera A. E. C. Janssen Dr. Ewa M. Spiesz Dominik Benz Dr. Stan J. J. Brouns Dr. Anne S. Meyer Prof. Dr. Herre S. J. van der Zant

First real-time images of molecules that change their electric charge

Just like an atom, a molecule can lose or gain electrons , thus altering its overall electrical charge. These phenomena of modification of the electric charge play a crucial role in the transfer of molecular energy governing certain catalytic and biochemical processes. For the first time, chemists have been able to observe in real time the structural modification of molecules due to electric charge transitions. Results that should help to better understand various essential biological processes.

Using some of the most advanced microscopy technologies in the world, chemists have captured images of molecules that change their electrical charge in real time. To do this, they added and removed electrons , directly observing the changes in the structure of four molecules. The results were published in the journal Science.

Molecular changes in electrical charge have been known for a long time, but this is the first direct observation of the phenomenon. This could help us better understand several molecular processes, including chemical reactions, catalysis and charge transport, and even biological processes.

" We were able to solve the structural changes of individual molecules with unprecedented resolution, " says chemist Leo Gross of IBM Research-Zurich. " This new understanding unveils some of the mysteries of molecular charge-function relationships in how biology converts and transports energy ."

An atomic force microscope to observe molecular charge transitions

The team used atomic force microscopy. The laser tip scans the surface of the structures to be studied, detecting all structural changes, even the weakest ones. These are recorded to create an image of what the probe is scanning. In this way, scientists can get an image of the elements too small to be seen by optical means.

Thus, four types of molecules - azobenzene, pentacene, tetracyanoquinodimethane (TCNQ) and porphine - were examined under a microscope in a cold vacuum chamber to ensure that no external influence would alter the results. A single molecule was placed on a sodium chloride film, and then a small voltage was sent through the probe to transfer electrons to the molecule, one at a time.

The atomic force microscope allowed researchers to image the structure of four different molecules, depending on their state of charge. Credits: IBM

Gross and his colleagues had already developed this load control technique and described it in a study in 2015. They also described their imaging technique in 2009. In this new work, however, the team found a way to combine the two techniques to image the molecules and control the charge at the same time.

They imaged the four molecules in at least two of these four states: positive (minus one electron), neutral (the same number of protons and electrons), negative (plus one electron) and double negative (plus two electrons). The four molecules reacted differently to changes in charge.

This video shows how the porphine molecule transforms as it loses electrons under these controlled conditions:

Molecular charge transition and fundamental biological processes

The azobenzene molecule has become physically twisted. With pentacene, the areas of the molecule became more reactive because of the extra electrons. The change in charge resulted in a change in the type of bond between the TCNQ atoms, which moved physically on the film. And in the porphine, it was not only the type of links, but also their length that changed.

Atomic force microscopy images of each type of molecule, for four different states of electrical charge. Credits: Shadi Fatayer et al. 2019

These results will help to better understand the molecular energy transfer. Specifically, examining porphine molecules so closely may help us better understand some fundamental biological processes, because porphine is the parent compound of porphyrins, a group of organic compounds that make up both chlorophyll and hemoglobin.

" The charge transitions of these molecules are essential to life. Thanks to our new technique, we can better understand how the charge modifies the structure and function of molecules, which play an essential role in many ways, such as photoconversion and the transport of energy in living organisms "concludes Gross.


Molecular structure elucidation with charge-state control
Shadi Fatayer1,*, Florian Albrecht1, Yunlong Zhang2, Darius Urbonas1, Diego Peña3, Nikolaj Moll1, Leo Gross1,*
Science 12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6449, pp. 142-145
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax5895

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Physicists reveal the very first image of quantum entanglement between two particles

Among the many phenomena arising from quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement is certainly one of the strangest. When two particles are entangled, they cease to be objects in their own right to become one and the same physical system of solidarity; any modification of one has instantaneous repercussions on the other, regardless of the distance that separates them. For the first time, researchers from the University of Glasgow provided the very first image of a pair of entangled photons, thus demonstrating the violation of Bell's inequalities.

