The Gist of Science Reporter: February 2017


The Gist of Science Reporter: February 2017


Chemists Develop World’s First Light-seeking Nanorobot

World’s first light-seeking synthetic Nanorobot has been developed by Dr. Jinyao Tang and his team at the Department of Chemistry, University of Hong Kong. These Nanorobots are comparable to a blood cell in size, which makes them potentially useful to be injected into patients' bodies. This will help the doctors remove tumours and enable more precise engineering of targeted medications while performing the surgery. This study has been published in October in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

To make the nanostructures sense and respond to the environment is a major difficulty in Nanorobot designing. Further, it is also very difficult to squeeze normal electronic sensors and circuits into Nanorobots with reasonable price, given each Nanorobot is only a few micrometre in size, which is ~50 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

The Nanorobots developed by Dr. Tang and his team are propelled by light and with this achievement, they have become the first research team across the globe to explore the light-guided highly feasible and effective Nanorobots. These tiny robots have the unprecedented ability to dance or even spell a word under light control. Dr. Tang explains the motion of the nanorobots in response to light shining on it as if they can 'see' the light and drive towards it.

Natural green algae provided the inspirational idea to the research team to design these Nanorobots. Some green algae in nature have evolved with the ability of sensing light around it, even a single cell can sense the intensity of light and perform photosynthesis by swimming towards it. It took three years to successfully develop these tiny robots based on a novel nanotree structure, composed of two common and cost effective semiconductor materials - silicon and titanium oxide. Silicon and titanium oxide are shaped into nanowire as a synthesizing process and are further arranged to form very small nanotree heterostructure.

Melanin in Foams and Fabrics could Enhance their Strength

Melanin is the natural pigment that .gives colour to human skin, hair and the iris of eyes and protects them from ultraviolet radiation damage. Scientists have found that adding a small amount of this natural pigment to polyurethanes makes it stronger than the material by itself. This study has been described in the ACS journal Biomacromolecules.

The macromolecule, Polyurethane, is used in a huge range of products - from durable foam sitting, stretchy textiles, bandages, roller coasters, footwears, glossy coatings to insulation. Scientists already have tried to add fillers which include; silica, graphene oxide and carbon nanotubes to make polyurethanes more durable. But these efforts have often led to enhancement of only one physical property - either tensile strength or toughness, but not both.

Scientists have tried a new approach of adding melanin to polyurethanes and new experiments show that polyurethane samples containing just 2% of melanin extracted from the ink sacs of cuttlefish' had improved both the properties i.e. plain polyurethane to 51.5 MPa and 413 MJ/m3, respectively.

However, by further increasing content of melanin, a relatively large- scale phase separation was formed and led to a decrease in mechanical properties of polyurethane. Polyurethane could stretch itself by 770 percent before breaking, whereas the melanin-infused polyurethane stretched by 1,880 percent before rupturing.

New Technology Converts Sewage into Fuel

Sewage management has long been a matter of concern, but soon the future fuel may be produced by turning human-waste into crude oil. A new research led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), USA, has presented a way of transforming the ordinary sewage into biocrude oil. What had previously seemed very difficult is now possible with the new research.

Sewage or sewage sludge has long been considered a poor component to produce biofuel because it's too wet. The technology, called Hydrothermal Liquifaction (HTL), which uses high pressure and temperature imitates the earth's geological conditions to form crude oil and removes the need for drying required in a larger part of current thermal technologies which historically made the conversion of wastewater to fuel too energy intensive and costly. Rather than compressing and transforming the material over millions of years, the same could be achieved in minutes. From that point, the biocrude can be refined into fuel.

Using this technology, organic matter, for example, human waste can be broken down into simpler chemical compounds. The material is pressurized to 3,000 pounds for every square inch - about one hundred times that of a car tyre. Pressurized sludge then goes into a reactor framework operating at around 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and pressure make the cells of the waste material break into different fractions as biocrude and an aqueous liquid Phase.

There is plenty of carbon in municipal wastewater sludge and interestingly, there are also fats," said Corinne Drennan, a Bioenergy technologies researcher at PNNL. "The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the wastewater such as toilet paper, keep the sludge moving through the reactor, and produce a very high quality biocrude that, when refined, yield fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels."
Along with the useful fuel production, the technology could give local governments noteworthy cost saving by wiping out the requirement for sewage residuals processing, transport and disposal.

Along with the biocrude, the fluid phke-can be treated with a catalyst to make other fuels and chemical products. A small amount of strong material is additionally created, which contains essential nutrients. For instance, early endeavours have shown the capacity to recover phosphorus, which can supplant phosphorus ore utilized a part of fertilizer Production.

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