Nano-Networking Down-Under

The third International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICONN 2010) provided the ideal opportunity for researchers from all walks of science and engineering to gather together and exchange their latest findings in this truly interdisciplinary field. Seven major themes were covered in four plenary and six parallel sessions over 3.5 days: Nanomaterials; Bionanotechnology; Nanoelectronics; Nano-optics; Computational Nanotechnology; Nanomanufacturing; and Nanotechnologies in Society, Health and the Environment. Despite the tempting location of the conference on Sydney’s Darling Harbour waterfront, there was an impressively high attendance at all sessions. Without doubt a reflection of the first-class presentations and dedication of the close to 800 delegates.

As conference co-chair and CSIRO research program leader Cathy Foley explained, the biennial ICONN series was created to expose early career researchers to the environment of an international conference and assist them expand their career network. To achieve this vision, 270 students were sponsored via the Australian Research Council Nanotechnology Network (ARCNN). Active participation was fostered not just through the almost 400 posters at the conference, but also by allocating half (120) of the 15 minute oral presentations to Ph.D. students and early career researchers. A strong list of invited speakers from around the globe lent the conference a genuinely international feel and gave students the chance to meet well-known figures – and potential future supervisors or collaborators – in a relaxed atmosphere.

Two themes proved particularly popular – Nanomaterials and Bionanotechnology – symposia organized, respectively, by Paul Mulvaney and Frank Caruso. So many abstracts were received for the Nanomaterials symposium that it was split into two parallel sessions, and into three on the final day of the conference! Recurring topics included nanoparticles, porous materials, drug delivery, plasmonics, nanodevices, and solar cells. Star materials were the usual suspects: carbon, silica, silicon, gold, metal oxides, and compound semiconductors. Researchers in these more “mainstream” areas also appreciated the opportunity to sit in on talks dealing with aspects ranging from “nanocomputation” and technology transfer, to toxicology and regulation. The “nano” community is demonstrating an admirable determination to assess the environmental, societal, and health impacts of nanotechnology. Knowledge of the risks associated with this bright new technology is critical to its safe implementation in, and acceptance by, society. For example, of particular relevance to Australians were investigations on the biological effect of metal oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens. As is often the case though, care must be taken to strike the right balance, and ensure that promising research avenues and technologies are not stifled by unwarranted caution or excessive regulation.

For me, highlights of the conference would have to be the plenary talks by David Awschalom and Keiichi Torimitsu. After introducing the concepts of single spins for quantum computing, Awschalom went on to elegantly demonstrate the promise of a long overlooked but well-known material – diamond. It seems that diamond is not just perfect visually, but its spins provide coherence, control, communication, and coupling. Diamond is thus one of the most power quantum bit systems to-date. A completely different aspect of nanoscience was explored by Torimitsu, who showed how receptor proteins can be utilized to build biomimetic devices. Progress towards construction of an artificial retina using this approach was beautifully illustrated. Aspects covered included strategies for controlling cellular synaptic connections through the receptor and the use of liquid AFM to observe conformational changes in the receptor. Two inspiring talks on two very diverse systems – a hard, inorganic system and a soft, biological system – united by the (nano)scale!

Like to find out more?

Further details on ICONN can be found on the conference website, or check out the special issue of Advanced Functional Materials featuring articles based on select ICONN 2008 presentations.

The ICONN 2010 poster winners were:

Dr Lee Hubble, CSIRO, Diameter selective solubilization of single-walled carbon nanotubes in water by way of supramolecular interactions

Stuart Thickett, The University of Sydney, Hydrophilic/Hydrophobic Patterned Surfaces by Dewetting and Their Use in Atmospheric Water Capture

Jos Campbell, RMIT University, Enhanced MRI Contrast using DMSA and silica coated magnetite nanoparticles.

Dr James Cooper, CSIRO, Detecting and identifying aqueous solutions of hydrocarbons with a gold nanoparticle chemiresistor sensor array

Ms Siti Noorjannah, University Of Canterbury, Simulations and Design of Quadrupole Biochip Platform

Miss Bakul Gupta, University of New South Wales, Oxygen assisted synthesis of Silver Nanocubes

Dr Shailesh Kumar, Winner of the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility Prize for the best micrograph on a poster

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