This particular photo shows the entanglement between two photons - the boson of the electromagnetic interaction. Paul-Antoine Moreau, lead author of the study, states that the image is " an elegant demonstration of a fundamental property of nature ". The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

To capture this phenomenon, Moreau and a team of physicists have created a system that sends entangled photon fluxes on what they have described as "unconventional objects." The experiment consisted of capturing four photon images under four different phase transitions.

The researchers succeeded in imaging the entanglement of photon pairs crossing series of four-phase transitions. Credits: Paul-Antoine Moreau et al. 2019

It is actually a composite image of several images of photons that pass through a series of four-phase transitions. Basically, physicists have divided the entangled photons and sent a beam through a liquid crystal material known as barium β-borate, triggering four-phase transitions. At the same time, they captured photos of the entangled pair passing through the same phase transitions, even though it had not crossed the liquid crystal.

Scheme of experimental protocol used by researchers. The entangled photon beam is from the bottom left, half of the entangled pair splits to the left and passes through the four phase filters. The others that go straight have not gone through the filters, but have undergone the same phase changes. Credits: Paul-Antoine Moreau et al. 2019

The violation of Bell's inequalities in images

The camera was able to capture the images of these different sequences of events at the same time, showing that the two photons had changed in the same way despite their spatial remoteness.

Physicists first obtain a raw image from the four-phase filter (left). Then, thanks to a special treatment (de-scanning), they get a clearer picture of the entanglement, which confirms the violation of Bell's inequalities. Credits: Paul-Antoine Moreau et al. 2019

The physicist John Stewart Bell has defined a series of conditions called "Bell inequalities". The latter characterize relations that must be respected by measurements on entangled states, in the context of a local deterministic theory with hidden variables. Demonstrating the entanglement between two particles amounts to violating these inequalities.

" We report here an experiment demonstrating the violation of a Bell inequality in the observed images. This result paves the way for new quantum imaging schemes ... and suggests promising perspectives for quantum information schemes based on spatial variables "concludes the team.


Imaging Bell-type nonlocal behavior
Paul-Antoine Moreau*, Ermes Toninelli, Thomas Gregory, Reuben S. Aspden, Peter A. Morris and Miles J. Padgett*
Science Advances 12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaaw2563
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw2563

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Discovery. These quantum particles are basically "immortal"

In the late 1950s, the Soviet physicist Lev Landau developed the theory of Fermi liquids - the state of matter observed at low temperatures for crystalline solids - and introduced the concept of quasiparticles. The latter make it possible to describe complex physical systems in terms of particle groups and interactions, taking the form of vibrations and excitations. Recently, physicists have discovered that unlike ordinary particles that eventually disintegrate and disappear, quasiparticles can escape this inexorable fate, becoming "immortal".

The second law of thermodynamics is clear: the Universe systematically evolves towards disorder, entropy being brought to continually grow in any isolated system. Disintegrated objects can not reform. However, quantum mechanics is known to contravene certain well-established physical rules. In an article published in the journal Nature Physics , physicists have shown that quasiparticles that disintegrate can "be reborn from their ashes".

" Until now, the hypothesis was that the quasiparticles of interacting quantum systems decay after a while, " says physicist Frank Pollman of Munich Technical University. " We now know that the opposite is happening: strong interactions can even completely stop disintegration ." 

Three examples of quasiparticles: a) A polaron, that is to say an electron in a solid interacting with the crystal lattice; b) an exciton, that is, an electron-hole bound state; c) An angulon, that is to say a quantum rotor formed by a phonon field. Credits: Mikhail Lemeshko

Quasiparticles are not ordinary particles, like electrons and quarks. Rather, it is the disturbances or excitations in a solid caused by electrical or magnetic forces that collectively behave like particles. Phonons - discrete units of vibratory energy in a crystal lattice, for example - are classified as quasi-particles, as are polarons, electrons trapped in a network surrounded by a polarization cloud.

Quasiparticles: they disintegrate ... then reform

The researchers involved in this latest study have developed numerical methods to compute the complex interactions of these quasiparticles and have run simulations on a powerful computer to observe their disintegration.

