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Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

In This Issue

BIOENGINEERING: Microchip success for bionic eye
COMMERCIALISATION: Australia drives solar innovation with Germany
RESEARCH: Nanomachines with near-zero friction
MEDICINE: Gold useds as safe driver of cancer drug
RESEARCH: Researchers claim quantum breakthrough
TECHNOLOGY: A new high-powered telescope is opening discovery dorrys at QUT

Event Calendar


Chair's Corner

Ian Gentle

The ANA’s recent annual general meeting saw a reconfirmation from the existing members of the board and a plan to continue building the ANA.  Board member Isaac Spedding (ACME Nano) remains secretary, while Aidan Dargan takes over as Treasurer.  Andrew Dark (Dark IP) is Vice president and I will remain as President.  Stewart McGlashan and Carla Gerbo will continue as Directors.  We unfortunately saw the resignation of our long time Director Peter Kambouris whose work commitments are keeping him busy.  Peter has made an enormous contribution to the ANA since its inception and he will be missed.

The board commitment from the AGM was to focus our time and resources on the most critical of our activities, which remain our networking and communication programs.  A decision was made that our website would be updated, and we are delighted that Davies Collison Cave will continue to be our major sponsor of our Executive Series program.

In terms of the Executive Series, we teamed with DCC and the Australian Centre for NanoMedicine (UNSW) to co-sponsor events in Brisbane (5th July) and Melbourne (9th July). Dr Alan Trounson, President of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine spoke at both events. Also in Brisbane Prof Thomas Schimell (KET Germany) and Patrick Boisseau (CEA France) were involved in presentations and discussions with nanotechnology research centres. ANA looks forward to hosting more events in coming months.

I’m also happy to announce that the National Enabling Technology Strategy (NETS) division of the Federal Government’s Department of Innovation Industry Science Research and Tertiary Education have again asked the ANA for a reprint of our buckyball education model allowing more young Australian’s to learn about nanotechnology and its applications in industry and the community.

We look forward to hearing from you and sharing stories on what’s happening in our exciting area.

Ian Gentle
Chairman - Australian Nanotechnology Alliance

Australian Nanotechnology Alliance
8/108-110 Boyce Road

Phone: +61 (0)7 3365 4800 • Email: info@nanotechnology.org.auWeb: nanotechnology.org.au

Notice Board

Australia-India Early Career and Senior Visiting Fellowships for 2012-2013

The Australian Academy of Science invites applications from Australian researchers for the Australia-India Early Career and Senior Visiting Fellowships.  Indian researchers interested in travelling to Australia should apply through an equivalent program administered by the Indian National Science Academy. The fellowships are open to Australian researchers from the public, not-for-profit and commercial sectors to support research and initiate or consolidate collaboration with a leading-edge Indian host organisation. Closing date for submissions: Friday 27 July 2012. Guidelines, selection criteria and application forms can be found at http://www.science.org.au/internat/asia/index.html


Visit to the National Institutes of Health in the USA for a junior scientist

 The Australian Academy of Science invites Expressions of Interest from junior scientists who are no more than 30 years of age, to visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States of America between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2013. Proposals in any health-related field of natural science will be considered. Only citizens and permanent residents of Australia living in Australia at time of application are eligible to apply.  This scheme is funded by the Adam J. Berry Memorial Fund and is operated in collaboration with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. Deadline for Expressions of Interest: 27 July 2012 for travel in 2013. Further information and the application form are available on the Academy’s web site: http://www.science.org.au/internat/americas/berry.html




Microchip success for bionic eye

Materials science research aimed at restoring sight to the clinically blind has reached a critical stage, with testing underway of the prototype microchips that will power the bionic eye. Electrical engineers from the Monash Vision Group (MVG) have begun trialling the microchips, with early laboratory tests proving positive, and pre-clinical assessment duto begin shortly.

The Director of MVG, Professor Arthur Lowery said the positive result meant the project was on track to deliver a direct-to-brain bionic eye implant ready for patient tests in 2014.

