The study, manipulation and exploitation of nanostructured materials and devices lies at the heart of modern science and technology. NTNU – the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – is home to the largest centre for nanoscience and nanotechnology in Norway. Read on to discover some of the ways in which nano-related education and research at NTNU is creating knowledge for a better world.
First workshop on Atomistic modelling at NTNU
On August 16th the first Atomistic modelling workshop in Trondheim took place in R9 in the Natural Sciences Building. Two invited speakers, Prof. Trygve Helgaker from the University of Oslo and Prof. Nico van der Vegt from the Technical university of Darmstadt, presented their work on chemistry in strong magnetic fields and cosolvent effects on aqueous polymer solubility. From NTNU there were 64 registered participants from four different faculties, and even some participants from Campus Gjøvik. There were in addition 16 posters registered for the poster session.
Thanks to sponsorship from NTNU Nano we were able to have a first gathering of people from all over NTNU working using computer simulations to study a wide range of atomistic systems.
Sondre Kvalvåg Schnell
Feature arcticle: Creating a miniature brain-on-a-chip
Growing a brain in the lab might still be a far-fetched idea, but perhaps it just got one step closer.
Øyvind Halaas, a professor of medicine at NTNU, in collaboration with neuroscientists Ioanna and Axel Sandvig and others, has created a mini-“brain-on-a-chip”. The biological neural network is made of just three nodes, compared to billions in a real brain, but the structure is an improvement on previous designs. Their project was part of the Cyborg initiative which aims to merge robotics and biology.
Researchers have previously tried to connect single neurons in networks, but those systems don’t always work because forming connections between individual neurons in patterns is inefficient. So Halaas and his colleagues decided to make each node a bundled group of brain cells instead.
The neurons themselves grew from stem cells, and the three nodes were connected by micro-tunnels that the neurons themselves couldn’t get through, but that did allow through their wire-like protrusions, called axons.
“The larger aim was to try to monitor the ‘thinking’ of this mini-brain-on-a-chip,” says Halaas. They used an existing commercial system to monitor the neurons’ electrical activity, and Halaas says they saw interconnection – and therefore communication – between the nodes.
The brain-on-a-chip could be used to study how brains develop and function and what exactly goes wrong when they stop working properly. “There's quite a bit of a gap from this system to trying to get neurons to form stable connections able to transmit signals, reminiscent of the thinking process in the brain,” he says. “But still, it’s kind of the beginning of a machine-learning/biology interface, which is truly fascinating.”
Brains aren’t the only organs researchers are replicating in the lab. Halaas’ other research focuses on the immune system. Though your body’s immune system isn’t a separate organ like your brain or your heart, it’s possible to recreate many of its workings using organ-on-a-chip models.
“The immune cells travel around the body, sensing their way forward towards infections or cancers, and initiating responses aimed at eliminating the threat,” says Halaas. “I've been trying to make artificial cell systems to learn how these cells communicate, develop, interact and react to stimuli.”
“The lymph node, where initiation of immune responses occurs, is particularly interesting when trying to create new solutions for vaccinations,” he added.
Ultimately, he wants to use these systems to develop cancer treatments through immunotherapy, a type of therapy that works with someone’s own body to fight off the disease. The idea would be to take cells from a cancer patient’s body and put them into the artificial immune system, before extracting the immune cells created in the artificial system and putting them back into patients.
It’s many years from being a reality, but Halaas believes it’s a promising route. “The current solutions for cancer therapy are not good enough for many patients,” he says.
This work has been carried out by Rosanne Van de Wijdeven, who worked in NTNU NanoLab on making microsystem and microelectrodes in collaboration with Ola Huse Ramstad and Ioanna Sandvig (both at Dept of Neuromedicine and Movement Science, NTNU) who did the cell work..
Kelly Oakes, Sept 2019
Announcing the first Norwegian NanoSymposium, Oct. 16 - 17, 2019
We are delighted to announce the first ever meeting of the Norwegian NanoSymposium.
Nanoscience is the hidden engine behind many of the most exciting developments in modern technology. During this two-day meeting, you will see how nanoscale materials, devices and processes are helping to solve some of mankind’s biggest challenges. The programme will include talks from internationally leading scientists and early-stage researchers in many areas of science, including fundamental nanoscience, medicine, energy, and the environment. Other activities will include networking lunches, poster sessions, and a conference dinner.
Our aim is to hold a fun, friendly and informal meeting covering all areas of nanoscience, where students and researchers from many disciplines can meet together, share ideas and make new contacts.