" The result of the simulation: of course, the quasiparticles disintegrate, but new entities of identical particles emerge from the debris, " says physicist Ruben Verresen from the Technical University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Complex Systems Physics . " If this degradation occurs very quickly, a reverse reaction will occur after a while and debris will converge again. This process can be repeated at infinity and a sustained oscillation between disintegration and rebirth appears.

This does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because oscillation is a wave transformed into matter, which is covered by the concept of quantum mechanics of the wave-particle duality. Their entropy does not decrease but remains constant. In fact, the discovery solved two other puzzles. For example, there is a magnetic compound, Ba3CoSb2O9, used in experiments whose unexpected stability had previously been found.

It now seems that the key lies in the quasi-magnetic particles it contains, called magnons. According to the simulation, they reorganize after the degradation. Helium is another potential example: it becomes a superfluid without resistance at a temperature close to absolute zero, and this particular property could be explained by the fact that this gas is filled with quasi-particles called rotons.

For the moment, the work only concerns theory, but researchers believe that this immortality of quasi-particles offers a strong potential for sustainable data storage in quantum computing systems.


 Avoided quasiparticle decay from strong quantum interactions
Ruben Verresen, Roderich Moessner, Frank Pollmann
 Nature Physics 
DOI: 10.1038 / s41567-019-0535-3

Monday, 24 June 2019

Researchers break quantum limit in precision of force and position measurements

The technique is unprecedented, but very simple, which will facilitate its practical use in other experiments and laboratories. [Image: Mason et al. - 10.1038 / s41567-019-0533-5]

Precision limit

The precision of the force and position measurements has been raised to a new level thanks to a collaboration of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark.

The experiment is the first to overcome the so-called "Standard Quantum Limit", or SQL ( Standard Quantum Limit ), which imposes itself as a barrier in the most common and most successful optical techniques for ultra-precise position measurements.

In 2014, a US team detected the smallest force already measured , coming very close to SQL, but did not win. In fact, physicists and engineers have been trying to overcome the Quantum Limit for more than 50 years, using a variety of techniques - but unsuccessfully so far.

David Mason and his colleagues broke the barrier by making a simple modification to the most commonly used approach, which allowed them to cancel the quantum noise in the measurement well enough to push the limit.

The result - and the experiment itself - has important implications for gravitational wave astronomy techniques, atomic force microscopy, various nanotechnology techniques, and the entire field of quantum sensors that have detonated the boundaries of precision in several areas.

Uncertainty and inaccuracy

Quantum actions have quantum consequences. In the context of measurements, this usually means that the very act of measuring a system disturbs you. This effect is called reverse action, or feedback ( backaction ), and is a consequence of the fundamental uncertainties of the systems at the atomic scale, encompassed by the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg .

In many cases, this uncertainty sets a limit to the accuracy with which a measure can be obtained because, in addition to a certain number of figures after the comma, everything is uncertain.

Gravitational wave telescopes, such as LIGO and Virgo, reflect the laser light in a mirror to measure their position in an optical configuration known as an interferometer. The imprecision of this measurement can be improved by increasing the laser power, but eventually the random reflections of the laser photons will disturb the position of the mirror, leading to a less sensitive measurement that will leave astronomical objects weak or distant outside the field of detection.

The Standard Quantum Limit (SQL) is established when an optimal balance between the feedback and the noise responsible for imprecision is achieved. This minimum noise level defines, for example, the best possible accuracy obtained by any interferometer.

A thin silicon nitride membrane (white) is stretched along a silicon (blue) frame. The membrane contains a pattern of holes, with a small island in the center, whose vibrations were measured in the experiment. [Image: Niels Bohr Institute]

Overcoming the Standard Quantum Limit

Mason and his colleagues were able to break the SQL through an ingenious combination of optical and nanomechanical techniques, allowing you to perform the first measurement of an object's position with a precision that exceeds the limit.

Like the LIGO, the new approach uses a laser interferometer to measure a position, in this case the position of a membrane made of ceramic silicon nitride. Although very thin (20 nanometers), the membrane is several millimeters wide and is easily visible to the naked eye.