The bionic eye device will consist a number of components working together to replicate the function of the eye. The components include a tiny camera mounted into a pair of glasses, acting as the retina, a pocket processor to take the electronic information from the camera and convert it into signals enabling the brain to build up a visual construct, and cortical implants of several tiles, which will be the portal for the stimulation of the visual cortex.

“The aim for this vision prosthetic is to be at least equivalent to a seeing-eye dog or a white cane. While it would initially complement existing aids such as these, we believe the device eventually will replace them, and as the technology is further refined, become sufficiently sensitive to discriminate large print,” Professor Lowery said.

“The microchips we are testing will be implanted directly on the surface of a patient’s visual cortex, located at the back of the brain. It’s estimated that each patient will receive a grid of up to 14 eight-by-eight millimetre tiles,” Professor Lowery said.

Each tile comprises a four-by-four millimetre microchip with some 500,000 transistors and 45 hair-thin electrodes. When fully operational, these tiles will receive low-resolution, black-and-white images from an external digital processing unit connected to a high-resolution camera.

Dr Jean-Michel Redouté, MVG’s Program Leader, Implantable Electronics, said one of the project’s main challenges was harnessing and powering this array of electrically-charged devices in the brain.

“Achieving acceptable vision requires far more electrode capacity than the amount required to power a bionic ear. While the bionic ear requires approximately 15 electrodes, we’ll need at least 600 to produce useful vision for patients,” Dr Redouté said.

Over 50,000 people in Australia are considered clinically blind. The number exceeds 160 million globally .

The MVG was established in April 2010, with an $8 million grant from the Australian Research Council. The MVG accommodates more than 20 leaders in physiology, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical and materials engineering, mathematics and immunology.

The MVG’s key partners are Monash University, Grey Innovation, Alfred Health and MiniFab.

 Source: Monash University News, April 2012.


Australia dirves innovation and collaboration with Germany

The Australian solar industry has received a $12 million funding boost from the Australian Government.

The Australian Solar Institute (ASI), founded by the Australian Government in 2009, has made this investment to a joint Australian-German team to accelerate solar energy technology development and to connect leading Australian researchers with world leading experts in

The ASI funds projects to improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of photovoltaic and concentrating solar power technologies.

Australian Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Peter Tesch today welcomed ASI’s funding of joint research. ”Leading Australian and German researchers have joined forces to develop innovations for the future, and to face the global challenges of our time. Australia and Germany are worldwide experts in the field of solar energy, and the new funding of joint research is a great example of complementary and increased collaboration in research within a new strategic partnership between both countries,” Mr Tesch said.

ASI Investment Director, Olivia Coldrey explained: “Australia and Germany are leaders in solar innovation and have a history of successful collaboration. Our researchers will work together on projects to accelerate the commercialisation of solar technologies.

Olivia Coldrey and Mark Twidell, Executive Director of ASI, will be part of the Australian delegation visiting the upcoming solar industry trade event–Intersolar (June 11-15). They will offer valuable insights and present opportunities on the growing solar market in Australia.

Mark Twidell will also speak at a special seminar titled, “A Clean Energy Future for Australia”, initiated by the Australian Trade Commission. The seminar will focus on opportunities for German companies by offering a compact market overview and presenting the Australian Government’s strategy to support innovation and renewable energy. Case studies will illustrate trends and opportunities, business experts and representatives of Australian companies will be available for networking and exchange.


Nanomachines with near-zero friction

Research from Australian and Chinese scientists, soon to be published in Physical Review Letters, describes superlubricity observed at the microscale and at ambient conditions.

Monash University researcher Dr Zhe Liu, in collaboration with Quanshui Zheng’s group at Tsinghua University in China, have observed this superlubricity – the dropping of friction to near zero – on length scales much larger than previously recorded. They say that the phenomenon, which they measured in sheared pieces of graphite, could find applications in sensitive microscopic resonators or nanoscale gyroscopes.

