Welcome Physics World  March 2021

Nanotechnology spans many disciplines

Nanotechnologist and co-founder of the Black in Nanotech initiative, Olivia Geneus. (Courtesy: Alexander Harold)

Welcome to this Physics World Nanotechnology Briefing, which showcases the breadth of applications of modern nanotechnology.

Olivia Geneus is one of the growing number of scientists who are developing nanotechnologies for medicine. In an interview, the PhD student at the State University of New York at Buffalo explains how she is developing nanoparticles designed to cross the blood–brain barrier in order to image and destroy brain cancer cells. Geneus also talks about Black in Nanotech Week, which she co-founded, and the need to encourage Black children to consider careers in science.

Ed Lester of the UK’s University of Nottingham knows that there are myriad uses for nanoparticles. In 2007 he founded the company Promethean Particles when he realized industrial users were not able to source nanoparticles in the quantities and quality that they required. In an interview, Lester talks about some of the company’s development projects including nanoparticles for aviation, healthcare and energy.

In addition to the two featured interviews, this Briefing is packed full of nanotechnology research that spans a wide range of fields. Researchers in the UK have discovered a new type of quasiparticle in graphene sandwiched between two layers of boron nitride. These Zak-Brown fermions move at exceptionally high speeds along straight lines and could someday be used to create high-speed transistors.

Seemingly far away from the world of quasiparticles, nanotechnology can also be found on the supermarket shelf. Researchers in the US and Brazil have used carbon nanotubes to detect ethylene, which is involved in the ripening and spoiling of fruit and vegetables. Not to be outdone, scientists in South Korea have developed quantum dots that emit light when fish spoil and emit a potentially dangerous compound.

Energy production and storage is another burgeoning area of nanotechnology, with researchers in Texas developing a new sodium-based nanofluid that could make it much easier to extract heavy oil. One state over in Arkansas, researchers have teamed up with colleagues in Spain to create an energy-harvesting device made from graphene. Diamond-like carbon nanothreads could also play a role in energy systems of the future, argue scientists in Australia and Singapore, who have done calculations showing that the nanostructures could store large amounts of energy when twisted.