Thanks to sponsorship from NTNU Nano, the NanoNetwork and the Research Council of Norway, there is no participation fee, but you will need to register your attendance through the conference homepage.
We very much look forward to welcoming you in Trondheim in October!
Feature article: Using the piezoelectric effect to make better implants
Imagine a bone implant that actively stimulates the recovery of the damaged tissue slowly dissolves inside your body as it’s taken over by your own bone.
This new kind of implant is not a reality – yet. But, if Julia Glaum and her colleagues have anything to do with it, it could exist one day.
Glaum, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU, is figuring out how we can take advantage of the piezoelectric effect to make the next generation of biomedical implants.
Piezoelectric materials create an electric charge when you apply mechanical pressure to them. They are used in many situations, from a buzzer in your phone to the pickup on an electric guitar.
Our bones also display piezoelectric properties: If you press on a piece of bone, it creates an electric charge. “One of the theories is that bone uses these charges to know where and where not to grow, and how to heal when it’s broken,” says Glaum.
By creating implants made of piezoelectric materials, we could tell the bone where to grow. “If you could guide the bone cells to grow into the implant material, by providing these charges, you could make an implant that is stable for a longer time,” she says.
These implants would also hopefully improve the healing process, and perhaps one day even become temporary stop-gaps instead of permanent fixtures.
This is a young and relatively unexplored research area, says Glaum, so these implants are not likely to be here any time soon. But her team is making headway with the basic science needed to lay the foundations.
One unexpected finding so far is a material that dissolves under the right conditions. “Some of the materials that we make, depending on how we make them, are either very stable in liquid environment or dissolve very fast,” she says.
This wasn’t exactly what the team was looking for during the experiment in which they discovered this fast-dissolving material – but, now they’ve found it, Glaum can see the upside. They’ve since been able to make it break down over the course of a day, or keep it in one piece for “weeks and weeks”, simply by varying the way it is made.
“If you could tailor the time that it takes until it dissolves, it would just get replaced by human tissue,” she says. “That would be the ideal third-generation biomaterial.”
(Kelly Oakes, published 04.06.2019)
The Nordic Nanolab User Meeting 2019
The Nordic Nanolab Network (NNN) held its fourth Nordic Nanolab User Meeting, NNUM2019, on May 7 – 8.
NNUM is an informal meeting place for PhD-students, post docs, researchers and engineers working in the fields of nanostructuring and nanocharacterisation, and offers a wide range of technical tutorials and invited research talks on topics such as etching, thin-film technologies, lithography and characterisation. All participants have the opportunity to present their research at a poster session, with this year’s prize for the best poster going to Anders Strømberg from NTNU for his contribution: “Apparent Superpatterns in SEM Images of Small Periodic Structures”. Congratulations Anders!
The participants were also offered guided tours of DTU NanoLab as well as a spectacular dinner on Tuesday evening at the Cirkus, downtown in Copenhagen. All together 233 people attended the meeting, including 32 from NTNU. Read more about NNUM2019 here.
The next meeting, NNUM2021, will be hosted by Chalmers University in Gothenberg.
Feature article: Cracking the problem of ice build-up
If you’ve ever set foot on an icy pavement you’ll understand the importance of a good de-icer.
But ice doesn’t just get in the way of people’s daily lives. Infrastructure like aircraft, transmission cables, and offshore oil platforms can all be disrupted by ice, with potentially disastrous consequences.
That’s why Jianying He, a professor of nanomechanics at NTNU, and her colleagues are coming up with new ways to crack the problem of ice build-up.
“Nobody wants to go out in the winter to clean away ice, so we need to find a solution to avoid ice forming on the surface,” says He.
We used to think that the best way to tackle ice was to make surfaces repel water – the idea being that if water can’t build up, it can’t freeze – but it turns out that just slows down the formation of ice, and doesn’t stop it entirely.
So, He and her colleagues decided to try another tactic: they’d let the ice form, but find a way to get rid of it afterwards. The most promising method works by creating lots of cracks that make the ice break off from the surface of its own accord. It’s similar to how the perforations between postage stamps make it easier to tear them apart.
The method – called the macro-crack initiator, or MACI – involves applying a soft layer with inner holes on top of the surface you want to protect from ice. The soft layer fluctuates as ice forms on top of it, triggering lots of small cracks. This leads to whole layers of ice shearing off from the surface under their own weight. “Ice itself is rigid,” says He. “Usually it moves like a whole piece.”
