Issue 64, July 2015
bullet Nanotechnology
bullet Antibacterial Nanosilver Surface Fights Against Germs
bullet Interview with Science Communication Aficionado Prof. Dr. Wolfgang M. Heckl
bullet New Federal Project nanoGRAVUR Investigates: How Safe are Nanomaterials?
bullet Novel High-Power X-Ray Lens Sharpens View into the Nano World
bullet Innovation: Dynamic DNA Nanomachines - New Flexibility in DNA Origami

From the moment you wake up for work and put on a wrinkle-free dress shirt to the instant you head out the door and don a pair of scratch-resistant sunglasses, you have already encountered nanotechnology in your morning routine.


Nanotechnology - present in a variety of consumer and medical products - is the branch of science and engineering that manipulates matter at the nanoscale. The word 'nano' derives from the Greek word nanos for 'dwarf,' with one nanometer (nm) equaling one billionth of a meter. Putting these numbers into perspective, a single sheet of paper is roughly 100,000 nanometers thick.


Nanomaterials are present in over 1,600 products, including suntan oils and toothpaste. Nanotechnology is used in plastic food packaging to help keep oxygen out so that the food spoils at a slower rate and in paints to prevent the growth of mold and to provide insulation. Likewise, the technology appears in sunscreens and cosmetics to increase their translucence while maintaining protective properties against harmful UV rays.


For years, researchers have been turning to nature to observe nanoscale objects as a way of advancing the field. At the Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM) in Saarbrücken, Germany, for example, researchers successfully created synthetic adhesives that mimic the notoriously sticky nanofibers in a gecko's foot hairs.


This newsletter explores other exciting advances in nanotechnology in Germany - from antibacterial nanosilver surfaces that can help prevent the spread of dangerous germs in hospitals to a groundbreaking new X-ray lens that will enable scientists to produce sharper and brighter images of the nano world. While nanotech offers tremendous potential for the future, it still has unknown risks, inconsistent disclosure, and an immature regulatory environment. Germany's new federal project nanoGRAVUR, also featured in this newsletter, is focused on investigating the environmental impact and health safety of nanomaterials.



Hospital-acquired infections account for more deaths per year in Germany than traffic accidents and drug abuse combined. Likewise, an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 patients are infected each year in Germany with multidrug-resistant pathogens, and 10,000 to 15,000 people die from such infections. In the U.S., six out of seven people infected with the frightening antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria, which is spread by touch or contact, contract the superbug at a healthcare facility.


To help kill hazardous germs, such as those occurring on surfaces in hospitals, the family-owned Bavarian company LAMILUX has developed a revolutionary new fiber-reinforced plastic coated with silver nanoparticles. Scientifically proven to help kill germs within just a few hours, this new antibacterial material "LAMILUX AntiBac" was initially developed as a wall coating for operating rooms. In one test at the Asklepios clinic in Bad Abbach, Germany, there was a 60 percent reduction in the number of germs within just six hours.


In addition to clinical use, there are numerous other fields of application, particularly in the food industry, where high standards of hygiene need to be maintained and sterility is paramount. Examples include refrigerated warehouses, cold rooms, and refrigerated vehicles as well as meat processing areas and slaughterhouses.


LAMILUX Composites GmbH, which has been producing fiber-reinforced composites for almost 60 years, partnered with the Regensburg-based research company Rent-a-Scientist, a world leader in nanosilver research, on this project.


To watch news coverage in German on this exciting new antibacterial surface, click here for a SAT.1 BAYERN video report and here for a TV Aktuell news clip. 

Source & Image: © LAMILUX Composites GmbH


At the G7 Summit last month in the Bavarian castle, Schloss Elmau, Prof. Dr. Heckl dipped a nano-coated tie into a glass of red wine to present the science behind the dirt-repelling "lotus effect." This experiment, in which the tie came out clean, was part of the Deutsches Museum General Director's talk on the exciting applications of nanotechnology. A prolific speaker with a strong interest in the public communication of science, the Munich-based professor was invited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to give a lecture on "Nanotechnology as a Key Technology of the 21st Century" as part of the summit's partner program organized by Chancellor Merkel's husband, Prof. Dr. Joachim Sauer.  

With more than 200 scientific publications to his name, Prof. Dr. Heckl frequently writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, ranging from biophysics and biocrystallography to genetics and surface physics. He currently serves as the Oskar-von-Miller Chair in Science Communication at the TUM School of Education and as a Professor in the Physics Department at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), where he conducts research on molecular self-organization in nanotechnology. He is a student of the Nobel laureate Dr. Gerd Binnig, who developed the scanning tunneling microscope and thus one of the founders of the nanosciences, and Prof. Dr. Theodor Hänsch, a pioneer in the field of optical physics and atomic physics.

In his interview with GCRI, Prof. Dr. Heckl discusses practical applications of nanotechnology, how they are transforming everyday life, and which recent developments in nanoscience research he finds most interesting. He also elaborates on his current research on the generation, investigation, and manipulation of micro- and nanoscopic structures. Finally, he outlines what, in his opinion, are the biggest questions yet to be solved by nanoscience research. To read the full interview, click here.