The trick to going beyond SQL involves doing a double measurement of the light reflected by the membrane. In this configuration, the detector is capable of simultaneously measuring inaccuracy and feedback in a manner that allows those noise sources to mutually cancel each other. In other words, what remains is a "clean" measure.

Using this technique, team measured the position of their membrane with almost 30% better precision than the "allowed" by SQL.

"We are using quantum effects that emerge in the measurement setup itself, so the extra technological effort is really very small. That's good news for possible practical applications," Mason said.


 Continuous force and displacement measurement below the standard quantum limit
David Mason, Junxin Chen, Massimiliano Rossi, Yeghishe Tsaturyan, Albert Schliesser
Nature Physics
DOI: 10.1038 / s41567-019-0533-5

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Physicists discover exotic spiraling electrons

The two types of "chiral surface excitons" are on the right and left sides of the image. They are generated by polarized light to the right and left (photons in blue). Excitons consist of an electron (light blue) orbiting a gap (black) in the same orientation of light. The electron and the gap are annihilated in less than a trillionth of a second, emitting light (photons in green) that can be harnessed for illumination, solar cells, lasers and screens [Hsiang-Hsi Kung / Rutgers]

Surface chiral exciton

Physicists have discovered an exotic form of electron that can lead to advances in lighting, solar cells, lasers and electronic screens.

Spinning like planets, these electrons consist of particles and "antiparticles" orbiting around one another on the surface of solid materials - not antimatter, but particles with opposing charges.

These exotic particles - or quasiparticles - were termed "surface chiral excitons."

Excitons form when intense light strikes a solid, kicking electrons negatively charged from their positions and leaving behind positively charged gaps - ejected electrons form surface plasmons , another quasiparticle of great technological interest.

Chiral refers to entities, such as their right and left hands, which correspond, but are asymmetrical, and can not be superimposed on their mirror image. The chirality of the new quasiparticle depends on the polarization of the light that produces it.

The electrons and gaps generated in this process resemble fast spinning rods. Electrons (negative charges) eventually "spiral" into gaps (positive charges), annihilating each other in less than a trillionth of a second, which results in the emission of a type of light called photoluminescence .

Photoluminescence is involved in numerous technological applications, such as solar cells, lasers, LEDs, screens, etc. Thus, the controlled production of light by the production of surface chiral excitons may eventually be exploited in all such devices.

Bismuth selenide

Hsiang-Hsi Kung and his colleagues at Rutgers University in the United States have discovered the chiral excitons on the surface of a crystal called bismuth selenide, which can be produced on a large scale and used in coatings and other materials in electronics - all at room temperature.

This crystal had already been used to synthesize a bizarre substance that unifies spintronics and quantum computing . And, on its surface, was also discovered, in 2013, a then unprecedented coupling between photon and electron, uniting matter and energy .

"Bismuth selenide is a fascinating compound that belongs to a family of quantum materials called ' topological insulation .' They have several surface channels that are highly efficient in conducting electricity," said Professor Girsh Blumberg.

The dynamics of chiral excitons is still unclear and the team plans to use ultrafast images to study it in depth. They also evaluate that surface chiral excitons can be found in other materials.


 Observation of chiral surface excitons in a topological insulator Bi2Se3
Hsiang-Hsi Kung, Adamya P. Goyal, Dmitrii L. Maslov, Xueyun Wang, Alexander Lee, Alexander F. Kemper, Sang-Wook Cheong, Girsh Blumberg
 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
 DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1813514116

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Two individual atoms are set to interact for the first time

As the two lasers move towards each other, the two atoms interact with each other and change their properties by reason of this approximation. [Image: University of Otago]

Interaction between individual atoms

You must have gotten tired of hearing about the nanotechnology dream of building things from the bottom up, building atoms and molecules one at a time. That was what Richard Feynman proposed in his famous lecture "There is a lot of space down there" in 1959.

Now maybe we have taken the final step that will allow this.

Although we are accustomed to chemical reactions in which the zillions of atoms of a substance react with the zillions of atoms of another substance, to pick up an atom and to position it carefully next to another and to see them influence each other is a much greater challenge .

For that was precisely what a team at the University of Otago in New Zealand managed to do.

