Big news on (very) small things

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Big news on (very) small things

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Crystal structure of MOF-200 (Credit: UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Many of the current science GCSE specifications require students to study nanotechnology so here are three exciting new applications to make this new area of science topical and interesting.

The stories

Carbon dioxide capture:

Capturing carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere and adds to our ever-increasing blanket of greenhouse gases is not a new idea but Korean scientists working with UCLA have devised an extremely efficient way of doing this by harnessing the power of nanotechnology.

They have developed better breeds of a material known as MOFs, or metal–organic frameworks. These are sometimes known as ‘crystal sponges’ and are made of linked rods of zinc oxide which contain pores on the nanoscale which are exactly the right size to  capture and hold carbon dioxide molecules (see the image above).  The new MOFs are the most absorbent yet and researchers believe that they can’t do much better.  They work by having  a massive surface area to volume ratio.  If you take just one gram of the new MOF and unravel it, it will cover several football fields.

Smart bandages:

An international team of researchers who are working with the University of Bath have developed a bandage that has a two-fold function.  This bandage can not only tell doctors when a wound is infected but can release its own antibiotics to kill the pathogens.

Nano-capsules on the fabric of the bandage contain the dye and drug wrapped neatly up in a lipid membrane (see image). Pathogenic bacteria naturally secrete enzymes which break down the membrane, releasing the chemicals.  The dye alerts doctors to the fact that the wound has become infected, whilst the antibiotic gets to work eliminating the bacteria.

Lipid vesicles like these are used in smart bandages

Magnetic nanoparticles:

This is an exciting new area of research that has many applications in medicine.  One use is a non-surgical treatment of cancerous tumours.  Magnetic nano-particles are injected into the tumour and then an alternating magnetic field is used to heat the particles which destroys the cancerous cells.  Scientists are also developing ways of attaching monoclonal antibodies to the nanoparticles to search out and attach themselves to cancerous cells or for targeted drug delivery.

Teaching idea:

The class can be divided into groups – each group having an application of nanotechnology assigned to them.  Their challenge is to present to the rest of the class how their use works.  They could watch the videos shown on the websites below and see if they could do better (they probably could!)

Anything to add?

Whilst writing this post, it’s always a possibility that I missed some other great information or teaching ideas. Feel free to share your thoughts.


News story about smart bandages plus a short but informative video showing them in action.

News story on the new carbon dioxide capturing MOFs.

Applications for the magnetic nanoparticles plus an interview of a professor explaining them.

News story on the use of magnetic nanoparticles in medicine