MACI is working remarkably well, she says, reducing the ice adhesion – a measure of how much the ice is stuck to the surface – even more than the team thought it would.
The next step is improving the durability of the material. Materials with lower ice adhesion are typically softer. To counter the loss in durability that comes from this softness, the group have designed a self-healing elastomer that works to fix any damage to the material.
Their coatings are not in use outside of the lab yet, but He doesn’t think it will be too long before they are. At the moment they could be used on something small, she says, say a webcam that’s exposed to the environment.
But after some more characterisation work – and some field tests – they could be coming to an oil platform or aircraft near you.
(Kelly Oakes, published 23.05.2019)
Rector’s prize studentships in nanoscience, nanotechnology and functional materials
Each year the Rector sponsors a university-wide competition for two PhD positions in nanoscience, nanotechnology and functional materials, open to nano-active research groups in all faculties.
The results of this year’s competition are now out:
One position has been awarded to Jianying He and Helge Kristiansen from the Department of Structural Engineering to develop high thermal conductivity interface materials for metal/polymer interfaces; while the other has been awarded to Sverre Magnus Selbach, Mari-Ann Einarsrud and Sondre Kvalvåg Schnell from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering to develop high performance solid-state Li electrolytes for Li-ion batteries.
We wish both research teams success with their projects, and look forward to reporting on their progress in future news items.
Feature article: Joined up thinking to make materials greener
A new research centre is about to give Norway a window into how its rich mineral resources can be turned into useful – and more environmentally-friendly – materials.
The Norwegian national centre for minerals and materials characterisation, known as MiMaC for short, promises to look at every step of the process of turning minerals into materials. The centre is a joint project of NTNU, the Geological Survey of Norway and research company SINTEF.
When it’s fully up and running by the end of the year, it will be made up of five world-class instruments allowing researchers to look at materials in different ways, from the atomic scale up to the microscale.
But the crown jewel of the project is already in place: a state-of-the-art atom probe that can image materials in three dimensions. It works by using laser or high voltage pulses to evaporate away the tiny sample you put into the probe, pushing its way through a few atoms at a time.
“You can reconstruct exactly where every single atom is sitting,” says Jostein Mårdalen, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU. “We have a tool which is much more accurate - with higher resolution and better performance - than any other material science instrument available.”
As a national centre, MiMaC is open to scientists from other institutions who want to use its instruments. Mårdalen says he hopes that other researchers will take advantage of the atom probe to see objects such as fossils and even meteorites in a new light.
But the main reasoning behind MiMaC is more down to Earth. Using the centre’s instruments, researchers will look at the whole lifecycle of minerals: from their extraction and processing, to their design and production, and eventually their re-use or recycling.
Until now, neither research nor industry has had such a complete view, leading to inefficient ways of making materials. For example, a raw material might be stripped of impurities, only to have some new elements later added back in to make an alloy.
Now demand for greener materials is growing, Mårdalen hopes MiMaC will help both research and industry change. Seeing the full picture, he says, should allow researchers to come up with ways to make manufacturing processes less wasteful and better for the planet – for example, by finding new ways to use recycled materials. “The industry now is thinking how to be greener,” he says.
Kelly Oakes, Mar 2019
Feature article: Creating a new kind of electronics
At the border between physics and material science, Dennis Meier and his colleagues are searching for a new kind of electronics.
They hope to make circuits that are smaller, faster, and better for the environment than today’s electronics, by taking advantage of defects that already exist within materials. The electronic components the team have made so far are just a few atoms long, and could eventually be connected together to form circuits that measure mere nanometres across – far smaller than those we use today.
“We're working at the limit of what is doable in a solid-state system when you want to construct electronic components,” says Meier, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NTNU.
The defects used to create these components are made when two parts of the same material have different properties. For example, their electric dipole moments – a measure of the distribution of charge in a material – might point in different directions. When these contrasting sections meet at an interface, they create what is known as a domain wall. The domain wall doesn’t behave like the rest of the material – for instance, it might be electrically conducting, even though the rest is an insulator.
So far Meier’s team have created two electrical components using domain walls: a digital switch and a half-wave rectifier. A rectifier turns alternating current that reverses direction regularly to direct current that just flows one way. The next step in his research is to connect components together. Once that’s possible, the team can start thinking about creating logic gates and doing some basic computing with the circuits.
Theoretically, circuits made with these materials could be tweaked when new technology demands it. “Once you have made your nanoscale circuit you can update it, you can upgrade it if needed, or even erase it and rewrite it – all within the same material,” says Meier.