They placed one atom in each of two laser beams and moved them toward each other. Because atoms are like magnets, when the pair began to interact, they began to change the direction of each other, counterbalancing each other.

Control the atomic world

This is the first time that this pure basic interaction test has been demonstrated in the laboratory using two individual atoms. Previous experiments have used multiple atoms, resulting in undesirable interactions, such as chemical reactions between them.

And it is also much more accurate than anything that had ever been done with the optical tweezers, which won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year.

"Our work represents an important step in our ability to control the atomic world," said Professor Mikkel Andersen, team coordinator.

Taming quantum entanglement

The team plans to take the next step by trying to put the two atoms in quantum entanglement, which means that both will be inextricably connected even after they are separated. Interlacing is one of the cornerstones of quantum computing .

"When we get to the point where we can explore quantum entanglement, we will have a second quantum technological revolution - as we did with lasers, which made the internet possible. That is why making entanglement technology robust is important," Andersen said.


 Thermally robust spin correlations between two 85Rb atoms in an optical microtrap
 Pimonpan Sompet, Stuart S. Szigeti, Eyal Schwartz, Ashton S. Bradley, Mikkel F. Andersen
 Nature Communications
 Vol. 10, Article number: 1889
 DOI: 10.1038 / s41467 -019-09420-6

Thermomechanical micromachine detects T-rays


The terahertz radiation (THz) is one of the most promising areas of current research, with applications ranging from healthcare to the ultra - efficient magnetic recording data.

These T-rays are not yet being used on a large scale because the sources for their emission and the antennas for their detection are still being improved.

Ya Zhang, from the University of Tokyo, has now made a remarkable breakthrough in this area.

It has developed a microelectromechanical device ( MEMS ) that detects terahertz radiation at room temperature, is easy to use, much faster than conventional thermal sensors, is highly sensitive and can be incorporated into detector arrays to increase efficiency.

The small terahertz antenna detects the T rays using the change in the mechanical resonance frequency of a tiny suspended beam, a change caused by thermal expansion generated by THz radiation. It operates at room temperature, while similar devices require cryogenic temperatures of up to -270 ° C.

This breakthrough can unleash a new era of terahertz technologies, such as sensors and cameras, including medical imaging - T-rays allow imaging of the interior of the human body without the use of ionizing radiation, such as X-rays.

Terahertz antenna

The MEMS (microelectromechanical system) consists of a small beam suspended over an opening. The beam is coated with a resistive metal film (NiCr - nickel - chromium) that has the ability to absorb THz radiation, which in turn transfers heat to the beam. This increase in temperature causes the beam to expand very slightly, which can be detected as a change in the frequency with which it vibrates.

This MEMS-based approach has a number of advantages over existing alternatives for detecting THz radiation. The ability to operate at room temperature without the need for cooling makes the sensor suitable for a variety of practical applications. It is also extremely sensitive by detecting radiation that causes changes in temperature to only one millionth of a degree centigrade and offering a reading 100 times faster than other prototypes.

"Another advantage of this system is that it can be produced using standard methods to make semiconductor devices, which will potentially allow them to be incorporated into mass-produced THz based cameras and sensors," said Ya Zhang. "We hope that our work will lead to an explosion of interest and more innovation in this field."


 Fast and sensitive bolometric terahertz detection at room temperature through thermomechanical transduction

 Ya Zhang, Suguru Hosono, Naomi Nagai, Sang-Hun Song, Kazuhiko Hirakawa

 Journal of Applied Physics 
Vol. 125, Issue 15
 DOI: 10.1063 / 1.5045256

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Chipscope, the microscope on a chip that can revolutionize medicine

Ultraminiaturized high resolution microscope scheme. [Image: Chipscope Project / Disclosure]

Microscope on a chip

Resolution obtained with conventional optical microscopes is limited because of physical laws. This means that they can not be used to directly observe isolated proteins, DNA molecules or inside living cells, which are smaller than the visible wavelength of light.

Today, it is only possible to do this through indirect observation, that is, with the interpretation of the data measured by electronic microscopes - which are complex, expensive and bulky.