Prof. Dr. Heckl is a member of many esteemed national and international organizations, including the jury that confers the German Federal President's Award for Technology and Innovation - the Deutscher Zukunftspreis, the German government's working group Strategiekreis Nanowelten, the Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen Centre for Nanosciences (CeNS), and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Image: © Deutsches Museum   


Source: Steffi Nickol, CENIDE, +49 (0)203 379-8177, 


Our ability to manipulate objects at the nanoscale level has been a fairly recent development. As nanomaterials and their fields of application become more diverse - from automobiles and aircraft to cosmetics, textiles, and household goods - thorough research on nanoparticle toxicity will be required in order to ensure safety for humans and the environment.

nanoGRAVUR is a new project coordinated by the Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology (IUTA) and the Center for Nanointegration (CENIDE) at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) in which a consortium of research institutions, authorities, and industry experts is examining how to categorize nanostructured materials to make safety measures for workers, consumers, and the environment both manageable and economically viable.

According to project manager P.D. Thomas Kuhlbusch from the IUTA, "We have been encountering many nanomaterials in common products for decades. They can vary widely in size, shape, chemical composition, and surface. Studying their behavior and effects in great detail requires an enormous effort. The potential effects are so variable that it is impossible to consider the potential risk for each nanomaterial in individual cases."

Therefore, one central goal of nanoGRAVUR is to develop sets of criteria that outline how nanomaterials can be categorized in terms of their composition, hazards, and risk potential. Previously, such categorization had only been used in special cases, such as for fibers. However, this approach can also be applied in areas such as workplace safety, product labeling, and environmental regulation, where case studies have not yet been used.

nanoGRAVUR is part of the umbrella project, DANA 2.0, an interdisciplinary initiative that seeks to improve transparency on nano safety research. As part of the German government's High-Tech Strategy, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting the nanoGRAVUR project over the next three years with a four million euro grant.

For more information, contact P.D. Kuhlbusch at +49 (0)2065 418-267 or

Image: © BASF   


Source: Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)


A team led by scientists at DESY, one of the world's leading accelerator centers for investigating the structure of matter, has designed, fabricated, and successfully tested a novel X-ray lens that produces sharper and brighter images of the nano world. This groundbreaking new lens can produce a focus of just 8 nanometers wide, which is 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.


The lens employs an innovative concept to redirect X-rays over a wide range of angles, generating a high convergence power. The larger the convergence, the smaller the details a microscope can resolve, but as is well known, it is difficult to bend X-rays by large enough angles. By fabricating a nano structure that acts like an artificial crystal, the scientists were able to mimic a high refracting power.


"Our novel lens concept will help scientists to peer deeper into the nanocosm and make previously inaccessible details visible," said team lead Dr. Sasa Bajt. "X-rays are used to study the nano world as they are able to show much finer details than visible light and their penetrating power allows you to see inside objects." The high penetration of X-rays is favored for 3D tomographic imaging of objects, such as biological cells, computer chips, and the nanomaterials involved in energy conversion or storage. But up until now, this has also meant that the X-rays pass straight through conventional lenses without being bent or focused.


Dr. Bajt's team has thus invented this new production process for specific multilayer lenses with particularly high convergence power. "Our results prove [the ability of] our fabrication technique to create lenses of high focusing power," Bajt said. "We believe we have the requisite control to achieve even higher power lenses. It appears that the long-sought goal of focusing X-rays to a nanometer is within reach."


The team successfully tested their innovative lens at DESY's PETRA III, the world's best storage-ring-based X-ray radiation source. To learn more about photon science, particle physics, and the accelerator division at DESY, visit the center's videos page.

Image: Reconstruction of the focused X-ray wave. 

© Sasa Bajt/DESY


Source: © Technical University of Munich (TUM)

Nanotechnology has the potential to transform numerous industries, including the field of the medicine. The future may bear witness to drug delivery systems that target a particular site in the body, thanks to basic research being done today. Some of the foundations for these future applications are being developed at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), which demonstrate breakthroughs in the science of using DNA as a programmable building material for nanoscale structures and machines. Among the latest DNA nanodevices created are self-assembling nano robots with movable arms, and scissors that repeatedly open and close every three minutes for four days without breaking.

In reference to the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, the research field of TUM's Prof. Dr. Hendrik Dietz is called "DNA origami." By snapping together complementary shapes instead of zipping strings of base pairs, he has introduced a new method to the modular 3D nanostructure building toolkit. "Once you have built a unit with base pairs," Prof. Dr. Dietz explained, "it's hard to break it apart. So [until now] dynamic structures made using that approach tended to be structurally simple in order to limit the number of base pairs." To build more complex structures and structures with movable parts, his group adapted a weak, short-range binding mechanism called nucleobase stacking.

In nature, weak bonds can be formed when the RNA-based enzyme RNase P "recognizes" so-called transfer RNA. The molecules are guided into close enough range by their complementary shapes. This principle can be used to snap units in place. Three different methods are available to control the shape and action of devices made in this way. "What this has given us is a tiered hierarchy of interaction strengths," Prof. Dr. Dietz said, "and the ability to position - precisely where we need them - stable domains that can recognize and interact with binding partners."

Meanwhile, the team has produced a series of DNA devices - ranging from micrometer-scale filaments that might prefigure technological "flagella" to nanoscale machines with moving parts - to demonstrate their potential fields of application and to begin testing their limits.

Prof. Dr. Dietz ranks among the world's leading researchers in DNA nanotechnology. Earlier this year, he received Germany's most prestigious research award - the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize - for his work on this project.

Image: Artist's impression of shape-complementary DNA components that self-assemble into nanoscale machinery.
© C. Hohmann / NIM