Because domain walls occur naturally in materials, the production process should – in theory – be simple. “The interfaces are always there and they are perfect, no additional work is needed,” says Meier.
--Kelly Oakes, Mar 2019
Introducing Kelly Oakes as our new science writer
I am delighted to report the appointment of Kelly Oakes as the new science writer for NTNU Nano. Kelly is a freelance writer who specialises in science, health, environment, and technology. Her work has been published in New Scientist, BBC Future, Nature, BuzzFeed, and many other publications. She has a degree in physics and a master's in science communication from Imperial College London. Please click here for lots more information about Kelly’s extensive experience in science journalism.
Kelly has just completed her first two articles for NTNU Nano, with more on the way. If you have interesting research to report and would like it communicated to the wider scientific community in a clear and accessible way, please get in touch!
Grey Goo 2019
Congratulations to the master students in nanotechnology for a fun and informative set of talks at the Grey Goo Symposium on Feb 17. Some great science presented with humour and flair - learn more about what went on here.
Important: new procedures for Research Council of Norway grant applications
You are hopefully aware that the Research Council of Norway (RCN) is changing the way it handles research proposals. The biggest change is the introduction of a common 10th April application deadline for most of its funding schemes. (Some schemes have deadlines in September, but these are mainly related to projects with industry involvement).
The RCN has introduced new portfolio boards updated its evaluation criteria (which now relate to “excellence”, “impact” and “implementation”), and introduced new templates for research proposals and investigator CVs. It has also placed some new restrictions on the number of applications that you can make as a principal investigator. You can find a helpful summary of the changes in this presentation. The following calls are likely to be the ones that are of most interest to nano-researchers: FRIPRO (basic research projects), Nano2021 (nanotechnology and advanced materials), BEDREHELSE (better health and quality of life), BEHANDLING (diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation) and ENERGIX (energy research). However, nanoscience obviously has a valuable role to play in other programmes too, so be sure to check out all of the calls.
Unfortunately, if you are planning to resubmit an unsuccessful application from a previous funding call, then you will need to make substantial changes to its format and content to satisfy the new procedures. On the other hand, the changes do bring the RCN into closer alignment with Horizon 2020 criteria, so you will hopefully be able to use your RCN proposal as the basis for a future H2020 funding application.
Be aware that the move to a common once-per-year submission deadline means there are no “second chances” if your application is unsuccessful. You are therefore strongly advised to enlist the help of some trusted colleagues to review your proposal and suggest improvements to its structure and content; many departments are currently in the process of setting up formalised peer review procedures to assist with this.
One final warning, the common submission deadline is likely to place considerable pressure on your Department’s management and administrators, so please make sure you engage with them well in advance of the application deadline.
And remember, if you are planning to use any of the central infrastructures such as the NanoLab in your work, you will need to discuss the budget with their administrators too. Please contact the director of NTNU NanoLab, Peter Köllensperger if you need advice regarding choice of processes and budgeting.
Don’t delay – the clock is ticking!
Appointment of Peter Köllensperger as the new Director of NTNU NanoLab
NTNU Nano Symposium 2018
November was the month of our thirteenth “nano symposium”, which took place at NTNU’s Kalvskinnet campus in central Trondheim. With well over a hundred participants from across NTNU, this two-day annual event has always been one of the best opportunities to learn about the amazing breadth of nano-related research happening at the university. This year’s meeting was no exception. The presentations covered a wealth of topics, including the synthesis of nanomaterials and nanostructured surfaces, the development of new sensor technologies, solar energy, quantum computing and many more. This year’s prize for the best oral presentation went to Anders Strømberg whose talk “Unconventional Computing with Artificial Spin Ice” described how two-dimensional lattices of interacting nanomagnets offer an efficient and highly parallel approach to computation. The prize for best poster went to Stephanie Burgmann, a first-year PhD student who impressed the judges with her firm grasp of detail. You can find a complete list of the talks and posters, including abstracts by clicking here(pdf).
In addition to the participants from NTNU, we were also fortunate to have two external speakers at the meeting, Prof. Andrew de Mello from ETH, Zurich (who spoke on the application of microfluidics to ultra-high-throughput chemistry and biology) and Dr. Wilhelm Glomm from Sintef Industry (who described how micro- and nano-encapsulation technologies can be applied to food production and healthcare). Many thanks to them both for their inspiring and well-pitched talks. And finally, a big thank you to Hanna Gautun and Berit Myhre for their immense efforts in putting together such an enjoyable and well-planned programme!
