The Spanish research center CIC nanoGUNE focuses its activities on the study of particle behavior and nanoscale devices, producing a variety of applications for medicine, optics, and information technology.
Just a year ago, CIC nanoGUNE opened its doors in the Basque Country in northern Spain, with a mandate to stimulate research on nanoscience and technology. Within a short time, the center’s scientists have already made inroads into questions of future data storage and medicine delivery.
The center was originally promoted by the local government and research institutions and by the Spanish government. In order to delve into research on the nano scale, only a millionth of a meter, a new building was required that would not be disturbed by vibrations, noise, electromagnetic radiation, or dirt. “The center was intended to become a leading scientific nanoscience center, and is gradually realizing this goal,” says Enrique Zárate, communications director, pointing out the more than 40 scientists from around the world who now conduct research there.
“Nanotechnology will be the technological revolution of the 21st century,” says José María Pitarke, managing director. “People think the only difference about nanotechnology is the size, but the truth is that it is far removed from conventional technology.”
One reason for this is that materials have completely different properties at the nanoscale. And so, points out Pitarke, “the revolutionary applications will come when there’s a better understanding of particle behavior.”
One of the center’s research areas involves nanomagnetism in two different areas: magnetic nanolayers and magnetic nanoparticles. For the first, researchers are investigating magnetic materials in layers, similar to those used for computer hard disks, yet only a nanometer thick. With magnetic nanolayers, computer hard drives could potentially have greater storage capacity and reliability. They also could provide an alternative technology for use in pen drives, as current pen drive memory deteriorates after a number of successive rounds of writing and erasing.
Magnetic particles could offer an alternative for targeted drug delivery inside the body. With a pill or an injection, the drug circulates the drug throughout the blood system until it reaches the intended site. “The problem is that the drug also reaches many other places where it isn’t needed and can produce side effects,” explains Zárate. For instance, he points out, chemothearpy can cause serious damages to a variety of organs beyond the cancerous tumors.
CIC nanoGUNE researchers are investigating bonding a drug to a nanostructure that could carry the drug to the site of the illness, minimizing side-effects and maximizing effectiveness. Magnetic nanoparticles might be one potential solution, as these particles respond to magnetic fields applied outside the body that could direct the particles to a particular site. Or nanostructures might be engineered to selectively latch on to diseased cells.
In nano-optics, CIC scientists are focused on two lines of research. One involves developing a new type of optical microscope for the visualization of nanosctructions. Traditional optical microscopes cannot visualize structures smaller than 200 nanometers. To solve this, the group is working on a technique called near-field optical microscopy, that would allow the viewing of nanostructures, and would also provide information about their chemical composition and electrical properties.