Superlubricity is often used to refer to very low friction, but the original meaning is that the friction between two surfaces disappears almost completely. Proposed in the early 1990s by Motohisa Hirano, in Tokyo, Japan, and others, it relies on a special arrangement of atoms on a material's surface. In graphite, for instance, the surface atoms have a bumpy hexagonal arrangement like egg-boxes.

In certain orientations, two surfaces of graphite can mesh in such a way that the "bumps" can slide past one other effortlessly – and friction drops towards zero.

Since it was first proposed, superlubricity has been observed on the nanoscale, mostly under high-vacuum conditions. Now, however, his research group have observed the phenomenon on the microscale, in ambient conditions.

This observation at ambient conditions is a big advance beyond the nanometre-scale superlubricity experiments, and may lead to implementing superlubricity as lubricant for future practical use in mechanical engineering, including energy saving devices.

In its experiments, Zheng's group used pyrolitic graphite, a type of graphite manufactured under high temperature that has particularly well-aligned crystal planes. Using lithography, the researchers made square columns – or mesas – of graphite up to 20 µm wide and up to 400 nm in height. They transferred these mesas to a scanning electron microscope or an optical microscope and, with a tungsten probe, sheared them into flakes, which they could rotate into different orientations.

The group found that the flakes orientated symmetrically with respect to the underlying mesa stayed still, even when poked with the probe. However, when the researchers misorientated the flakes and poked them, the flakes retracted to their original, lowest energy position. This could only happen because of the extremely low friction, the researchers say – that is, because the surface "bumps" could mesh together and allow superlubricity.

"The ultimate significance of these results is they imply that the conditions for superlubricity are more easily created, and more reproducible, than previously supposed," says Zheng. "This implies a much wider practical significance for the phenomenon of superlubricity, for example in nano- and micromachines."

 Zheng highlights that his group's results may also be applicable to graphene – a single layer of graphite with superlative properties that was the subject of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics. However, for applications with regular graphite, he points to high-frequency microscopic resonators and nanoscale gyroscopes, to which superlubricity could offer reduced wear and lower actuation energies.

 "The conventional wisdom so far has been that friction is a major hurdle to shrinking mechanical systems to the micro- and nanoscale," he says. "This is because of the increasing surface-to-volume ratio of smaller components, which favours friction – a surface-dependent force. Our work provides new avenues to produce practical micro- and nano-scale mechanical devices that rely on the ultra-low friction of superlubricity."

 Source: www.physicsworld.com, original article Jon Cartwright



Gold used as a safe driver of cancer drug

New research from the University of Sydney, published in the international journal Inorganic Chemistry, shows that gold nanoparticles can be used as delivery vehicles for platinum anticancer drugs, improving targeting and uptake into cells.

Researchers at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Pharmacy investigated the appropriateness of different sized gold nanoparticles as components of platinum-based drug delivery systems such as cisplatin, the leading metallodrug used in the systemic treatment of solid tumors.

Since its approval in 1979 cisplatin has become an important component in chemotherapy regimes for the treatment of ovarian, testicular, lung and bladder cancers, as well as lymphomas, myelomas and melanoma. “To date, however, its use has been limited by severe toxic side effects, attributed to the indiscriminate accumulation of the drug in both normal and cancerous tissue," says Dr Nial Wheate, senior lecturer in pharmaceutical chemistry and leader of the project.

The researchers studied the cancer drug's controlled synthesis, reproducibility, consistency of drug loading and stability. According to Dr Wheate, the effectiveness of the cancer drug cisplatin could be significantly improved by gold nanoparticles, which selectively pick up and drive the platinum-based drug into solid cancer tumours.

Dr Wheate says the team conducted multiple testing regimes on the gold nanoparticles. "For any new drug to get approval for human clinical trials, it must demonstrate not only efficiency but also the capability of being reproducibly manufactured and stable in storage," he says.