The Kavli Prize 2018
Congratulations to the winners of the 2018 Kavli Prizes.
In the ten years since their inception, the Kavli Prizes have established themselves as some of the most important prizes in the international scientific calendar. Founded in 2008 by the Norwegian-born businessman-turned-philanthropist Fridjtof (“Fred”) Kavli, the prizes recognise exceptional breakthroughs in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. The 2018 astrophysics prize was awarded to Ewine Van Dishoeck “for contributions to observational, theoretical, and laboratory astrochemistry”; the neuroscience prize was awarded to A. James Hudspeth, Robert Fettiplace and Christine Petit “for their pioneering work on the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing”; while the nanoscience prize was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer A. Doudna and Virginijus Šikšnys “for the invention of CRISPR-Cas9, a precise nanotool for editing DNA.”
NTNU is fortunate to play a key role in the Kavli prize celebrations, acting as the official host for the Prize Lectures in nanoscience and neuroscience. This year’s lectures were held in Trondheim on the 6th September, two days after the official prize ceremony in Oslo. During the morning we were treated to a series of inspiring lectures by the Laureates, touching on the science behind their research and the consequences for society at large. Since we are writing for NTNU Nano, it is only right that we should say a little bit more about the subject of the nanoscience prize: CRISPR-Cas9 is a gene editing tool that simplifies the removal, addition and alteration of sections of DNA from the genome, making genetic modification easier than ever before; intriguingly, the technique has its origins in an ancient mechanism that certain bacteria use to defend against viral attack. By making the process of gene editing faster, cheaper and more reliable, CRISPR-Cas 9 offers numerous opportunities for improving clinical practice; at the same time, however, the vastly increased simplicity of gene editing raises profound ethical questions that will be debated for many years to come. If you would like to learn more, you can find a clear and simple discussion of the technology here: https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-crispr-cas9.
Following the prize lectures, a terrific line-up of guest lecturers presented on wider topics in nanoscience, with Nobel-Prize laureate Albert Fert from Université Paris-Sud speaking on magnetic disturbances in thin-film magnetic materials; Chris Palmstrøm from UC Santa Barbara describing how the epitaxial combination of dissimilar materials can lead to precision-engineered structures with novel physical properties; Kristina Edström from Uppsala University describing how the selective use of nanostructurally optimized inorganic materials may allow for a new generation of safe, recyclable and high-capacity batteries; and Albert van den Berg from the University of Twente explaining how micro- and nanofabrication technologies are enabling the development of chip-based devices for chemical sensing, modeling of genetic processes, and the implementation of artificial organs. All in all, this was a fascinating and deeply inspiring day of talks from researchers at the absolute forefront of nanoscience and nanotechnology. We are already looking forward to hosting the next series of Prize Lectures in 2020!
International Nanoscience Student Conference - INASCON2018
John de Mello, the new director of NTNU Nano, reports on NTNU’s hosting of the International Nanoscience Student Conference, INASCON 2018
I arrived in Trondheim in early August, which very fortunately coincided with NTNU’s hosting of the International Nanoscience Student Conference August 7-10. This student-run, three-day meeting will definitely go down as one of my personal highlights of the year. In the months running up to the meeting, I had the opportunity to watch the conference plans take shape, and I was ‘blown away’ by the professionalism and creativity of the student management team. Arranging a conference with 142 participants from across the globe is a huge undertaking; and, in this case, it was made doubly tough by the need to squeeze in all of the preparations between work assignments, research projects, and exam revision!
Through an impressive mixture of ambition and perseverance, the INASCON team put together an outstanding programme of talks and events, securing a superb line-up of world-leading experts in numerous aspects of nanotechnology (including the 2002 and 2016 Nobel chemistry laureates Kurt Wüthrich and Sir Fraser Stoddart). The diversity of talks was immense, covering self-assembly, molecular machinery, photonics, electronics, analytical science, imaging, healthcare, potential solutions to the energy crisis and many other central topics in nanoscience. Added to this were live demonstrations, panel sessions on battery technology and commercialisation, and a number of fun interactive sessions (including, a little oddly, a group rendition of “Hode, skulder, kne og tå” complete with actions).
All in all, there was a great balance of education and entertainment that kept the audience 'captivated' from beginning to end. I offer my congratulations to the whole INASCON team for putting together one of the best organised and most enjoyable conferences that I have attended in my career to date. And I wish the very best of luck to the students at Tsinghua University in Beijing, who will be hosting the next INASCON conference in July 2019
Don’t miss it!