January 3, 2008


Technology Review reviews the year in Nanotechnology and energy solutions lead the headlines.

Nanowires and carbon nanotubes are proving valuable for generating and storing energy. Researchers have shown that nanowires can convert vibrations into electricity. (See "Nanogenerator Fueled by Vibrations" and "A New Nanogenerator.") Other nanowires can generate power from light. (See "Tiny Solar Cells.") Carbon nanotubes could be useful for extracting more power from cheap solar-cell materials. (See "Cheap Nano Solar Cells.")

Nanotechnology could also greatly improve batteries. MIT researchers made fibers out of viruses coated with functional materials. The fibers could lead to textiles that collect energy from the sun, convert it into electricity, and store it until it's needed. (See "Virus-Built Electronics.") At the end of the year, Stanford researchers published research showing that silicon nanowires can significantly increase the storage capacity of battery electrodes.

Read the article for other interesting technology from the last year, including supersticky glues (See "Climbing Walls with Nanotubes," "Nanoglue Sticks Underwater," and "Glue That Sticks to Nearly Everything.") Speaking of sticky surfaces, I am reminded of another interesting scientific breakthrough reported just last month in Science - the development of highly oleophobic (oil-repelling) surfaces.

The MIT and Air Force Research Laboratory researchers overcame the obstacles to super oil-repellant materials by combining two advances. First, the Air Force researchers developed a material that's something like a super Teflon. Fluorine chemical groups in Teflon help make it repellant, says Gareth McKinley, a mechanical-engineering professor at MIT who is involved with the work. The Air Force researchers developed a molecule with a structure that incorporates much more fluorine. Adding this molecule to a material makes it more repellant to liquids.

But the chemistry of the material isn't enough to make it super oil repellant. The researchers at MIT also changed the microscopic structure of the material in a way that traps air near the surface, so that oil on the material is suspended partly on air, which prevents the oil droplets from sticking to the surface. The resulting material was so oil repellant that oil, which normally clings to surfaces, actually bounced off instead (see this video).

Sweet! I have seen many videos of super hydrophilic or hydrophobic surfaces (leading in some cases to self-cleaning fog-free surfaces) but this is a first for oleophobicity.


Also TR's
The Year in Biotech.

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