"Developing and making a drug is a lot like building and designing a car. You have to test and retest it for durability and all the safety features.” Previously, we have shown that platinum drugs can be attached to gold nanoparticles and that cellular uptake and effectiveness levels are greatly improved.”

 "But we needed to be sure that the benefits of the drug would be consistent. We believed when developing gold nanoparticles as platinum drug-delivery vehicles, it was essential they were reproducible and stable to ensure consistent and safe doses were administered to patients."

Source: Physics.org news site, March 2012



Researchers claim quantum breakthrough

New research published in Nature reveals a tiny crystal, which is made up of just 300 atoms, that acts like a quantum computer so powerful it would take a computer the size of the known universe to match it.

"Quantum computing is a kind of information science that is based on the notion that if one performs computations in a fundamentally different way than the way your classical desktop computer works," says study co-author University of Sydney's Dr Michael Biercuk.

"There's a huge potential to solve a variety of problems that are very, very hard or near impossible for standard computer." The crystal simulator uses a property of quantum mechanics called superposition, where a quantum particle appears to be in two distinct states at the same time. This means the particle, known as a qubit, can be used to solve two equations simultaneously.

As the number of qubits increase, the number or states increases exponentially. For example, 2 qubits can simultaneously be in 4 states, 3 qubits in 8 states: 2 to the power of n states for n qubits.

According to Biercuk, the computing power of the 300-atom crystal simulator far outstrips the capacity of today's classical computer. "It turns out that that computer would need to be the size of the known universe - which is clearly something that's not possible to achieve," he says.

Experts believe quantum computing is moving to a stage where it is so far out in front and performing such complex tasks it will be difficult to check if it is working accurately. "They're not easily checked by a classical computer which opens a whole variety of problems," says Biercuk. And he adds that there is still plenty of work to be done before quantum computers start appearing on desks in homes and offices.

"The central element is something like a millimetre in diameter, 300 atoms that are suspended in space," says Biercuk."But of course everything depends on a huge amount of technical infrastructure around it. There are vacuum chambers and pumps and lasers, and all of that takes up something like a room."

 Source: abc.net.au/science. Original article by Connor Duffy and staff



A new high-powered microscope is opening discovery doors at QUT

QUT is now home to a powerful, new microscope being used to develop efficient and cheap plastic solar cells to charge laptops and mobile phones.

The $1.5 million German-engineered scanning probe microscope will open up many exciting new research opportunities and is the only one of its kind in Queensland. Lead researcher Associate Professor Nunzio Motta said the microscope was equipped with a tiny metallic tip to see individual atoms, allowing precision better than a hundredth of a nanometer. 

Professor Motta said the microscope would accelerate QUT's efforts to study new materials with atomic resolution. QUT researchers have started using the microscope to improve plastic solar cells by mixing it with tiny tubes of highly-conductive carbon, called nanotubes, which are 100 times smaller than a strand of human hair.

"At the moment the plastic solar cells are quite inefficient, but they are already used in niche markets for very low power portable applications," Professor Motta said.

"We are aiming to improve the efficiency of these plastic solar cells by studying the microscopic structure of the material. "Plastic solar cells could generate enough energy not only to recharge the batteries of laptops and mobiles, but even to obtain power from canopies on parking areas and on stadiums."

Professor Motta said the microscope was equipped with sensitive surface probes, including two kinds of atomic force microscopes, an X-ray electron spectrometer and an electron microscope. Samples used in the microscope can be heated up to 1300° and gases introduced through a special valve system to test how surface atoms react in different environments.

QUT researchers also will be using the microscope to create a new class of solar-powered nano-sensors to detect pollution and monitor the environment in remote areas. The microscope, which received $800,000 in funding from the Australian Research Council, will be managed within the QUT-based Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility Linked Laboratory.

Scientists from a consortium of universities that helped fund the microscope, including Flinders University, the University of Queensland, Griffith University and Roma Tor Vergara in Italy, will also use it for research.


Source: QUT Links, original article by Stephanie Harrington