A multidisciplinary science
Learning and sharing
Nanotechnology is truly multidisciplinary. Materials scientists, mechanical and electronic engineers, and medical researchers are teaming up with biologists, physicists and chemists. Research at the nanoscale is unified by the need to share knowledge on tools and techniques, as well as expertise on the atomic and molecular interactions along this new scientific frontier. Powerful new concepts and capabilities, such as atomic-scale imaging and manipulation, self-assembly, and biological structure-function relationships, together with increasingly powerful computing tools, are rapidly converging from different research fields.
Focusing on production
The Nanofib project is developing a focused ion beam technique. The beam diameter is only in the order of a few nanometers, equivalent to some tens of atomic diameters. This is one of several new technologies aimed at creating patterns in materials at extremely small scales – nanomanipulation. Such technologies strongly support research in nanotechnology and are key to future nanomanufacturing.
Filling in the holes
Nanoptt, a strongly multidisciplinary project, is developing a technology to create perfect cylindrical holes in polymer sheets, which are only some tens of nanometers in diameter. Such sheets have well-known applications in filtration units. Subsequently, the holes are filled with metals or other polymers to form ‘nano-wires’. The filled sheets are used in many industrial sectors including telecommunications, and advanced magnetic memory, and could contribute to the development of ‘the laboratory on chip’.
Non-stick or super-glue medical devices
The NANOMED project is studying how to make nanosurfaces on biomaterials to be used in tissue engineering. Using exactly the same material, they can obtain a 10 000-fold difference in stickiness, resulting from topography changes at the nanoscale. Low adhesion is critical for medical devices like catheters, while a super-adhesive is required for repairing damaged tissue such as broken bones.
Detecting disease quicker
Although cystic fibrosis (CF), a debilitating lung disease, can be confirmed by genetic testing, current tests are both expensive and time-consuming. A European Commission project is developing improved and very high throughput test methods using a DNA chip format. These will become fully automated diagnostic systems able to detect defective CF genes quicker and more cheaply. They could also be adapted for the diagnosis of any genetic disease.
These advances are providing the means for nanotechnology to progress and for researchers to expand their expertise into new application fields. Education and training in nanotechnology is supported by the Commission via a system of Research Training Networks. New hybrid technologies, combining nanotechnologies, materials sciences, engineering, information technologies, biotechnology and environmental science, are evolving. This evolution requires such multidisciplinary networks over a wide range of research areas, as well as strong collaboration across traditional scientific borders between nanotechnology researchers inside the European Union and worldwide.
Research Training Networks
NANOCOMP, the ‘Large-scale synthesis of carbon nanotubes and their composite materials’ project involves a partnership of experts from the chemistry, physics and engineering fields. It focuses on synthesis of multi-wall and single wall carbon nanotubes, purification, composite materials for industrial applications, and characterisation.
NANOPHASE, ‘Nanoscale photon absorption and spectroscopy with electrons’ is part of the Network concentrating on the theory of nanometer-scale structures – atomic clusters, quantum dots and wires, and molecules adsorbed on surfaces – and the spectroscopic processes available to characterise such structures, their electronic and optical properties and their growth.