It occurs that electronic microscopes are not suitable for the observation of delicate living tissue; in addition to complex preparations, the energy they use "fries" the samples.

To overcome these limitations, a group of researchers from several countries, funded by the European Union, is developing a microscope the size of a chip that uses light-emitting diode arrays (LEDs), with a diameter smaller than a human hair, to illuminate the object being observed.

The miniaturized microscope called "chipscópio" ( ChipScope ), combines simplicity, ease of operation, accessibility and clear, high resolution optics.

Schematic of the chipscope and photo of the prototype. [Image: Chipscope Project / Disclosure] 

Miniaturized Microscope

These future microscopes on a chip can also be integrated into consumer electronics just as cameras are embedded in mobile phones. The sample is placed on the LEDs and underneath a photodetector that picks up the light signals.

Unlike conventional microscopy, spatial resolution is provided by the LEDs, not by the optical detection system. Therefore, this system does not require specific alignments or complex focus systems.

The LEDs can be turned on and off individually at high speed, allowing cells to be observed in real time, capturing up to 10 frames per second.

This new miniaturized microscopy technology promises to give impetus to research in areas that currently use optical microscopes - particularly in medicine. It will also assist field researchers without access to laboratories or other scientific infrastructures.

The first version of the Chipscope microscope is ready and being tested by the team in the study of the development of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic age-related lung disease that kills 500,000 people worldwide each year.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Photonics mix light and matter - you can not tell what is what

Now it is light, now it is matter - as it is too fast to separate the "now", there remains a hybrid of matter and light. [Image: Denis Baranov / Yen Strandqvist / Chalmers University of Technology]

Mixture of light and matter

Researchers in Sweden have discovered a completely new way of capturing, amplifying and connecting light to matter at the nanoscopic level.

Using a tiny box, constructed of a material consisting of a single atomic layer, they were able to create a kind of feedback circuit in which light and matter became indistinguishable.

This innovative "box of light" causes the alternations between light and matter to occur so rapidly that it is no longer possible to distinguish between the two states. Light and matter become one.

"We have created a hybrid consisting of equal parts of light and matter. The concept opens up completely new doors in both fundamental and applied nanopotonics, and there is a great scientific interest in this," said Professor Ruggero Verre of the University of Technology. Chalmers.


The creation of this hybrid of light and matter was possible using two concepts already known, but combining them in an innovative way. The first is a nanoanthene, which captures and emits light in the most efficient way possible. The other is a kind of atomically thin two-dimensional material, known as "transition metal dicalcogeneto", or TMDC ( transition metal dichalcogenide ) - these materials are better known as molibdenite , but belong to this class both molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) as the tungsten disulfide (WS2) .

The team worked with a well-known TMDC, the tungsten disulfide, which resembles graphene but using it in a new way.

The superfluid light and some quasiparticles promise new ways of computing using light and matter . [Image: Polytechnique Montreal]

The trick has been to create a small resonance box, within which light and matter interact - it is very much like the case of a guitar, except that it operates with sonic waves. The resonance box ensures that the light is captured by the nanoparticles and reflected in a certain "pitch" within the material, thus ensuring that light energy can be efficiently transferred to the electrons of the TMDC material and re-emitted. It all occurs in a single particle with a diameter of only 100 nanometers, or 0.00001 centimeters.

"We've been able to demonstrate that materials in atomically thin layers can be nanostructured in tiny optical resonators, which is of great interest for photonic applications." As this is a new way of using the material, we are calling it 'TMDC nanopotonics'. that this field of research has a bright future, "said Professor Timur Shegai, team coordinator.

Photonics and nanophotonics

The photonics involves the various ways to use light. Fiber optic communication is an example of photonics, as is the technology behind photodetectors and solar cells. When the photonic components are so small that they are measured in nanometers, their use is called the nanophotonics.


Transition metal dichalcogenide nanodisks as high-index dielectric Mie nanoresonators
Ruggero Verre, Denis G. Baranov, Battulga Munkhbat, Jorge Cuadra, Mikael Käll, Timur Shegai Nature Nanotechnology
DOI: 10.1038 / s41565-019-0442-x

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