Laura Garca Oviedo For LA NACION (This text has been translated from the original)
SAN CARLOS DE BARILOCHE, ARGENTINA. - The Argentinean investigator Orlando Auciello, who works at the Argonne National Laboratories in the United States, is developing an almost science fiction-like device: an experimental microchip that works like an artificial retina so blind people can see, albeit partially. A unique aspect of this work is that his latest test was done utilizing a new ingredient, the "ultranano" crystalline diamond, which to be made is manipulated in a scale of 1 to 100 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter).
The ultranano crystalline diamond is just one of a range of materials that scientists modify on infinitely small scales to provide them with new properties, such as a greater strength.
Last week, a scientific meeting held in this city - the US-Argentina Workshop on Nanomaterials e_SEnD - reviewed precisely these nanomaterials, which, besides microchips, are already being used in an experimental way to promote wound closure and as anti-contaminant "sponges", among many other applications.
"Already there are people who have received the first prototype of artificial retina and now we are testing a second type of design of microchip covered with diamond nanomaterial to improve its efficiency," said Auciello during his presentation. Auciello has been living for more than 30 years in the United States and collaborates with the prestigious team headed by Dr. Mark Humayun.
On another front, the team headed by Galen Stucky, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, is developing nanotechnology-designed materials capable of stopping hemorrhages from different types of wounds.
In particular, the group works with a silicon nanomaterial that helps to speed up wounds coagulation. Stucky's team, which also participated in this Argentinean-American initiative, managed to identify how changes in the structural properties and the surface of metallic oxide influence the coagulation response of blood. But, for now, on the experimental terrain, investigators think that this same nanomaterial could be used to transport antibiotics and therapeutic proteins.
The truth is that "bionanomedicine" is only one of multiple fields where experiments are being done using these types of materials.
Dr. Galo Soler Illia, an investigator of CONICET and the Atomic Energy National Commission, is working on the development of a nanoporous oxide material with "eco-friendly" properties.
"We made a type of sponge with nanometric holes, a "nano- gruyere cheese", that can, for example, capture polluting molecules," he said to LA NACION.
"In a gram of titanium oxide, thanks to its nanoholes, we were able to create 200 to 300 square feet of exposed surface, something equivalent to a tennis court," said Soler Illia, who presented his work during the meetings.
Another area of nanomaterial experimentation is in energy generation. Thomas Moore, chemistry professor of the Arizona State University Center of Bioenergy and Photosynthesis, is running experiments in the area of energy efficiency from a biological perspective.
"In our laboratory, we were inspired by biology to create artificial photosynthesis with the help of nanotechnology. Although it is already known how to transform solar energy into electricity, our challenge is to convert solar energy into fuel," noted Moore.
For this, they are currently experimenting with photobiocombustable cells, which work via light-generated chemical reactions, utilizing ethanol and hydrogen. But Moore emphasizes that, for now, there are still many obstacles to overcome.
The meetings, where these scientific advances were presented, were organized by Lia Peitrasanta, Director of the Advanced Microscopies Center of the Faculty of Exact Sciences of Buenos Aires University, and by Heather Maynard from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry [...as well as the California NanoSystems Institute...] of the University of California at Los Angeles.
"The objective was to promote the meeting of investigators and students from both countries to exchange experiences, to stimulate discussion about the latest advancements in the area of nanomaterials, and to strengthen cooperation between participants," said Pietrasanta to LA NACION.
The meetings, which had 82 participants, received support from Argentina's Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation and from the Embassy and State Department of the United States.
The organizers are planning to hold a second workshop in Argentina in 2010 and another one the following year in the United States.
This article was originally published in La Nacion (Spanish)
Published: Thursday, April 16, 2009
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