Water is one of the most abundant, and arguably one of the most useful, substances on the planet. Yet, despite thousands of years of interaction with the common liquid, scientists are still discovering new and unexpected properties of the humble H20 molecule. In a recent experimental study, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put water into carbon nanotubes and were surprised to find that the liquid water changed to a solid state. The unexpected results of the study open up an unknown field of study: how water reacts when confined in a space on the nanometer, or billionth of a meter, scale. The results might also have practical applications, such as formation of tiny "ice wires" that could, in theory, be used in various practical and experimental capacities.
Researchers at Harvard University have created a system that allows them to store the energy of the sun, converting solar energy into chemical energy using a hybrid mechanism of inorganic chemistry and living organisms. Comparing their invention with the natural process of photosynthesis, they refer to it as a "bionic leaf" or "artificial leaf," and they say the level of efficiency they have achieved far exceeds that of other similar systems – including photosynthesis itself. The paper, published Thursday in the journal Science, describes the work as addressing two fundamental goals: storing the energy of the sun, rather than merely converting it for immediate use, and building something useful from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby reducing a major greenhouse gas. "I think this is actually quite exciting research," Johannes Lischner of Imperial College, London, who was not involved in the study, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a telephone interview. "Converting sunlight into chemical fuels with high efficiency is something of a holy grail for renewable energy."
Engineers at MIT have created a new system to monitor plants for signs of distress or physical damage. The project, led by chemical engineering professor Michael Strano, involves injecting microscopic nanotubes directly into plant cells to monitor for hydrogen peroxide, which many plants release after experiencing distress or damage. When they detect hydrogen peroxide, the nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal that can be detected by infrared cameras connected to a simple $35 Raspberry Pi-based computer system. A team of chemical engineers at MIT have developed a system for monitoring plant cells to detect damage, which relies on embedding microscopic nanotubes into plant cells. The technology could be useful in helping farmers track their crops and send them smartphone alerts if there is any damage or other unusual activity occurring that they might not otherwise catch.
Could plants become a new line of national defense? Yes, with a little help from nanotechnology, suggest researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The researchers took ordinary spinach plants and embedded them with carbon nanotubes capable of detecting nitroaromatics, compounds often used in bombs and land mines. If these chemicals are present in groundwater, the plant will take in the water and begin to emit a fluorescent signal within 10 minutes, alerting observers to any potential problems. Plants already detect even subtle changes in their environment.